Track photographer Gerry Hart retiring?
No, but while this may not be Gerry’s final season at the Downs, it will probably be the last year that he operates on his own. Maybe we should think of his work cut-back as more of a “partial eclipse.”
Gerry has been our photo guy for the past 46 years, having started in 1968. So what’s up with the eclipse reference? Well, Gerry and a Winnipeg Free Press colleague, Dave Bonner, took the iconic photo of the February 26, 1979 total solar eclipse -- the last total eclipse of the 20th century in North America!
Many of us have seen this photo before, as it appeared on the front page of the Free Press. In addition, the paper gave away 100,000 copies of the photo.
At the end of the 1967 racing season, Downs’ general manager Scotty Kennedy, a frequent visitor to the Free Press, let it be known that the track was in the market for a photographer. At the time Gerry was a copy boy, ran the wire photos and did the night police beat for the Free Press.
Everyone knew that Scotty was one to embellish stories, so even though Gerry knew the job might not be as lucrative as Scotty was letting on; there was something about it that interested him, a lot! So he spoke with Scotty, who encouraged him to come out to the Downs and discuss the position, and maybe even take a photo or two.
Early one morning in April 1968 Gerry ventured out to the track. As luck would have it, he happened upon trainer Harry Kube, who was leading Mel Mik Blaze on to the race track. With the early morning sun behind his subjects, it created a silhouette, and Gerry instantly knew he had his perfect shot.
Scotty loved the photo and Gerry Hart became Assiniboia Downs’ new photographer, a relationship that has flourished for parts of the last six decades!
Gerry was a one-man operation from 1968 to 1975 when he made the transition from black and white to colour photos. For about 15 years his buddy Frank Chalmers took the win photo shots while Gerry did the printing, with both men sharing the photo duties during harness racing. Photo processing was time consuming back then. It took eight hours to process and print one day of racing!
Frank retired in 2000 and Gerry returned to his track-side perch. He’s been there ever since.
Memories from the Hart:
- Minus 20 degree temperatures, howling winds and blowing snow in the dead of winter during harness racing.
- The horrific June 1976 rain storm when savage winds destroyed eight glass panel windows in the grandstand, resulting in a number of fans being treated for cuts at the Grace Hospital.
- Every Manitoba Derby since 1968!
- Being one of only two photographers authorized to photograph the Queen (inside the rope lines) during her visit to the Downs for the Manitoba Centennial Derby in 1970.
You name it, Gerry has seen it. And he has the photos to prove it!
Next season we are going to see a little less of Gerry and more of a talented young lady who has been his understudy this year. Her name is Katie Chalmers Brooks, and she is the daughter of Gerry’s friend and former track photographer Frank Chalmers. Which seems so perfectly fitting…
For a partial eclipse of the Hart.
With the season coming to a close on Sunday, September 22, this will be my last history article for our 2013 On Track blog. Thanks for reading; for all your kind comments; and for allowing me the privilege of sharing some special memories from the past. It’s been a blast! See you next year!
-- Bob, Track Historian