What horse racetracks used to look like in Toronto
It's difficult to imagine today, but horse racing was once a marquee event in Toronto. Not only did the city's various tracks bring out big crowds during their heyday in the early 20th century, but a day at the races represented an opportunity for Toronto's upper crust to show off just how fashionable they were. Few occasions today serve as quite the same opportunity to dress to the nines during the middle of the day.
While Rexdale's Woodbine Racetrack — opened in 1956 — keeps up the tradition of a day at the track, a hundred years ago one would have also found tracks at/near Woodbine and Queen, Dufferin and Bloor, Davenport and Bathurst, Thorncliffe Park, and a little later, at Evans and Kipling in Etobicoke. Once you know this, it makes more sense why the Dufferin Mall and the TTC yards at Hillcrest are so sprawling, despite their relatively central locations.
By the late 1950s, a number of these tracks had closed down as marquee events were consolidated at the new Woodbine location. In the years that followed, horse racing in general suffered from a dip in popularity. For most, the idea of heading out to the track has become something of a novelty nowadays. Off Track Betting hasn't necessarily helped the local manifestation of the sport, as the participants in that particular ritual can place bets on races taking place all across North America. Big events like the Queen's Plate (founded in 1860) still draw a crowd, but in general horse racing has taken on a niche character in Toronto.
For more on the rise of horse racing in Toronto, see Toronto's Horse Racing History by David Wencer for Heritage Toronto.
Dufferin Race Track, 1908
Fashions at Woodbine, 1912
Queen Street East (looking west) 1919, Woodbine in the far distance
Woodbine fashions, 1925
Woodbine crowds, 1926
Thorncliffe Race Track, Ca. 1920s
The Totalizer! Ca. 1920s
Dufferin Race Track, 1930
Long Branch Race Track (at Evans & Kipling)
Beauty contest at Woodbine, 1948
Unidentified track, ca. 1940s (?)
Woodbine jockey, 1950s
Dufferin Race Track, 1950
Queen Elizabeth presides over the Queen's Plate, 1959
New Woodbine, 1950s
All but the last photos from the Toronto Archives. With the exception of the last image (via the York University Archives) references to Woodbine refer to the Queen East racetrack also known as Greenwood Raceway post 1956.
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