~ by Daniel Demaras ~
Motorsport is more often enjoyed by the rural population, due to the large amounts of space required for the facilities and the noise it generates. Being a racing enthusiast from East York, whenever I’ve gone to see racing action its meant driving an hour or more out of town to tracks like Sunset Speedway, aside from the one time a year downtown Toronto shuts down for the IndyCar Series. I found myself wondering about the tracks that existed before I was alive to see them. Searching the internet, I discovered Soldier Field.
Greenwood Park today is a grassy field with a baseball diamond and a dog park in a residential neighbourhood that I’ve driven by a thousand times. But little did I know, a century ago it was home to East York’s very own oval track.
Before 1925, the area at Coxwell and Gerrard was the Morley-Ashbridge brickyard. When all the clay was used up, a rectangular crater was left in the ground. An investor bought the old pit and instead of building more houses, he built a Ulster Stadium, the home of the Ulster United Football Club.
In 1930 the stadium added a cinder block oval track and floodlights around the outside of the soccer field. The track was re-named Soldier’s Field and began hosting speedway motorcycle races from 1931.
In the early 1930’s Ontario tracks like Leamington, Sarnia and Chatham hosted ‘Big Cars‘ on half-mile tracks. In the US ‘Big Car; racing had already been established for years, and the cars were run at tracks like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but promoters were not getting the car counts needed to put on a show, especially during the Depression.
Car builders in Los Angeles and Chicago saw an opportunity to produce a smaller, cheaper race car called ‘Midget Cars“. The cars were simple steel frames with motorcycle engines and basic sheet-metal bodies made to resemble Indy cars of the day.. They were a hit during those challenging times.
Soldier Field began hosting Midget Car races four years after Soldier Field opened, with the first midget race happening on May 24, 1935. Race promoter Harry “Red” Foster managed to get 8,000 fans in the stands for the first race.
After less than 10 years, the Soldier’s Field stadium was torn down, ironically to build houses for soldiers returning from WWII. Today, more than 75 years later, not a trace of Toronto’s racing history remains at the East York location; not even a sign or a plaque. That’s the price of progress.