History of Fraser Downs
The history of modern harness racing goes back to colonial America, when roads were improved enough so that a light carriage could be driven with some speed. This early means of transportation grew into the sport of harness racing, which gained status as a major North American sporting event. The earliest competitions were between ordinary farmers, who had a natural curiosity about whose farm horse could go faster.
Jim H. Keeling Sr., is credited for bringing modern harness racing to British Columbia. Keeling was a natural sportsman, with his roots in hockey. In the 1950s a friend talked him into buying a harness horse, and from there Keeling went on to operate a stable in Ontario with Hall of Fame trainer and driver Keith Waples.
Keeling and Waples along with a third partner, Doug Gillespie, formed their parent company, Orangeville Raceway, northwest of Toronto. In 1969, he ventured west at an age when most men would have retired, to give the Fraser Valley Fair Board some help with a harness meet at Cloverdale. From this endeavour evolved Keeling’s ownership and operation of Cloverdale Raceway, which became the cornerstone of harness racing on the west coast when it opened in 1976. Four years later, Keeling and his partners also opened Sandown Raceway, just outside of Victoria. Because of Keeling’s industriousness, BC had two harness racing establishments and although both started modestly, they soon transformed standardbred racing into major spectator attractions.
In the early 1990s Jim Sr. eventually passed the torch of running the business to his son Jim Jr. Tragically, Jim Jr. died suddenly in 1996, and his son Chuck was put at the helm.
In 1996, Cloverdale Raceway underwent renovation and was renamed Fraser Downs.
What began as a research project in 1996 became a reality in 2003, when the province abandoned its policy of banning slot machines from BC horse racing tracks. Fraser Downs began an endless consultation and meeting process to receive proper licensing to operate the slots.
In December, 2003, Surrey City Council approved the addition of slot machines to Fraser Downs. Construction began later that month and the opening of a permanent Casino with over 400 slots opened in November 2004. The grand opening of the completely remodeled facility was held in October 2005, with hope the casino would stimulate harness racing on the west coast and help revitalize the Fraser Valley to one of the premier entertainment destination in the Lower Mainland.
Keeling had a vision, “The slot machines will win for us an opportunity to arrest our sport’s decline, attract many new people and substantially improve purses. All of us who love horse racing – operators, staff, fans and horse people – should be judged in the future by what we are now able to achieve.” Keeling has already proven that Fraser Downs will be judged for its visionary thinking and spirit, not unlike its founder was almost 40 years ago.
Jim Keeling Sr. who will be remembered as a pioneer of harness racing in BC was inducted into the Canadian Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2001 and BC Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2007. Had it not been for Keeling’s courage and vision, harness racing would likely have ceased to exist in BC.
Today Fraser Downs is a proud part of Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, British Columbia’s foremost casino and gaming operator, and the largest community-based gaming management company in Western Canada.