Seeing the machines take down the derelict buildings alongside what used to be Kin Race Track this past week was bittersweet.
Like the Civic Arena, which was also levelled recently and was the first indoor ice arena in the Interior, there’s sadness associated with one of Canada’s longest running tracks, circa 1893, being reduced to rubble after so many decades of service and being an integral part of the community. Apparently we don’t honour history so much as demolish it.
I went to my share of Vernon Racing Days and always enjoyed the sights, smells, sounds and the buzz of being there on a warm Saturday afternoon hoping, against all odds (because I always went for the long shots and who wants to win 10 cents on a $2 bet after all?) that my horse would come in.
One special memory was taking a couple, new to Vernon, to the track one day and they were literally overwhelmed, mostly good, by the experience and it was fun watching their faces as they took in all that it means to witness the sport of kings up close and personal.
But as time went on there were less and less races, less and less horses and less and less Vernon Racing Days, not because the people involved weren’t dedicated against all odds to keep it going, even when the grandstand was torched, but because times had changed and legalized gambling was now available at the local casino down the road, or at any of the hundreds of lottery booths conveniently located to take your money and give it to the government.
Not that horse racing is just about gambling, the thundering hooves and echoes of “And they’re off” are hardly ever heard in a casino, but it’s a big part of the draw and at one time was our only outlet for that particular vice. At least legally.
But the best efforts of the Okanagan Equestrian Society, although admirable and understandable, wasn’t going to bring it back. The legal brouhaha between the society and the city and regional district took over 10 years to settle, with the government finally coming out on top in court last year, but the only real winners were the lawyers.
The taxpayers and residents of the city and RDNO paid a huge price in terms of driving by a decrepit facility on a daily basis and even higher in terms of missed recreational possibilities. The wonderful soccer/football/track facility finally built at Okanagan College because every other site was exhausted and they had the land, should have and could have been built at the Kin Race Track site if it wasn’t tied up in legal mumbo jumbo for so long. The facility has no real connection to the college, except parking, is too far out of town for casual users, looks out of place and is subject to a cold wind most of the time.
Next to Kal Tire Place, the facility could have been used by all the athletes who use the rink (hockey schools, tourneys etc. etc), the hundreds of walkers that invade the rink could easily transfer to the outdoor track when the sun is shining increasing its use thousandfold from its present site, and it would look awesome side by side to boot. I know, I know, that race has been run. I’m beating a dead horse (sorry). Get over it. Still, maybe there’s somebody I can sue.
And then there was the twinning of Kal Tire Place. If the race track debacle had been settled earlier maybe, and I’m winging it here, they could have twinned the rink the other direction without compromising the Vernon Farmers Market and parking so much.
Again, get over it old man.
So now what do we do with the site, along with the Civic Arena site for that matter? Again we need a plaque, not honouring levelling landmarks silly, but saluting the colourful history of Kin Race Track. One thought is refurbishing the ball diamonds, but then again I understand Funtastic didn’t even use them this year so maybe not. I know there was a plan a decade or so ago by some optimistic planners but I can’t remember what it was. Likely out of date today.
A new pool? Maybe, but a referendum would be involved and we might be done with those for awhile.
The only safe bet? The long wait for the recreational evolution of the Kin Race Track site is going to be even longer. Heavy sigh.
Glenn Mitchell is the former editor of The Morning Star.