I had a full afternoon to kill on Saturday so I decided to take a long, leisurely walk through the south end of the city with the ultimate destination being beautiful Marquis Downs.
Before heading south I made a quick two-block detour to the north of my hotel to see the University Bridge and the Park Town Hotel. I lived at the PT for several months in the summers of ’82 and ’83, and actually got some work done when I wasn’t glued to a new thing called MTV that was offered in every room. Gary Numan and ‘Cars’, Taco and ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’, ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics, Devo’s ‘Whip It’, ‘Sunglasses At Night’ by Corey Hart, and The Talking Heads with ‘Burning Down The House’ were on heavy rotation. If you watched longer than an hour you were sure to see your favourite a second time.
After snapping a few shots of the hotel I turned around and walked south on Spadina Crescent, past the grand old Delta Bessborough, and along the riverbank to Rotary Park.
I walked over the First Avenue Bridge and caught a few heats of the Dragon Boat Races from high atop the bridge before descending into the leafy neighbourhood that lies in the shadow of the bridge.
Saskatchewan Crescent West is clearly one of the finer streets in the city and I followed it southward until I found what I believe was the former home of Central Program’s founder, Urban (Don) Donlevy. If it’s not the Donlevy home, it’s very close as I remember Don and Helen’s home as being a very traditional two-story, centre-hall plan in white with a red door and looking very much like Ward and June Cleaver’s.
After walking another 20 minutes I emerged from the full canopy of trees to find the main gates of Prairieland Exhibition and Marquis Downs. There was no security guard at the backstretch entrance so rather than having to lie and scheme to gain admission, I just walked in. It quickly became obvious that the races had been canceled. A sign on the grandstand door blamed “unsafe track conditions”.
Sadly, not much has changed at Marquis Downs. The backstretch was built on the lowest part on the property and it was as wet and muddy after a simple morning rain as I remember it being in the spring of ‘82 when I first landed in town and we got two feet of snow in early May and a final dump on May 30th!
I had a chance to walk up and down some of the dryer shedrows and had a good long chat with this group of palomino lead ponies. They had the night off but I felt sorry for them being cooped up in a stall on a Saturday night.
After splashing around in a shallow puddle for a few minutes I managed to get most of the mud off my hiking boots and deemed myself presentable enough for admission to the on-site sports bar.
There were about 100 raucous patrons watching CFL action in the main bar area and about 20 middle-aged to elderly gentlemen taking in some simulcast horse racing in the OTB area. They didn’t make a sound. And since there was no volume on any of the TVs, I could hear the customers calling their bets to the pair of live tellers. Del Mar seemed to be getting the most action with a smattering of punters playing Mohawk and Assiniboia Downs.
I downed my Pilsner in peace. I was kind of relieved that nobody recognized me as I didn’t want to explain that I had left a job at Mohawk and was now homeless, unshaven for a day, and caked in mud. I doubt that many of them would have believed it was my own decision.