Horse racing is now a part of Vernon’s past.
The Okanagan Equestrian Society has officially dropped its appeal of a court ruling in favour of the City of Vernon and Regional District of North Okanagan in May 2018, following an eight-year dispute between the jurisdictions.
“The appeal has been abandoned, largely for financial reasons, and we will not be proceeding with it,” said Ed Woolley, spokesperson for the equestrian society. “As a result, it signals the end of Kin Race Track, at least in this incarnation.”
Asked about the costs involved in the appeal, Woolley simply said it was “more than we could handle.”
“It’s extremely difficult for the society to accept (that the fight is over), especially considering that a large part of the reasoning is purely finances and the ability to proceed. It’s especially difficult when you’re dealing with an entity that doesn’t have that issue, and has the ability to push things through. It’s a bit more difficult when you’re a non-profit organization.”
The dispute began in 2010 when the society was evicted from Kin Race Track, and the society took the city and RDNO to court, claiming equestrian activities were guaranteed when most of the track was turned over free to the city. The society also claimed RDNO ignored an agreement for lease renewals.
The city and RDNO countered, claiming the society didn’t live up to its terms of the agreement, including maintenance of the property and holding events.
“I’m happy to see this come to closure without any further costs,” said RDNO board chairperson Kevin Acton. “I am looking forward to seeing the property become available for public use.”
Vernon Racing Days had been a fixture at Kin Race Track every summer for more than 100 years, with the last set of races held in 2013.
Fire destroyed the historic grandstand at the race track in July 2014. Races scheduled for the weekend before the fire had been cancelled due to a lack of horses.
“We had dates scheduled for that summer but whether they’d happen or not, I don’t know because we were dealing with a lack of horses,” said Woolley.
Since the fire, only softball has been played by Vernon Minor Softball, the Vernon Women’s Slo-Pitch League and Funtastic at Kin Race Track.
Mayor Victor Cumming said the city is pleased to hear the official outcome of the lengthy court case.
“We can now begin the process of engaging the public for ideas on the future use of this land, which is zoned for recreational uses,” said Cumming. “Our goal will be to determine a use for the land that provides benefit to a wide range of citizens.”
As for the equestrian society, its future is clearly in doubt.
First formed in the 1800s as the Vernon Jockey Club – one of the oldest corporations in B.C. – the drop of the appeal likely spells the end of the society from a historic perspective, said Woolley, as is the loss of the race track from an historical standpoint.
“Our reason for existing was entirely dealing with horse racing,” he said. “However, our ability to move forward with no facility and, quite frankly, no funding available at this point for moving in a different direction, it would call the existence of the society in doubt.