Saturday, 18 July 2015

1884-01-13oo Trotting on a (sort of) Frozen Bay

Wednesday January 13, 1884 was the date chosen for the opening of the Hamilton Trotting Association’s Winter Meeting to be held on the frozen surface of the bay.

          Unfortunately, the weather had not co-operated as a succession of mild days had turned the track into a slushy, watery mess:

“An excellent track – a full mile in length- had been laid out on the bay, a few hundred years distant from the Great Western wharf.

“This was thoroughly cleared of snow, and Tuesday afternoon foreboded that, insofar as the course was concerned there would be no cause for complaint. But, falling sleet turned to rain, and the effect was an accumulation of slush and water on the surface of the bay, the like of which has not been seen for a good many seasons.”1

1 “Hamilton Trotting Association : Opening the Winter Meeting on Burlington Bay”

1 Weekly Times. February 21, 1884.

Even though conditions for racing were less than ideal, the promoters did not want to disappoint the spectators, judges and horse owners who had turned up fo the event.

All the horses and drivers took their positions at exactly 2 p.m., while a large wooden grandstand which had been built on the ice of the bay was filled to capacity:

“At this time between 2,000 and 2,500 people had assembled on the ice, on the wharves near the emigrant sheds, and on top of the railway cars shunted on the sidings.

“Those on shore – although they might not be able to boast of having as near a view as the others – had decided advantages in many other ways. The water on the track was from one inch and a half to three inches deep, and the operations of an immense snow plow drawn by four horses seemed to aggravate rather than diminish the difficulty. Few of those without long rubber boots escaped wet feet.”1

A man came from Toronto for the races with the intention of winning some races by hiring the best horse locally, but he was dismissive of Hamilton's way of holding such an event :
"Of course the facetious gentleman from Toronto was on hand driving the best horse he could find for hire in the city.
"He reined up opposite Mr. Dunn's hack, and said : 'Well, this is a delicious track anyway. Can't you do better than this in Hamilton when your friends come to see you?'
" 'It's as good as that we saw in Toronto the other day!' replied a testy fellow who never wants to see Hamilton institutions abused.
" ' Well, if I'd a known,' continued the Torontonian, ' I would have brought Ned Hanlan up with me.' "
While many walked through the slush to get near the race course, others were able to be driven to their destination :

“There were scores of conveyances on the ice, and ‘hanging on’ room was cheerfully accorded by their owners to those who had been obliged to ‘foot it’ to the scene.

“Some somewhat ludicrous incidents occurred during the meeting. An east end gardener had his old nag to the fore; of course, a gang of youngsters took the liberty to stand in behind. The old man, on his part, took the liberty to start suddenly, and sent the invading hobbledehoys sprawling in the slush”1


Even the conditions for the spectators were horrid, the crowd seemed to take it all in stride:

“Twenty yards or so from the judge’s stand, a number of planks had been left on the ice; these were taken advantage of and used as a perch by a bevy of interested onlookers.

“When the triangular scraper came swizzing past, it sent the water in torrents  over the poor fellows – but the incident was merely food for laughter.

“The crowd was one of the best-natured, to be suffering from cold, wet feet, that ever collected.”1

Conditions for the horses and drivers were just as bad as those faced by the spectators:

“To one on the grandstand, the noise of the horses splashing through the water resembled that produced by a propeller backing out from a wharf.

“The drivers were almost blinded, and at times could scarcely see where they were driving.”1

After some discussion, the committee members in charge of event decided that it would be better for all if the races were cancelled on condition of the track.




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