In Memoriam: The Renowned Windfields Farm

Standard
Northern Dancer Monument

Artist: David Yeatman, of Aylmer, Quebec. Both the 1964 Kentucky Derby, the Queen’s Plate, and Preakness winner, Northern Dancer is pictured after his historic Kentucky Derby win with Jockey Bill Hartack and E. P. Taylor, owner of Windfields Farm. (Notice the 3D effect as Northern Dancer appears to gallop off the mural!)

For several years now,  housing developments have threatened the Windfields Farm property in Oshawa, Ontario.  Previously owned by entrepreneur E.P. Taylor,  the entire operation gradually dwindled after his death in 1989,  after which his journalist son Charles began shutting down the business and selling off the remainder of the horses. “Though everybody in the family loved the horses and loved to go see them, nobody was prepared to run the show,” said E.P. Taylor’s daughter and Windfields president Judith Taylor Mappin.  Fans of the heritage site watched with dismay as the famous gates at the end of the driveway were dismantled and the property fell into a state of ruin – Oshawa’s beloved landmark has fallen victim to nature, vandals, and appalling post-closure disrespect.

On Saturday September 27th,  the City of Oshawa held an open-house which featured numerous interesting places and spaces in the City,  including Windfields Farm.  During the doors open event it was shared that the new owner,  the University of Ontario, has begun exploratory meetings and discussions with regards to fundraising to allow further repairs to the buildings, barns, and the arena. The roadmap ahead with regards to the intended usage of the core of the farm remains somewhat unclear, but it appears efforts to make the property more publicly accessible in the future were underway, a great step towards allowing the public more routine access to visit the farm and revere in its history.

Access to the farm and the famous gravesite has been restricted by the University of Ontario and it’s rarely accessible to anyone.  It’s far off the main road and unless you remember what the imposing stone gates looked like,  you probably wouldn’t find it.  We’re shuttled onto the property and have the opportunity to meet several fascinating people and veterinarians who lived and worked on the property and recall all the personality quirks of the individual racehorses.  The following was part of our informational session, and the originals are available in PDF format here.

Northern Dancer Cemetery – University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT)

Graves and new stallion barn

Overview of the New Stallion Barn and the Gravesites. There are many other horses buried on the farm in unmarked graves.

Windfields Farm was a 1,500 acre thoroughbred breeding farm founded by businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, E.P. Taylor. In 1950 he purchased what was then named Parkwood Stables, from Col. R. S. McLaughlin.

A number of stallions stood at Windfields Farm. They servied Windfields Farm’s broodmares as well as broodmares owned by other thoroughbred owners, through a commercial breeding operation. From the late 1960’s to the mid-1980’s, Windfields Farm was North America’s top breeder – leading breeder in purses, winning nine times; leading breeder of stakes winners thirteen times. Taylor’s thoroughbred operation grew to be the most successful in North America (Unterman McPhail, 2002).

Overview of Graves

Not eerie, but very nostalgic…

Horses of international fame were bred at Windfields Farm including Nearctic, Victoria Park, Nijinsky, The Minstrel, and Vice Regent.

After Mr. Taylor’s death in 1989, downsizing of the farm began with large parts of the property being sold. Windfields Farm ceased operations entirely in 2009. The “core” of the farm includes the Northern Dancer Cemetery, the Arena and the Old Stud Barn, Barn 2, Barn 6, and the New Stallion Barn. The land that these buildings and the cemetery are situated on is now owned by UOIT and will be incorporated into the Campus Master Plan, which is currently being developed.

The Northern Dancer Cemetery

Windfields Farm was the birthplace of numerous outstanding thoroughbred racehorses, including the great Northern Dancer. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Northern Dancer winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Queen’s Plate. Northern Dancer retired from racing after his 1964 racing season but went on to have an unbelievable stud career, becoming the most influential sire of the 20th century. Northern Dancer spent the majority of his stud career at the Windfields Farm, Maryland division, and was returned home to his birthplace upon his death in 1990. (Unterman McPhail, 2002).

The other horses buried in The Northern Dancer Cemetery include: Archers Bay, Ascot Knight, Ballade, Canadiana, Cats At Home, New Providence, South Ocean, Vice Regent, Victoria Park and Windfields.

 

Parkwood Stables Era – the Arena (Breeding Shed) and Barn 2

Arena Gate and clock

Arena/Breeding Shed,  its forlorn clock permanently stopped @ 5:40

Windfields Farm has a rich and exciting history, linked to two very affluent Canadian families who built their businesses in Oshawa, Ontario.

