Greenwood’s Goodbye

When I lived at 1870 Queen St East from 1999 to 2002, there was no trace left of old Greenwood Racetrack, which once graced the entire south-west block of Woodbine Ave and Queen. Its immense grandstand, the hundreds of stables, the oval track, and even the last remnants of the parking lot were bulldozed. Why? We only have to look at what took its place.

Regrettably, I never saw a live race at Greenwood. It truly existed just before my time. It is now just a historical curiosity that any horse racetrack existed against the backdrop of downtown Toronto’s skyscrapers.

The last harness horse race took place at Greenwood on December 31, 1993, and the last thoroughbred race on December 8, 1993. Incredibly, Greenwood had been entertaining race fans since 1874, back when the Beach community was considered cottage country for many Toronto residents.

Greenwood 1907

Greenwood Racetrack circa 1907

When Greenwood closed in 1993, and its horse races moved to the newer Woodbine Racetrack in Rexdale, many lamented the decline of horse racing. Indeed, Greenwood followed many urban track closures, such as the former Dufferin, Longbranch and Thorncliffe racetracks.

What were Greenwood’s last days like? It’s last thoroughbred race in 1993 drew over 11,200 fans and $2.7 million in wagering ($4.1 million in 2017)…not too shabby.¹ Its last standardbred race on New Year’s Eve drew 7,000 fans and over $900,000 in betting. The very last race at 5:07pm was won by a 3-year old pacer named Kirk Henley.² The record payout? That belonged to a standardbred named Smooth Skipper, which paid $242 on a $2 bet on July 26, 1979!

In the end it didn’t matter how many fans attended, how much was wagered, or how exciting the races were. The reason for Greenwood’s closure stood right across the street from me: In the racetrack’s place over 530 new houses were built, along with several mid-rise condo buildings on Queen St. In 2001 they were selling for over $500,000. You can do the math yourself…the real estate was simply too valuable to justify a 119-year old racetrack. And that’s too bad.

DSCF4919(1)_560x350

These Lakeshore Blvd homes now stand atop former Greenwood Racetrack’s backstretch.

The neighbourhood now known as Woodbine Park, is quite nice, and sits along a 12-hectare park where the racetrack parking lot and streetcar loop once ran. Local race fans now congregate in the new Champions off-track betting lounge, a bit further down Queen Street toward Coxwell Ave. But it’s not the same.

greenwood 1953b

Greenwood’s grandstand area fronting Queen St East

Strangely, I miss Greenwood Racetrack, even though I never once entered its front gates. To me, Greenwood was a mysterious monolithic complex, its sprawling oval property and imposing grandstand simply being something I saw from my parent’s car as we whisked past south on Woodbine Ave via the dog-leg turn onto Lakeshore Boulevard.

Many residents didn’t take notice, until the multi-storey, 10,000 seat grandstand was torn down in 1995. On the internet, you’ll find many photos of the crumbling structure. A final indignity upon such a grand landmark.

Greenwood 1970

Wondering what it was like to watch live horse races a mere 10 minutes from downtown, thinking about it’s 119-year old history when horse racing ruled the world of sports and gaming, and pondering the many fortunes won and lost over the years, I’m sure I missed a lot. We all miss out when a  piece of Toronto’s history disappears.

I don’t feel sorrow that Greenwood is gone. That, was inevitable. My regret is not fully appreciating it while it was with us.

Mike Chopowick – April 23, 2017

greenwood 1993b

Greenwood Racetrack circa 1993

1. Toronto Star, December 9, 1993, “Thoroughbred Fans Give Old Greenwood a Rousing Sendoff”.
2. Toronto Star, January 1, 1994, “All Bets Are Off at Greenwood”.
*1870 Queen St East is also now gone, it was an old Edwardian detached house, demolished in 2008 to make way for a 6-storey condo building.
Note: Top photo of Greenwood at sunrise is by Tony Leonard
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