The farm, Windfields Farm, that E.P. Taylor built in the 1960s was once 1,500 acres of horse heaven. It is where the great Northern Dancer was born. Today, much of the property is now is being dug up by developers while the rest lies dormant, tended to occasionally by staff of Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), co-owners of the land along with various home builders.
In the past year, the state of the property has been of major concern to racing fans, horse lovers, historians and interested residents. Some of the old houses, barns and dorms are beginning to crumble around the grave of the Dancer himself. These concerned people have set up websites and social networking pages, attended town hall meetings and sent letters to city officials in an effort to ensure the preservation of the farm, in particular the gravesites.
The fate of Windfields Farm changed dramatically in 2009 when it closed down its commercial operations completely and auctioned off everything from horses to halters. Already with a scaled-down stable of its own, Windfields was run at that time by Noreen Taylor, widow of E.P’s son Charles, and E.P.’s daughter, Judith Mappin. When urban sprawl in the area started to close in, the family partnered with real estate developers to build residential homes on the bulk of the property.
“Tribute Homes” “The Neighbourhoods of Windfields”, already occupies one large section of the property, the east section across from the parcel of land that holds most of the barns and staff housing. The Minto Group has started digging on the west side of Simcoe Street, north of UOIT, close to some of the old barns.
Durham College and UOIT have built an arena, parking lot and sports field on the southwest corner of the land. Currently, the gravesite area between the foaling barn and stal- lion barn remains intact and, according to UOIT communications manager Lisa Banks, the master plan for the property ensures its preservation. “The gravesites have been tended to by the University,” said Banks. “The full completion of the planning [for the University section of the farm] is perhaps one or two years away but we fully expect that we will see a tribute area.”
That tribute area, with perhaps a museum, would include the gravesites and a small surrounding area. “What we plan to do is enable public access to the gravesite so the public can visit and pay their respects to Northern Dancer and the other champion horses that are buried there,” said Banks.
Noreen Taylor is confident that the UOIT and Durham College will continue to uphold its responsibilities to the caring for some parts of the farm. “I have always heard that they have tried to be respectful of their obligations,” said Taylor, who emphasizes that maintaining the gravesites (there is also the Trillium grave site further back in the property) is her main concern.
Bernard McCormack, who was Windfields’ longtime farm manager, raised his family in one of the houses on the farm. “It’s kind of hard to see the houses with the peeling paint and falling apart,” said McCormack. “It’s the grand old lady of horse farms. Unfortunately there is sometimes a time lag from when a developer takes over a property until the final plans are known.”
Among those leading the charge for Windfields is Mark Morissette, an equine enthusiast and former Oshawa resident. Through his website www.SaveWindfields.com, Morissette has been instrumental in keeping the farm as a major topic with both Oshawa’s city council and those that own the property.
“Windfields was a name known worldwide – in many respects,” said Morissette. “Like General Motors, Windfields put Oshawa on the world map. As the birthplace and resting place of Northern Dancer, amongst many other famous racehorses, it is regarded by many as hallowed ground.”
For now, the farm is under security surveillance by UOIT,the stallion barn has been sealed up while it is cleaned and refurbished and electricity has been re-connected in some areas, all signs that indeed, some aspects of this world famous farm will always be in existence.