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)
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).
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.