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SC Rewind: The Country Doctors

Published: April 9, 2016 8:52 am ET

Last Comment: April 11, 2016 4:59 pm ET | 2 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the long-standing practice of medical Doctors owning and racing harness horses. He also reminisces about a special Doctor and his lengthy affiliation with the sport.


Dr. G.B. Isman, M.D. of Wolseley, Sask. holds a trophy won by one of his horses in this very old undated photo. The others are not identified [Isman Family photo]

Long before the advent of fast cars, ambulances and other motorized conveyances, the typical old time rural Doctor dashed about the countryside behind a speedy horse. The always reliable steed invariably arrived in time to deliver a baby or to avert many other crisis situations. It just may be why so many doctors have loved horses and continued to do so. The sport of harness racing has been graced by many the "Doc", some who even handled the reins.

Scores of doctors have owned horses and many have served in official capacities within the sport in addition to their own personal efforts. To name them all would be a monumental if not an impossible task. Today I wish to acknowledge the meritorious and lengthy service of one individual doctor, once very well known and still fondly remembered.

When Dr. G.B. Isman of Wolseley, Sask. passed away back on December 26, 1985 the world of Canadian harness racing lost one of its longest serving members. Dr. Isman, who was christened "Garry Bernard", was most often referred to by his initials as his name appeared in race summaries and other sport-related documents over the years. His name was widely known and equally well respected not only in Western Canada but across the land and into the U.S. He was truly one of the founding members of the prairie harness racing industry.

Dr. Isman, who was born in Brandon, Manitoba, secured his first pacer way back in 1928, and his interest never waned. After racing locally at first, by the 1940's his modest stable began racing on the Grand Circuit. A few of his early horses were Guy Hal, Guy Riggs, Hal Riggs and Jessie Hal, certainly all names with local origins. The Dr. had a succession of fine horsemen in charge of his stock dating back to the great reinsman Jas. Kealey. Following him were several others such as Chas. Gushuena, Don Davies and Lucien Cormier.

In 1952, Norman Temple of Neudorf, Sask. came to work for Dr. Isman and they enjoyed many decades of friendship and success working together. They won five Futurities in three different Provinces with such performers as Eileen Hal, Belle Mohawk, Jessie Mohawk and Marjorie Champ. When racing started in Winnipeg in the mid 60's the Isman horses were the top winning stable at least twice. Beyond the money won was the satisfaction of being honoured many times with the "Best Kept Stable Award" which was a trademark of Norman Temple, always known as a "spit and polish" operator who ran a classy stable.


Driver Norman Temple is shown at Virden, Man. on race day with Eileen Hal a standout filly owned by Dr. Isman in this 1954 photo.

In 1954 the Isman stable and Temple enjoyed quite a year particularly with two of their top performers. Free For Aller Hal Baker, then six years old, won an amazing 16 heats in 31 starts competing in several Provinces. On August 22, while racing at Connaught Park he set a new track pacing record erasing the existing record of 2:08.4 set just a few weeks earlier by Turnabout (Russ Caldwell).

"Hal Baker Lowers Track Mark" was the huge headline in the Monday edition of the Ottawa Citizen's Sports Section. The other shining star was the three-year-old filly Eileen Hal (named after Mrs. Isman). The daughter of Brady Hanover won 18 of 35 starts, with seven more place and show finishes. She captured that year's Futurity and took a mark of 2:10 2/5 while banking $2,830; both incredible stats for those days.

Hal Baker's track record at Connaught stood for a number of years although he first lost it, then regained it but shared it with another well known horse owned by nearby interests W. H. Patterson of Perth, Ont. On September 5, 1955 in a two-heat Invitational Trot & Pace Frank Brook driven by Jack Gordon broke the record when he won in 2:07 1/5 with none other than Hal Baker second. In an hour or so when the second heat was contested, Hal Baker was the winner in the identical time of 2:07 1/5, thus regaining a share of the track record which stood for quite some time.

Somewhat reminiscent with the times Dr. Isman seldom ever bought or sold a horse. His homebreds brought him a lot of satisfaction He enjoyed seeing them train at his acreage at Sintaluta and later at Wolseley. Many of the names he used were recurring, based mainly on his small band of broodmares that were raised,raced and later kept at his farm to produce future generations.


Dr. Isman and his wife Eileen (second and third from right) were on hand to see their star pacer Hal Baker (Norman Temple) take his record at Richelieu Park in this 1956 photo. Georges Giguere on the far right made the cooler presentation

Because of his heavy workload the Doctor was not always able to attend the races as often as he wished. When he did, he always carried his black bag, blood pressure machine, stethoscope and prescription pad. Affectionately known simply as "Doc", the horsemen came to him with their injuries and ailments. He treated them and the fee for his services was always the same...nothing. Dr. Isman had a long and rewarding career in his chosen profession and practiced medicine from 1924 to 1982, retiring at the age of 82.

The scope of this great Doctor's life touched many more areas than just the sport of harness racing. In 1967, he received a prestigious Centennial medal for service to his country. He was an honoured life member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and was made Honorary Chief of the Kettle Assiniboia Indian Reserve for the special care he gave the people on that reserve. In 1974 the communities he served joined together to host a testimonial to his dedicated service. The Wolseley Public School was named after him for his many years of serving on the Board.

Today the Isman legacy continues as the next two generations of the Doctor's family remain very active in the sport, with their home base at Gladstone, Mb. His son George is a lifelong horseman and still drives on the Manitoba fair circuit. George's wife, Dr. Valerie Isman, a member of the Karaz family also with a horse background, is deeply involved as well. Their children including daughter Tara and son Garrett are very involved in all aspects of the sport.

In a racing journal write up following the Doctor's death his son George said "Dad enjoyed a great life and horses were a big part of it. He'd grown up in the horse and buggy days and always kept horses after that." Rare are those who have combined the many qualities and attributes of Dr. G.B. Isman.

April 11, 2016 - 4:59 pmIf possible, please convey my

If possible, please convey my appreciation to Mr. Temple. I am so glad that he got to read the story and be told how much his good horsemanship meant and is remembered after all these years. Also please tell him that the picture taken at Virden, Manitoba in 1954 was given to me by one of his fellow horsemen from that area, Mervin Kirkness who is still residing in Leamington, Ont.

April 11, 2016 - 3:23 pmJust received word that now

Jeff Porchak SAID...

Just received word that now 92-year-old Norman Temple, residing in Wolseley, was able to read this article thanks to a couple of former Standardbred participants and he thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks Robert!


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