The history of horse racing in Lacombe

Community has a rich background with aspects of the equine industry

In July 2006, the Rocky Mountain Turf Club of Lethbridge came courting Lacombe in their search for a Central Alberta site for a one-mile racetrack.

One of the principals already owned property in the County having acquired the quarter section previously owned by Viking Log Builders. By December 2007, the chosen name ‘Alberta Downs’ was well-known in the community and plans were nearing completion for the one-mile dirt and 7/8 mile turf track located beside QE II Hwy. one mile west of Lacombe.

Two months later the County approved the rezoning of this parcel from agriculture to commercial, and public hearings were scheduled for March 20 at the Lacombe Legion.

With public acceptance assured, the principals proceeded to construct the oval race track, implement an impressive landscaping plan, erect stables and other out-buildings and construct the grandstand.

The rest is history. Alberta Downs quickly became a vibrant reality in Lacombe County, attracting a host of fans province-wide for each weekend event. A most impressive track record; however, old-time residents of the community may be forgiven if their memories take them back to stories more than a century old when horse racing, the most robust entertainment then available, was provided annually on July 1st.

Ray Bagley recounted one year when, “There were not many white people but about 700 Indians and 3,000 horses. We raced horses for a solid week into the village, sometimes from the north and sometimes from the west.

“There was one race of 70 Indians and horses. A horse in the lead fell and those following piled over the top like floodwater over the dam. Miraculously, the rider escaped with nothing more than bruises but his horse was dead. That Indian sat on his dead horse and cried as though his heart would break.

Someone took a hat and passed it around, collecting more money than the horse was worth. His tears were dried and it didn’t take long for the squaws to get the hide off the horse. Soon many Indians were eating horse meat.”

Another Bagley story of a pony race in about 1900 concerned an event west of the C&E Trail on Barnett Ave. where the women had to ride the steeds bareback.

A grandstand seat for some of the horse racing events on Barnett Ave. was provided by the front steps of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church constructed in 1895 and in use by that church until 1909. That site is now occupied by Neighborhood Place.

Henry Kolterman, who came to homestead in 1891, built a livery on the site where the Victoria Hotel would be built four years later (now the CIBC site).

He also built corrals to hold horses he trailed in from Montana for sale to settlers and these corrals became impromptu rodeo grounds as potential buyers tested the mettle of horses that caught their fancy.

From there it was only a short step to organized rodeos and horse racing. Ray Bagley was the most enthusiastic supporter of both sports.

Pregrave Winter who built Arcade livery stable about 1900 was the first to offer the services of ‘blooded stallions.’

These were the thoroughbred stud ‘Superior’ and the Kentucky stud ‘Jack Captain D’.

The competing livery, ‘Tice and Fortune’ also got into the act with John Fortune one of the leading figures in the sport of sulky racing.

Following him into the sport were James Douglas, George Hotson and Dr. J.B Harrington.

Harrington, the first resident veterinarian in Lacombe, established his practice in 1901. His particular pride was his pacer, Skyland Patch – grandson of the famous Dan Patch.

Fred Taylor, a blacksmith by trade and chief of the Lacombe fire department from 1907 to 1918, was also a leading figure in harness racing with his horse ‘Captain Derby’.

In 1907 the Agricultural Fair and associated events moved to the 30-acre site purchased from Mrs. McWilliam, the location presently occupied by the Livestock Pavilion and the Lacombe Agricultural Society. Here a banked racetrack was established which continued in use into the 1940s.

The minutes of the Lacombe Agricultural Society for May 9, 1907 carried the following item: Turf Association formed at meeting in Mobley’s Hall. President A.M. Campbell, Vice President P.H. Winter, Secretary-Treasurer W. Crow, Executive Committee E.K. Strathy, John Fortune, Geo. Hotson. Two-day track meet planned for June 21-22. Purses up to $1,500 will be hung up. Mobley, Gourlay and L.B. Brown to arrange stables etc.

Subsequently (June 13) the minutes recorded – “Horse races postponed due to mud.”

Horse racing as an organized sport fell from favour with the advent of the First World War when all the young men and many of their parental generation enlisted and departed for the battlefields of Europe. Interest in the sport sufficient to merit media attention did not revive until the promoters of Alberta Downs came calling in 2006.

 

Just Posted

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported five additional deaths Wednesday due to COVID-19. (File photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer at 169 active cases of COVID-19

Province set to move into Stage 2 of reopening Thursday

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the G7 Summit, at the airport in Newquay, United Kingdom, Thursday, June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Details on Canada’s vaccine sharing plan coming Sunday, up to 100 million doses

Canada’s high commissioner to the UK says details will come after the G7 summit

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec waves to the crowd during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Newborn daughter’s death inspires MP’s bill on bereavement leave for parents

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec says a day or two off not enough for some grieving parents

Victoria’s 2020 Canada Day celebration will not happen this year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations backs cancelling Canada Day celebration

Statement made after Victoria cancels Canada Day event as a statement of reconciliation

United Nurses of Alberta is slamming Health Minister Tyler Shandro for suggesting staff vacations are causing emergency room problems. (Black Press Media files)
Physicians were suffering burnout and then the pandemic made it worse, UBC study finds

Burnout prevalent among 68 per cent of doctors – likely a reflection of issue globally, says researcher

Most Read