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 the 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?
J. 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.
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.
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 megaphone 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.