Parkwood Stables was established in 1927 by the first important family to own the property. Colonel R. S. McLaughlin, the founding President of General Motors of Canada. Later, in 1950, Parkwood Stables was purchased by E.P. Taylor

Colonel R.S. McLaughlin was one of Canada’s most successful businessmen of all time. He initially established Parkwood Stables to house his daughter’s show horses and then later, his thoroughbred racehorses. Parkwood Stable’s thoroughbreds won The Queen’s Plate three times, The King’s Plate once, and many other high profile races (Unterman McPhail, 2002).

Arena

Arena/Breeding Shed

Two of the barns that are now located at Windfields Farm were originally built between 1914 and 1917 on Parkwood Estate, located at 270 Simcoe Street North, Oshawa, Ontario. The barn we refer to as Barn 2, as well as the large indoor arena and attached stable (the old stud barn), were dismanted in 1935; in some cases, stone by stone; marked and rebuilt at the property on Simcoe Street North, now known as Windfields Farm. These buildings were moved from Parkwood Estate to make room for the addition of the reflecting pool and fountain of the Formal Garden area.

The Arena/Breeding Shed, the Laboratory and the Old Stud Barn

The arena was primarily used as a breeding shed. It was also used as a place to break difficult yearlings;the horse could be contained within the arena if it unseated its rider

Windfields Farm hosted many tremendous parties within the arena. One such occasion was when Windfields Farm won the Canadian International Race. E.P. Taylor is the only owner to have won the International on four occasions. He won with Nephisto in 1950; Bull Page in 1951, Navy Page in 1953 and Snow Knight in 1975.

Stallion showings would also take place in this building. It would be transformed with tapestries and seating.

arena breeding shed

Inside of abandoned Arena

Due to the short stature of Northern Dancer, it was believed to be beneficial to breed him to larger mares so that together they would produce larger offspring. Lacking in height, Northern Dancer required help reaching a mare for breeding. Therefore, a pit was dug in the dirt floor of the arena, lined with outdoor carpet to aid in traction (this was later changed to rubberized carpet). Then the mare would be positioned at the lowest point in the pit. This was the only way he was able to reach to breed the mares. There was no artificial insemination in thoroughbred breeding, only natural cover is allowed.

Northern Dancer’s stud fee near the end of his career was $250,000 – $1,000,000 with no guarantee of a foal.

After the New Stallion Barn was built, the Old Stallion Barn would house the overflow stallions (there were only 8 stalls built in the New Stallion Barn).Arena turret

There was also a lower laboratory attached ot the Arena and the Old Stallion Barn. This lab was used to collect dismount specimen from the stallions at stud. This would be checked for sperm count and mobility. It would be collected and passed through a window where it would be checked and recorded.

The Laboratory was located above the Old Stud Barn and occupied three rooms. The rooms were used for Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Haematology.

Mares, stallions, foals, weanlings, yearlings and racehorses received first rate care at Windfields Farm. Prevention was the key to having a healthy population of thoroughbreds. The highly trained staff, combined with a well-equipped and modern laboratory, helped to keep the horses monitored on a constant basis. Many tests were done routinely on the population, which often exceeded 500 horses.

Barn 2

Originally Barn 2 was used for breaking yearlings within the barn itself. The barn is shaped in an oval, with the stalls being located in the middle of the barn. The yearlings would jog around the corridor, until they were ready to jog on the track outdoors or within the arena.

Later Barn 2 was used as a transient barn for outside mares being brought in to be bred by Windfields Farm’s stallions. Quarantining the mares would ensure that Windfields horses were not at risk.

There were also offices attached to the south side of Barn 2. The lower level office was for the manager, while the offices located on the second floor were for the secretaries of Windfields Farm.

Barn 6

Also known as the Foaling Barn, this building was built during the Parkwood Stables period, probably in the 1930’s. The north two-thirds of the building appear to have been constructed first and then the south one being a later addition (Underman McPhail 2002). Numerous greats such as Northern Dancer, The Minstrel, Bridle Path and Vice Regent were born in this barn.

The New Stallion Barn

New stallion barn

New Stallion Barn

The New Stallion Barn was built in the 1960’s. It housed many successful stallions during the Windfields Farm era. The stallions would travel a short distance across a path to the breeding shed (Arena) to breed the mares.

