Paterson Park

5800 Clarence Taylor Crescent
Delta, BC

Created: 1888
 

Paterson Park sits vacant and forlorn, perhaps echoing a few of the ghosts of its once colourful past.

Status: Still Exists

Kennedy Trail - 1905
click photo for more pictures

Located at the corner of Highway 17 and Ladner Trunk Road, thousands drive past Paterson Park daily, but the only activity the former harness racing track has experienced the past few decades comes from a few dog walkers and joggers.

Paterson Park was formerly known as the fairgrounds before it was renamed in 1951 to honour A.D Paterson, a former reeve for 29 years and MLA for eight years. He was also honourary president of the Delta Agricultural Society, which purchased the land in 1902.

The track was originally built in 1888 and saw its first harness race 10 years later. The sport flourished until the First World War and was revived in 1948 under Delta Raceways Ltd.

That year Albert Huff, a local farmer and councillor along with A.D. Paterson, decided to get racing going in a "big way" in Ladner. On the May long weekend, horses and 6,000 fans gathered for the first time at the newly refurbished track and facilities. Floodlights and betting machines attracted competition from around the province and the United States.

The track underwent major improvements in the mid-1960s after general manager Ted Towers hired a U.S. track expert to look at the site, and that ultimately led to better conditions and records broken.

However, by the end of the 1968 season, operator Bill Connelly of Edmonton, who leased the land from the Delta Agricultural Society, pulled out.

There was brief hope the track would survive later that year when Pacific Raceway Holdings of Vancouver announced it planned to buy the site for $1.5 million and construct a grandstand before 1974. The grandstand portion of the failed proposal would have been multi-purpose, used to also show films as well as hold bingos, dances and other recreational activities.

In 1969, the agricultural society and new operator Ernie Kehler undertook a joint investigation into the future of harness racing in Delta, but it was soon apparent there was no future, so racing ceased.

A myriad of ideas on how to develop the vacant site would surface over the years, but it sits empty today.

In 1973, Delta council rejected a bid by Royal York Holdings of Vancouver to construct a $15 million regional shopping centre at the large field.

A year later, a major land swap was in the works that would have seen the municipality take over Paterson Park from the agricultural society, while the society would have taken control of municipal land on Vassey Road, north of the Delta Town & Country Inn, plus an additional 37 acres of adjacent land that had yet to be purchased by Delta.

The society would then have leased the 70 acres to race track developers to bring harness racing back to Delta.

The B.C. Racing Commission at the time, however, stated it would permit only one racing scheme. In the end, the Delta plan was quashed when the commission chose racing in Cloverdale.

In 1980, the municipality's leisure services commission "strongly recommended" Delta council acquire the park to develop a multi-purpose recreation facility. That recommendation was supported by then administrator Mike Allen and planning director Tom Dennison, but went nowhere.

Agricultural society president Gordon Huff at the time said although there had been generous offers over the years for the land, Kwantlen's offer and intentions made the most sense for the community. The university purchased the site with the goal of building a campus.

Kwantlen College purchased the eastern section from the agricultural society for $3.5 million in 1993. When the announcement was made that year, then-mayor Beth Johnson described the deal as "one of the best things that's ever happened to Delta."

In 1999, the municipality, after lobbying by the group Friends of Paterson Park, purchased the remaining 12 acres for $5.25 million.

Delta then formed a task force, which heard a wide range of community submissions on what should be built there.

Some of the proposals included a Ladner Business Association idea for a multi-use outdoor recreation area.

Other proposals included a Delta Millennium Committee plan for a cultural centre, a new facility for the Delta Museum and Archives and a palliative care centre for the Delta Hospice Society.

Citing a lack of money and the fact the park ranked low on a municipal priority list, Delta ended up putting all development options on the shelf.