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Canadians have been celebrating our country’s birthday since 1867 in a variety of ways.  In the beginning Canada Day was called Dominion Day and in 1919 Strathroy held its first “Dominion Day Picnic”. It was held at the Strathroy Fair grounds and it was not unheard of to have over 8000 people in attendance.  Events at the picnic included baseball games, dances, track and field and harness racing.  

Strathroy’s half mile tract was considered to be among the absolute best ovals in the country during the “glory years”.  It was kept in excellent condition throughout the entire year, not just for race days.  There was criticism however about it being too short and it had to be measured by a government certified surveyor and in 1943 a public statement was issued stating that it was valid. 

The track was maintained by using water from the nearby artesian wells and teams of horses graded the track. 

Another big track day in Strathroy was the Fall Fair in October, it was here in 1937 that the all time track record was set by Simcoe Harvester at a time of 2:04.1. 

Dreaded Rain
It wasn’t until the 28th edition of the Dominion Day Picnic that rain threatened to delay the races.  After a deluge of rain the sky cleared and the sun appeared.  At this point the track was dragged but the horsemen and owners protested that it was still too wet.  So as not to disappoint the crowd of over 9000, cars were driven around the tract to dry it up. A comment from the London Free Press later that week  “It marked the first time in history that automobiles and not pacers started off the Strathroy races.”

The Corporal Lee Pace was a feature attraction of the Picnic for a number of years.  Named in honour of the first stallion of the same name who was owned and managed by race day organizer Harold Currie. 

Trophies and other gifts were given out by local merchants including Bulter Woolen Mills, The Age Dispatch and Goudie Furniture Co.

The Dominion Day Races lasted until 1964, when changes in the sport of harness racing started to occur including night racing in London. 

Information gathered from “Strathroy and the Dominion Day Picnic”   Trot Magazine Vol. 14 #7 July 1987

As stated in the previous post, Grattan Bars was the fasted horse in 1927.  He raced a number of times that year, winning large sums of money.  His time at the top was short-lived however, and at the end of the 1927 he was retired due to a sprained leg.

His owner Fred Thrower took him back to his farm “Grattandon”  to stud him out.  He set up Grattan in a “summer hotel like barn”  with a race track on site on the outskirts of Kerwood. He was guarded by a German Shepard named Buster.  Grattan Bars lived here for the next 13 years where he was the sire of 70 horses.  Some were named after him; Chestnut Bars, Royal Bars, Mary Kid, Steve Grattan, Good Friday and Say Grattan.  Grattan Bar’s lineage goes back to 1700 to Darley Arabian.

Headlines in the prime of his racing

  • “Grattan Bars Lowers London Track Record”
  • “Grattan Bars Breaks All Half Mile Pacing Records”
  • “Wonder Horse of Western Ontario”
  • “Grattan Bars Looms as Season’s Pacing Threat”
  • “Grattan Bars Under Guard at Mile Oval: Watchman work in 8 hr shifts to protect Great Canadian Pacer”

Poem “The Greatest of the Grattans: Grattan Bars by Grattan Royal”
The lucky stars, O, Grattan Bars,
All twinkled at your birth!
The firm, sure beat of your tireless feet
Echoes around the earth.
Place in the sun your worth has won.
Your courage and your speed, 
Track records new are play and for you –
Best of a royal breed!
 
Your dauntless pride, the firm, sure stride,
The fire that lights your eyes,
The fighting heart-all play their part
To turn in victories.
Canadian bred, Canadian fed,
Canadian owned and driven;
Gallant Canuck, our prayers for luck
For you are freely given!
 
Oh, peerless bay, spurn not mere hay!
Be swift, be true, courageous.
Long may success your efforts bless,
Your grace and speed engage us!
Old records break, new records make,
Win glory from each match,
Until your name stands first in fame,
Greater than great Dan Patch!

In 1941 when Grattan Bars was 18 he broke loose from his stall and was kicked by another horse, Day Grattan and suffered an injury to his leg.  His leg as put in a cast and he received the best of attention, however he succumbed to his injuries.

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From time to time the museum publishes columns in the Age Dispatch. With this week’s theme being horses I thought it fitting to reproduce an article written by Brianna Hammer, Museum and Communications Assistant and published in the Age Dispatch in December 2010.

@ The Museum:  The Great Grattan Bars by Brianna Hammer

Among the Strathroy area’s many notable residents is one with four legs. Grattan Bars, a race horse renowned for his speed and victories in North American harness racing in the late 1920s, was bred and born on a Kerwood-area farm owned by Mr. Archie Pedden.

