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The legacy of Windfields Farm and Northern Dancer

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

In the increasing urban sprawl that is north Oshawa, few mementos of what once was remain. Long before the intersection of Conlin Road and Simcoe Street North became the now bustling mix of education, business and residential, it was home to one of the most iconic horse farms in Ontario.

It’s a story that involves some of the most recognized names in the history of the City of Oshawa.

In 1936, founder E.P. Tayor opened a racing stable on Bayview Avenue in Toronto, in the hopes of recreating a national breeding farm in the vein of those in Great Britain. The farm was originally opened under the name National Stud Farm.

Fifteen years later in 1950, Taylor moved the farm to the mostly undeveloped area of north Oshawa. Taylor bought the lands from Col. Sam McLaughlin, also of Oshawa fame. In 1968, the farm was renamed Windfields Farm.

Throughout the decades, Windfields was home to the development of some of the greatest thoroughbred horses in the history of the world.

Reports say horses bred there won more than $80 million in the racing industry over the years

However, there is one horse that stands out above the rest.

Northern Dancer

Northern Dancer was born on May 27, 1961, at Windfields Farm, bred to mother Lady Angela and father Nearco.

Two years later, he made his debut at the Fort Erie Race Track, kicking off a historic two-year career.

He won 14 of 18 races he ran in, never finishing lower than third.

Weekly horse magazine The Blood-Horse ranked Northern Dancer 43rd on its list of the top 100 U.S thoroughbred champions of the 20th century.

Northern Dancer retired from racing to stud in 1965, becoming one of the most successful sires of the 20th century.

Some of his most prosperous offspring include Secreto, The Minstrel, Lyphard, Nijinsky, and Viceregal.

According to a 2016 article by the Paulick Report, a horse racing website, Northern Dancer’s stud fee began at $10,000, eventually raising upwards of $1 million per auction late in his life.
Northern Dancer eventually retired from breeding in 1987 due to health reasons.

He died in November 1990 and buried on the grounds of Windfields Farm.

A look at his accomplishments is impressive. He became the first horse voted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1965. Later inductions included the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976 and the United States Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

In 1999, Canada Post memorialized Northern Dancer on a postage stamp, and a life-sized bronze statue of him was placed outside of Woodbine Race Track in Toronto.

An elementary school named after him opened in north Oshawa in September 2018.

Later years at Windfields

After suffering a massive stroke in 1980, Taylor’s son Charles took over the farm. E.P. Taylor later died in 1989.

Charles himself died in 1997, and his widow Noreen and sister Judith Taylor Mappin began to run the farm.

Eventually, parcels of the farm were sold to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), now known as Ontario Tech University, Durham College, and developers.

Over the years, the farm continued to downsize its operations until 2009 when its impending closure became public.

Both UOIT and Durham College pledged to maintain the gravesite of Northern Dancer and other buildings on the property, with a promise to make the gravesite open to the public. However, by 2012, there was public criticism that the lands were not receiving proper maintenance.

A vacant home at the former farm burned down in late-September 2012.

Meanwhile, there were public efforts to save a stone house, built in 1918, but never given a historical designation.

One of the loudest voices was current Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey.

The home was put on the market by the developer of the lands on the condition any buyer would have to move it.

However, there were no offers for the historic home, and it was eventually destroyed to make way for new development.

A win for heritage

Those who appreciate history were happy to see another stone house on the property saved in 2014, as it was eventually integrated into the Tribute Communities sales centre for a nearby subdivision.

In the meantime, Ontario Tech and Durham College were working on a master plan for the lands, a plan that was officially unveiled in 2015.

The next year, city council approved a legacy plan to honour the history of Windfields Farm and the Taylor family.

In 2018, the City of Oshawa gave official heritage designation to the gravesite of Northern Dancer and developed the E.P. Taylor/Windfields Farm Champion Award.

The inaugural award went to Ontario Tech U founding president Gary Polonsky and the second award given to Tribute Communities founder Al Libfield at a recent council meeting.

The story of Northern Dancer and Windfields Farm came full circle recently when the city unveiled the fully restored gravesite of the champion thoroughbred.

During the ceremony, Ontario Tech officials also displayed the original Windfields Farm sign, fully restored, as well as a restored gate and stone pillars.

The sign, gate, and pillars stood at the original entrance to the farm, on the west side of Simcoe Street South, what is now Britannia Avenue West.They are now located adjacent to Northern Dancer Cemetery.

Ward 2 city and regional councillor Tito Dante-Marimpietri grew up not too far from the farm.

“I think when you consider the kind of history in our community, I think there’s a lot of folks that have enjoyed these premises,” Marimpietri commented.

Ontario Tech president Dr. Steven Murphy said the wishes of E.P. Taylor are being met.

“To us [at Ontario Tech] the legacy of this property not only represents the pinnacle of the competitive excellence as embodied by Northern Dancer, but it also represents the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit that was E.P. Taylor’s life, and carried on by our chancellor, Ms. Noreen Taylor,” Murphy stated.