Horse Racing ON the Bay – February 1875.

It was not an infrequent occurrence, in the dead of winter, during the latter part of the 19th century, for horses races, witnessed by hundreds of people, to be held on the frozen surface of Burlington Bay (now officially known as Hamilton Harbour).

James MacKay was a talented Hamilton artist whose appeared frequently in the Canadian Illustrated News. Following are two of his works, in full and in part, accompanied by a few explanations.

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An overall copy of MacKay’s drawing which appeared in a February 1875 issue of the Canadian Illustrated News.

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Detail portion showing on left, commercial docks and warehouses on the waterfront at the foot of Bay street, and on right Grant’s sail loft (still there in the present day.)

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Portion providing a close up view of the racers in the centre, observers to top right and bottom. It would a safe bet that the gentlemen not looking at the race are “sports” taking bets on the race’s outcome.


Above is MacKay’s complete followup illustration regarding the horse race on the ice of the bay.


Portion of the full drawing. Above a filled-to-overflowing horse-drawn Hamilton Street Railway heading north on James . Below a black man with an older horse on the bay near the course – the caption reads “(Irish accent) ‘Say, which trot is yer entered for ‘Johnny?’ – Sketch on the Bay – A Superannuated Racer.”


Labelled “A Few of the Sports” – the term ‘sports’ at the time usually meant gamblers.


Above, a large crowd gathers around a jammed judge’s stand. Below, some of the less successful heading home after the race – the man on the right shows his now-emptied pockets.

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