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What’s next for Windfield Farms?

By Aly Beach/The Oshawa Express

Windfields Farm has had a great impact on the City of Oshawa from its owner E.P. Taylor to the impact on the international horse racing scene. However, after years of operation, the farm closed its doors in 2009, and the land was sold off.

This begs the question: what’s next for the former iconic Windfields Farm?

While a neighborhood has been established on one side of the farm, and Tribute Communities and RioCan are busy developing a subdivision and outdoor mall on the north end of the farm, that leaves the “core farm area” which is owned by the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).

In 1950, General Motors founder R.S. McLaughlin sold the 1,500-acre farm to entrepreneur and innovator, E.P. Taylor. From there, it grew to be one of the most influential horse farms in the country.

“It’s a wonderful Canadian story that deserves to be remembered and celebrated. It’s one of the great farms in the history of the country by one the great families in the history of the country with enormous achievements,” says UOIT founder Gary Polonsky.

Most notably, Windfields Farm is where race horse Northern Dancer was born. Northern Dancer was the first Canadian thoroughbred to win the Kentucky Derby in 1964. It is estimated that 70 per cent of racing horses in the world today have Northern Dancer’s genes.

“Northern Dancer was one of the greatest champions of all time,” says UOIT president Dr. Steven Murphy.

In 1980, Taylor had a stroke. He would later pass away in 1989, leaving the farm to his son Charles. In 1997, Charles died and the farm was passed to his wife Noreen Taylor and his sister-in-law Judith Taylor Mappin. After years of the farm shrinking, it finally closed its doors in 2009, as it was getting more difficult to run a farm with the development occurring in the area.

UOIT and Durham College (DC) acquired the core farm area in 2013. According to Sue McGovern, vice-president of external relations and advancement at UOIT, the land agreement states the school must maintain Northern Dancer’s gravesite, located on the core farm area and recent designated as a heritage site, for 500 years.

Later that year, UOIT created the Windfields Community Group, which would determine the plans for preserving the Windfields farmlands. This committee was made up of representatives from UOIT, the public, the City of Oshawa and Heritage Oshawa.  UOIT and DC wish to honour the Windfields Legacy for its influence on the community.

“The City of Oshawa is very proud, and should be, of the Taylor family and Windfields Farm and we want to make sure we maintain that,” says McGovern.

In 2015, DC and UOIT revealed their joint Campus Master Plan (CMP), which included what the future has in store for the Windfields farm land.  The CMP intends to make the Windfields Farm land a new focal point in the north end of the campus. The area will be part of the campus expansion to make room for the substantial attendance growth by 2030.

“I think the Campus Master Plan is brilliant and someday I can envision a full-service, beautiful, large university presence on it [Windfields Farm], much like the University of Guelph or Waterloo,” says Polonsky.

The core farm area will be used for academic, residential commercial, and student service purposes. Roads and pathways will be built heading to the area. Athletic facilities will also be built there, including a soccer field, as the current one on the corner of Simcoe Street North and Conlin Road will be relocated.

McGovern says the schools are unsure of what will happen to the current buildings such as Barn 6 and the stud barn. Further research will be done to determine if they are usable. However, she says they “don’t want to lose the heritage,”

UOIT’s Pollinator Project is currently located on the former farmlands. The project was started in 2016 after a hive of bees was found swarming one of the old barns. They now have 15 operational beehives they can produce honey with. The school sells the honey, which goes back to the Pollinator Project.

Thanks to a collaboration between UOIT and the City of Oshawa, a public park will also be located in the core farm area.

“Part of the Campus Master Plan is to make sure that the community outside feels comfortable and comes in and uses the university,” says McGovern.

In 2003, council approved a park that was going to be 17.8 acres, located at the south side of Britannia Avenue West, between Simcoe Street North and Thornton Road North. The new location, proposed in 2016, is on the Britannia Avenue West extension and Thornton Road North and will be 33 acres. The new location offers more space and is closer to two main roads.

“We’re looking to amalgamate our two pieces [the university’s and the city’s] together so it’s going to be a bigger park for the community to use,” says McGovern.

While it is unknown at this time what will be in the park, McGovern says there will most likely be athletic fields and buildings among other park structures.

“Typically when you see community parks like this, you see baseball and soccer fields and playground type-things,” says Paul Ralph, commissioner of development services for the City of Oshawa.

Another part of the CMP is to start building the UOIT campus up Simcoe Street North. McGovern says this is an expensive, complicated undertaking as there are no water or sewer lines going up the side of the busy street.

“It’s a huge financial cost to build into the property because the sewer and water needs to be laid down and that’s millions and millions of dollars, but as time goes by we’ll get there,” says McGovern, “You can’t build a building if you can’t flush a toilet or fill up a sink.”

As for the budget for completing the CMP, McGovern says there isn’t really one. There are many factors to completing the plan. McGovern says it could be a 50-year build out to complete the two campuses.

“You’re sort of pulling the number out of the air because we don’t know what we’re going to build yet, the college doesn’t know what they’re going to build and we’ll just go through time and expand into that property,” says McGovern.

Recently, UOIT has begun preserving the original gates of Windfields Farms. The Region of Durham wants to widen Simcoe Street North, so in March, the university dismantled the original Windfields gates, located at the entrance. The gates had experienced some wear and tear over the years, but UOIT says they have been fixed up. According to McGovern, they plan to re-build the gates.

McGovern says the E.P. Taylor/Windfields Farm legacy is important to the university because it is “a good backbone” to build from. She says UOIT is all about innovation and entrepreneurship, much like Taylor himself.

“He is sort of a perfect model for our university students because we’re about entrepreneurship and innovation. He was a true entrepreneur and a true innovator,” says McGovern.