Mr. Fred Thrower, also of Kerwood, acquired the horse when Mr. Pedden offered him $200 for 13 calves that were actually worth $210. Mr. Pedden also included a 16-month old colt named Grattan Bars to seal the deal. The story more commonly told is that the champion race horse was bought for a net cost of $10.

Grattan Bars made his mark on Canadian horse racing in 1927, competing at London’s Western Fair and beating world records for the half-mile race, and Ontario records in the mile. “Grattan Bars is a colt with seemingly unlimited reserve, as he shuffles along the rack in a smooth, effortless action,” reported the Strathroy Age Dispatch. “He covered the distance with such comparative ease.” The victory was the ninth for Grattan Bars that year. Mr. Thrower was offered $20,000 for the four-year old stallion, but he declined.

The following year Grattan Bars made his mark south of the border with driver Vic Fleming. The horse achieved victories in three major American races in a little over two weeks, earning $25,000 in purse money for each one. Thrower reportedly refused another offer for the horse—this time for $100,000 (over $1.2 million by today’s standard).

At the end of the 1928 racing season, Mr. Thrower retired Grattan Bars to his farm on the second line of Adelaide Township, near Kerwood, noting that the area was great grazing country. Five beautiful silver trophies were brought to Strathroy and put on display at Prangley’s store.

It was well documented that Mr. Thrower took special care of the horse, and personally accompanied the animal to its races in a specially outfitted travel van. “We love that horse and feel we cannot do too much for it,” said Fred’s father, A. E. Thrower. “When I buy a cigar, I buy the horse something as well, a nice apple or something. Why should I smoke 25-cent cigars and neglect the horse that has helped to make the smoking of cigars possible?” A brand new barn and race course was built for Grattan Bars, protected by barred windows and a police-trained German Shepherd dog. The Toronto Star reported that the horse was expected to bring in $30,000 a year for stud services in his retirement.

A number of Grattan Bars related memorabilia were donated to the Museum on behalf of Mr. Thrower’s estate in 1973, including photographs, trophies, and even a pedigree chart tracing the offspring of the fast and famous horse. The legend of Grattan Bars lives on, and is well-preserved at Museum Strathroy-Caradoc.

 

PART TWO TOMORROW

All week I will be blogging about horses. 

Today we will be talking about Brock, Sir Arthur Currie’s horse.  Recently we had an exhibit from the Canadian War Museum that featured items related to Currie.  One of the pieces was a saddle, and to properly display it, the War Museum sent along a horse statue that represented Brock. 

Brock displayed in the Library

Brock – Sir Arthur Currie

Extract taken from a Letter from Currie to Lieutenant Colonel D Tamblyn 8 March 1923 – Published in The Selected Papers of Sir Arthur Currie, Mark Osborne Humphries, LCMSDS  Press of Sir Wilfred Laurier University, 2008

Currie on Brock

The horse, as you will remember, was a very tall animal, strong shouldered , good carriage, red bay in colour. He was really not an officer’s charger but a large hackney. I always called him “Brock” short for Brocklebank, but as a matter of fact, that was not his registered name.

I can only say that he stood the rigours of the campaign in the most splendid fashion. I do not know of his being ill at any time. No horse stood the trip across the Atlantic or from England to France (and you know how rough that trip was) any better and few as well. He was a horse with a mind of his own, but we usually got on very well together. The only peculiarity that I remember was that if we disagreed while I was riding him he undertook to rough ride me for the next five minutes or so, but he didn’t sulk long. I rode him at all the principal parades which I attended—the reviews by the King in England and France, the Field Marshal’s reviews and also when we crossed into Germany when I rode at the head of the 3rd Battalion and also when we crossed the Bonn Bridge.

I brought the horse back to Canada , where he now finds a home on my brother’s farm in western Ontario . I visit my old home about there times a year and am always glad to know the he recognizes me. He immediately comes up    to me, smells around my pockets for apples or some other sweet and kisses me very frequently.

With all good wishes, I am yours faithfully

A W Currie

As the letter points out Currie brought Brock back to his brother’s farm, which was located near Napier. 

As we said goodbye to Brock last week, I thought I would dedicate a blog post to him but going through some research I came across other horses that were famous locally and internationally.  Come back all week to discover famous horses and the all the ways Strathroy-Caradoc celebrated them. 

For more information on Currie and Brock visit The Currie Project.

About the Museum

Museum Strathroy-Caradoc opened to the public in 1972. As a community museum we strive to preserve and tell the story of Strathroy-Caradoc, and inspire residents to explore and understand the community around them.

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