Race Week in Cochrane – A Memorable Event

A Peep into the Past - by Gordon and Belle Hall Vol. 1 pg 46

The gala event of the year in this area was a full week of racing on the only mile turf track west of Winnipeg. This was before the great depression had hit before the 1930s. Everyone attended the races. 

The track was situated about one and one-half miles west of the village, on the north side of the railway track and south of the Calgary-Banff road. There was the mail mile track, complete with a grandstand, about 10 big horse barns, various feed barns, etcetera, and on the east side of the race track was a full size polo field, complete with a clubhouse. 

In the years I knew the race track, it was owned and operated by the Rhodes Brothers, Bumpy and Dusty. They also owned a large ranch in Grande Valley. I was school age at the time and rode a pony to school in Cochrane. A day or two before the races, I would keep watch from school windows. When the racehorse train arrived, I would ask to leave the room, and I was gone, along with the pony. Anyone who was there could get $1 per head to lead horses from the train to the track, or racehorse barns, Usually I could lead two at a time, unless one was a stud, then just a single. Having delivered my horses, I would race back to get some more. I usually made about $8 to $12. 

During the races, I had a job with Bumpy Rhodes. He was a timekeeper, but after partying at night, sometimes he had a hard time seeing the other side of the helped him and took the time. His question was always, “Are they started yet?” When I got the time, I printed it with chalk on a huge blackboard facing the crowd. I received $8 for the afternoon, plus a ringside seat. 

People came by saddlehorse, buggies, cars, train and airplanes, Yes, there would be three or four monoplanes land in the polo field, some said they came up from the States. The CPR advertised and filled a train in Calgary. It would stop next to the track, let everyone off, then back up to Cochrane and the sidetrack and pick up their load again after the day was over, and return to Calgary. 

Then there was our own Walter Crowe, who ran Crowe’s Livery Stable (it sat where the Royal Bank is now). In the front of the barn, he had a big, old touring car, the make I don’t remember. Raceweek the car come down off its blocks, and the tires were pumped up. Walter would put on a white outfit with a white straw hat; and that was the racetrack taxi, from Cochrane, anyway. 

The jockey’s dance was held on Friday evening of race week. Of course, it carried on until way into Saturday. Morning. It was held in the Chester Hall, upstairs, in the Howard Block, which is above Kerfoot and Downs Hardware Store. Why the floor didn’t cave in will never be known, as the place was always packed full. Bolter’s orchestra used to play. 


Where Graham’s Pharmacy now stands, a few years back stood a Chinese laundry, run by Yee Lee, but before that, it was a boarding or rooming house. A man at the racetrack, who had had one-too-many beers, was kicked by a horse and killed. It was late in the day to take the corpse to Calgary, so the authorities put it in the room house for this night. About midnight the beer started to ferment, and the corpse began burping and making strange sounds. Strange as it may seem, by morning the corpse had the house all to itself. 

Racing continued into the 1930s. Under the grandstand were living quarters. I remember Scotty Garthwaite living there Bob Wilson and Major Mortimer and his family lived there as well. Mortimer was a great cricket man and we played quite a few games out on the polo field, but it was one game I wasn’t fond of. 

In later years, I remember Fred McCall, the airman, bringing a plane by trailer to the field and attempting to fly it. But, it crashed on takeoff with no one hurt. So went another era into history, when the track and buildings were dismantled and sold, or just ploughed under. 

Photo courtesy Glenbow Archives

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