Can you tell me anything about the horse show that used to be held in St. Catharines?
The first St. Catharines Horse Show was held in October 1927, largely through the efforts of Mr. William E. Newman. The show was held indoors at the Coliseum on Phelps Street, through the generosity of the owner, Mr. Frank J. Murphy, it ran for 3 days in October. The Show was opened by famous Canadian horsewoman Mrs. James A. McSloy. About 150 horses were registered. Ticket selections included private boxes, gallery seats and general admission seating. Classes in the show included draught horses, commercial classes, roadsters, carriage horses, ponies, saddle horses, hunters and jumpers. There was also a mule race. Local businesses and patrons donated cups and prizes for the winners. Exhibitors came from all across Canada and the United States to participate.
The second show, in 1928, was held at a new location. The newly formed St. Catharines Riding and Driving Club, the organizers of the show, purchased 13 acres off Queenston Street, near Jeanne Sauvé (previously Kernahan Park). The land, formerly the farm of Bill Traver, included an 800 meter track. It was the home of the Horse Show for 26 years earning the honour of being known as Canada’s largest and finest open air Horse Show. No shows were held during the war years of 1940 – 1943.
In 1957 the Riding and Driving Club enlisted the help of the St. Catharines Kiwanis Club as a sponsor, to share responsibility for promoting and running the show. As a service club, begun in 1935, the Kiwanis Club was interested in promoting projects of benefit to the community, especially boys and girls work. Proceeds from the show enabled the club to assist in the community, including its work in construction of low rental housing in the Kiwanis Club Senior Citizens apartment project on Geneva Street. Kiwanians assisted in all aspects of the preparations and running of the event, including obtaining advertising for the programme, ground crew detail and painting fences, putting together a programme, obtaining judges for the show, providing refreshments, selling tickets and obtaining trophies and prizes and providing general organization and manpower.
In 1960 the prizes were as follows: First Prize was $25.00, Second Prize was $15.00, Third Prize was $10.00 and Fourth Prize was $5.00. Sponsors often offered special purses for the winners. There were 400 horses competing over a three day period that year.
In 1965, having outgrown the St. Catharine Riding and Driving Club location, the land was sold, and the show moved to the Garden City Raceway, Canada’s newest harness track, which was owned and operated by the Jockey Club Limited. A special show ring was constructed in front of the grandstand. The grandstand contained an air-conditioned dining room overlooking the track, lounges, rest rooms, lunch counters and many other facilities. The exhibitors were able to use the modern barns.
The show expanded to include 1,200 horses over a 5 day period. It was hailed as the largest outdoor show of its kind in North America. Participants, judges and spectators came from across Canada and the United States.
In 1970, the Kiwanis held a Horseshow Ball at the ballroom at Prudhomme’s Hotel. The event, which included dancing and a light supper, drew many from out of town and expanded the event.
The show ran every year for 50 years except for the war years. In 1976 the track closed. The Kiwanis Club ran the show one last time in 1977, but found the show was not to their benefit as it required a lot of work to open and man the track for the show. The end of racing at the track increased the costs of using the grandstand and sponsors were difficult to locate as were volunteers for administrative details, set up and clean up and general operations.
Research by St. Catharines Museum volunteer Anne Carruthers.