After 151 years, Saturday October 15th will see the last harness races at Exhibition Park in Saint John NB. The race track has to close. The barns have to empty of their boarders. Something else will be built on the grounds. This long history of horses and people will disappear under whatever.
The track is right behind a strip mall on McAllister Drive in east Saint John. You can stop for a haircut or pet food or a Tim Hortons coffee, then just walk behind and go to the track. Either watch races on a Saturday afternoon or watch horses and drivers train on any day of the week.
I first did this several years ago. Then did it pretty much every time I was in Saint John. Is there a horse and sulky out? Ok, take a coffee, sit on the bleachers and watch. Sometimes a driver would stop and chat. Pose himself and horse even.
A whole life going on behind the track, in the barns. Sometimes you could peek in, maybe even be invited in. Horses and handlers busy. The wonderful smell of horse. A city needs that, I think. Its history there, tangible in all your senses.
History of racing and agriculture
I started reading about the history of harness racing in the city, and then my trips there felt even more special. Ghosts of horses and drivers, trainers and owners – those three human roles often being the same person. Some of them, I found out, were related to me. Hugh Love, for instance, was my distant cousin who helped found a track in St. Stephen and also the one in Saint John.
In 1871 the Moosepath Driving Park opened in east Saint John. In 1954 the track moved a short distance to its present location at McAllister and Rothesay Avenues. The Exhibition Association of the City and County of Saint John also moved to that location. Their events, including annual agriculture fairs, had been held from 1899 at the Exhibition grounds at Barrack Green in the south end of Saint John.
Now, after nearly 70 years, the Exhibition Park people are not offering a feasible rent to the Harness Racing Association. “Better use of the lands and facilities” is what the board wants, according to the Telegraph-Journal. Why, I wonder, wouldn’t the “best use” accommodate the longest running sports event and facility in existence at the park?
Here’s a petition to stop this plan and keep harness racing in Saint John. The author Sandra Nason-Sewell makes excellent suggestions of how agriculture and horse events in combination with other sports could fully use Exhibition Park while staying true to its history. And keep the horses – and their money – in Saint John.