Stamford Park: Racing at the Falls

Stamford Park showing the home stretch of the race track
The opening of the expanded Niagara Falls History Museum has provided us with new stories to tell about living in Niagara Falls, and we get plenty of questions from visitors about what they're seeing in the Museum. One such topic is Stamford Park, the race track in the west end of the city.

Horse racing has been a popular sport in Niagara since the officers at the garrison at Fort George began to show off their horses and their riding abilities on the commons at Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Most of the towns and villages in Niagara boasted a track at one time or another. Niagara Falls' own Stamford Park began in 1922 when sports enthusiasts P. G. Demetre and Thomas Duggan purchased 74 hectares (182 acres) of farmland bound by the Canadian National Railway tracks on the South, Montrose Road on the west, and Woodbine Road on the north. At the time, the Park was outside the City in the old Stamford Township.

Stamford Park Racetrack opened with an eight- day October 13, 1923. The Park boasted an 800-metre dirt oval racetrack with grandstand seating for 800 spectators and barns and stables for 260 horses. As the popularity of the track grew, so did the facilities. Two years after opening, a second, one-mile track shared space with the original half¬mile track and more barns and stables were constructed to house 360 horses. After World War II the facilities were improved again with barns and stables for 700 horses, parking for 5,000 cars, a spur line from the CNR tracks for special trains, and a 3,000-seat covered grandstand with restaurant.

The post-war period also brought a new "fad": stock car races began to share the facilities with horse races. Spectators spent $1.00 for adults and $0.50 for children for a seat in the fully-covered grandstand. The track gained a reputation as being the "car killer", especially hard on cars with its rutted flat surface and dangerous board fences. Stamford Park was the first track in Canada to hold a NASCAR Grand National race on July 1, 1952. The headline race — 200 laps — was won in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 33 seconds, the overall average speed was 45.610 mph! Seventeen cars started the race, but because the track became so rough, only six cars managed to complete the event.

The Stamford Park grandstand
Stamford Park closed September 1, 1953, and over the next few years the track's many buildings were demolished. Most of the area is now the site of the Ascot Woods subdivision, with street names that harken back to the glory days: Paddock Trail, Preakness, Ascot, Post Road. Every once in a while a long-time resident of Niagara Falls will refer to area as "where the racetrack was", and Museum visitors wonder about where the horses raced and the stock cars roared.

The Ballad of Sheepherder Bill

by Bill Gavin

The wind blew through the crevices of our tackroom

walls that night.

We were bedded down in a vacant stall and the moon

shone big and bright.

The backstretch of ole Stamford Park was quiet as a jail,

'Cept for the occasional rattle of an empty water pail.

The mare had run her race that day, we'd bet our toot and

won,

And just returned from Niagara Falls where we had a

little fun,

Our bottle was almost empty, a spider did remain,

Which we'd consume next morning to relieve a gnawing

pain. ...

 

Bibliography

Looking Back, Niagara Falls Historical Notes. Sherman Zavitz, 2008

Dirt Track Digest-Stamford Park, Niagara Falls,1951

Legends of Nascar -Buddy Shuman

Poem: International Horse Racing Digest -The Ballad of Sheepherder Bill- Website is defunct as of April 17, 2015

Photos:                Niagara Falls History Museum

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