Harness Racing Mabees

Looking into a branch of the Mabee family led me to harness racing in Tillsonburg during the early decades of the 1900s. Three names stood out: Jack M. Climie, Charles Henry Mabee and Dudey Patch.

Jack M. Climie was everywhere – as a driver, race starter and caller at Tillsonburg track 1945-standardbredcanada.ca_news_8-14-10_sc-rewindthe harness racing track at the Tillsonburg Fair Grounds. A plaque in town honours his service to the Tri-County Agricultural Society, hosts of the annual fair. Then, in my search results, Dudey Patch in connection with J. M. Climie. What’s this about?

Dudey Patch

Dudey-Patch-canadian-horse-racing-hall-of-fameJ. M. Climie drove five year old Dudey Patch in his first ever race, in Tillsonburg in 1936. Dudey Patch, I thought, must be related to Dan Patch, the American harness racing superstar of the early 1900s. Yes, a grandson. His sire was Gilbert Patch, Dan Patch’s son, and his dam unknown.

Dudey Patch moved on to Prince Edward Island and trainer Joe O’Brien. With Mr. O’Brien, he broke pacing records until he retired in 1941. He was named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1998.

dudey patch 1931 allbreedpedigree.com
Dudey Patch 1931 by Gilbert Patch out of unknown mare (allbreedpedigree.com)

Mabee cousins

Jack Climie was married to Marie Ailene Mabee. She was a first cousin of Charles Henry Mabee. His father, George Henry, was the eldest of Oliver Pitt Mabee and Mary Laur’s ten children. Marie’s father, Frederick, was the youngest.

Their lineage intersects with my grandmother’s four generations back, with half brothers Frederick and Silas Mabee. Charles and Marie’s line comes from Frederick, son of Simon Mabee and his first wife Marie Landrin. My grandmother Murel Mabee Anger was the great-great granddaughter of Silas, son of Simon Mabee and his second wife.

Chart showing Charles Henry Mabee and cousins – click/tap to enlarge

Charles Henry Mabee’s five siblings all died in their teens or younger. He married Frances Elizabeth Bradburn and they had three children. He died at age 45, after an accident at the Tillsonburg track in May 1916.

Bert Newman, in More Reminiscences About Tillsonburg, writes:

I believe the man who was best known in Tillsonburg horse racing circles was Charlie Mabee. He was a former mayor of Tillsonburg, and he kept a string of horses. He drove all his own horses, too. I remember his boys and I went to school with one of them, Basil. One day Charlie was working a horse on the track when it stumbled or something. He was thrown over the sulky and fell onto the track, breaking his neck. He died right there on the race track. [1987:24]

Tillsonburg Race Track

Mr. Newman describes the Tillsonburg track and races at the time:

Right across from the grandstand was the judges’ stand, with the wire stretched across in front. All the judges would be in there – three or four of them. The starter would have a big Nov 24-2018-standardbred canada-rewind-starters-horn-photo-Gary-Foerstermegaphone in his hand and his duty was to get these horses off to an equal start. It was very difficult in those days because sometimes they’d come down to the wire all scattered out. Many times I saw the judge call them back. They would try again, sometimes three or four times…

In later years all the trouble with getting horses started was eliminated by the use of a starting gate. I believe Art Whitesell and Jack Climie had much to do with inventing a starting gate to use on the Tillsonburg track. [1987:23]

My googling also turned up a recent book about Tillsonburg’s history. It’s Tillsonburg Album: A photographic history by Matthew Scholtz, available in Tillsonburg or on this website.

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5 thoughts on “Harness Racing Mabees”

  1. Thank you again, the information is extremely helpful. I’ll continue the search and let you know if I find the megaphone. Jack M. Climie was an investor in the original three horse tracks in Toronto (Dufferin Park, Old Woodbine and Greenwood). The original three were consolidated into the the present day Woodbine Race Track which opened in 1955; the year Jack suddenly passed away from cancer. I suspect the megaphone may be in one of the clubhouses as you note.

    1. Hi David, thank you for writing. I was thrilled to find out about your grandparents so it is lovely to hear from you.

      1. Hello Dorothy, I spent the morning glancing through the Mabee family tree, wow … such great work! I am the oldest son of LeRoy and Barbara Climie. Interesting that they are of of Dutch heritage as my wife is from Holland. We are still friends with the Oatman’s (Jean, David, Charles and James) (Oliver and Doris’s children). Doris recently passed away in Dec 2018, just 10 days short of 100 years old.
        Question: In your article about Jack M. Climie there is a picture of Jack’s megaphone. Do you know where the picture was taken? I would like to hunt it down if possible.

        1. Hi David, I got the megaphone photo from Standardbred Canada, a really good site for harness racing past and present. It is on SC Rewind Nov. 24, 2018. Scroll down to near the bottom. The photograph was taken by Gary Foerster but it doesn’t say who has the megaphone. Someone at the magazine might know. It looks to me like it was taken maybe in a track clubhouse. There’s also an article written by your grandfather in 1944 (mid-page). Bert Newman also writes about people racing their horses on Broadway. What a sight that would be!

          Glad you liked the family tree. I hadn’t known the Mabees were Dutch until I started doing this, or that they were UEL. If the Oatmans don’t know, there’s a good online genealogy for them. Here’s a link to the entry on Oliver and Doris, and you can navigate from there.

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