There were once beautiful paddocks north of the barn, where horses were turned out to play and graze daily

There was a sitting room located on the east side of this barn.

Heritage Impact Study Report, Windfields Farm Limited, City of Oshawa, Ontario.

Presented to Windfields Farm Limited, November 2002. Prepared by Unterman McPhail Associates, Heritage Resource Management Consultants

 

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About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

13 responses »

  1. The farm I worked at had a Windfield baby actually named Windfield’s Legacy its nice to see all the grave sites looking so well kept…unfortunately about a year ago now Windfield had to be euthanized as he had a rare stomach disorder, I will always remember him he was a gorgeous boy!

    • The graves look considerably better than they did a year ago with grass and weeds all growing up through and around them. Vandalism was a problem too. Canadian thoroughbreds carry a lot of the Windfield’s dynasty in their genes. I owned two thoroughbreds and although I couldn’t identify them, I always wondered if they were related in any way to the foundation horses of Windfields Farm………

  2. When i started working there I had no idea of the piece of history I would be apart of. My pony gelding loverboy came with me from new brunswick and became a teaser there…and I was fourtunate enough to have ridden in that historical arena…..

  3. When I was in grade 5 ( 1970) my school teacher took myself and 2 other kids to visit Windfields farm, She was horse crazy ! I remember every bit of it, It was my first experience seeing horses on a farm. It left a lasting love in my heart. I have spent the rest of my life training horses, breeding horses, painting horses, and owning hundreds!!! It was great to read this article and to know that parts of Windfields Farm still remain, and are important to others too.

  4. Wonderful article and wonderful photos. Who took the photo of the arena? I would love to acquire a print. You FB page is really good too.

    • Thanks Linda, I took all the photos in the blog (except for the one at the top – the mural). I don’t know if the photo is good enough for a print but I can look for the original and send it to you if you like. If you look carefully it has a reflection of me in the glass which is why I don’t know if you’d want it for a print.

      You can always just right click on the photo on the blog and download it and the resolution should be pretty high.

  5. Windfields Farms was also located on York Mills Road between Leslie Street and Bayview Avenue. I went to York Mills Collegiate which was situated right beside Windfields Farm. On a smoke break my girlfriends and I would stand beside the fence and pat the horses who wandered over to say hi. This was back in the 1960’s. In those days dogs weren’t required to be on a lead, so our dog, who was a mutt, pretty much had the run of the neighbourhood. He’d often follow me to school, requiring that my mom hop in the car to come fetch him. On one of his romps, he decided it was too late to come home so slept in the Windfields Farms barn that housed the prized bulls. The next morning a W. Farms truck pulled into our driveway with our dog, proud as punch, riding shotgun! Apparently he had slept beside the bulls and was found in the morning…fortunately his collar name tag had our address on it and the kind Windfields Farms employee brought him home!! Those properties on the north and south side of York Mills Road were magnificent! They are now home to a subdivision 😦 E.P. and Mrs. Taylor had a mansion on Bayview Avenue, east side, south of York Mills Road. It was always fun to see their Rolls Royce pull up to the Dominion Store located in the plaza at the S.W. corner of York Mills and Bayview, watch the driver get out and open the back seat door, at which point Mrs. Taylor would get out and go in to the grocery store to do her shopping…true story!! Those certainly were the good old days!!!

  6. Lovely updates!
    My family moved to Oshawa in 1964 when I was 12 years old. I remember taking many Sunday drives out past those Windfield gates , always wishing we could go inside.
    My Dad would sometimes stop the car so his horse-crazy daughter could get a closer look at their horses grazing in the fields.
    A few years later my dreams came true and I have spent many happy years in Eastern Ontario with my equine companions.
    I still have an old poster of Northern Dancer hanging on the wall in my sewing room.
    I graduated from R.S. McLaughlin C.V.I. and ‘Parkwood’, now a National Historic Site, is well worth visiting if you are ever in Oshawa.

  7. Having read this article I can’t help but feel a little saddened. Such a large piece of Canadian Thoroughbred history destroyed. I’m Irish and having worked in the thoroughbred industry all my life and knowing the importance of the Northern Dancer bloodline I find it very hard to comprehend what has actually happened to Windfield Farm. I know times move on and things change but surely the historical value of the farm should of took precedence over all else

    • You’re right, I agree. Unfortunately it seems to be of little historical value once juxtaposed with the prospect of making money by selling lots for housing. If you saw the way the front gates by the road had been knocked down casually it would have broken your heart.

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