Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Prairie Harness Racer

My great grandfather owned a livery barn in Miniota, Manitoba in the first and second decades of the 20th century. He raced in various harness racing events throughout the province into his fifties and sixties. He was Irish and had the love of trotting and pacing horses that enchanted many of the northern Irish, along with horse racing. His grandfather came to Canada from Belfast in 1830 and my great grandfather was Irish Presbyterian to the core. My great grandfather had his own colours and sulky and of course, had ready access to Standardbred horses as a livery barn owner. The pianist and I visited Miniota a few years back. Like most small prairie towns it is now a hamlet with a few old pioneers! They have a museum from the heyday of Miniota when it was a bustling town with a weekly paper, the Miniota Herald. We drove in on a Sunday in the summer and all the windows in the houses opened up and they peered at us, and then a lady came out and asked us what we were there for! A visitor was clearly an event! She offered to open the museum for us if we were interested, which we were. We browsed for a while at the artifacts of a time now gone, when the pianist came across a newspaper of 1912, the Miniota Herald, and the headline was, " James Wellington Warren has 18 good driving horses for sale". What a find and no Hobson's choice in that notice! In 1950 I travelled with my father to visit my great grandfather who was in his 90's. He was lying in a bed in an old nursing home ,by himself ,in Miniota. Mary MacDonald his wife was long gone. He had his leg amputated and a long term urinary catheter in place and was alone in a room that was dingy, with a bare light bulb, and the room was ten by ten feet. He told my father and me that he prayed every day that he would be " taken away, but his heart was too strong". The early photo's I have of him show a vibrant and engaging and dapper man! At fifteen, I came to realize that we can live too long!

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