"What you need to be a race secretary is a big mouth, a thick skin and a license. You've got the first two so all you'll need is the license." That was what Terry Provost was advised when he was first approached to become a harness racing secretary in Western Canada in the 1960s.
He accepted the position and went on to become one of Canada’s most respected administrators in the sport and his contributions will be acknowledged when he’s inducted into the Wall of Fame at The Raceway at Western Fair District later this month.
Provost spent the bulk of his career at the London, Ontario half-mile track starting in 1973.
“I was working at Orangeville Raceway at the time,” Provost recalled recently. “Prior to that I had been race secretary at a few tracks out west starting in Ladner, British Columbia and then at Connaught Park in Quebec for three years.
“I had been at Orangeville for a year when I got a call from Evan McGugan (General Manager) at Western Fair asking if I’d be interested in the race secretary’s position there. I jumped at the chance because I went to high school in London and was looking for an opportunity to come back to the area.”
Provost spent the next 18 years in what he calls his perfect job.
“I was very fortunate to work with horsemen like hall of famers Jack Kopas and Bill Herbert and great drivers like Terry Kerr, Dave Wall and Ray McLean. Those were great years in racing and I’m so fortunate to have been a part of that.
“No one loved going to work more than I did and no one cared more; my vocation was my advocation and not many people can say that.”
“Terry was one of a kind at his job, extremely capable, innovative and a great classifier of race horses,” lauded Hugh Mitchell Western Fair’s current CEO who worked with Provost for many years.
“Terry has a great sense of humour you couldn’t help but like and was a big contributor to the legacy of racing at this track.”
Not only did Western Fair offer Terry his ideal job but the ideal wife as well. “My wife, June-Marie, was working at Western Fair when I started and she’s been wonderful support to me over the years. As the wife of a race secretary you spend a lot of weekends and nights alone.”
Terry isn’t the only one in the family to be honoured lately as June-Marie, a champion speed walker who has competed around the globe, was inducted into the track and field hall of fame last year.
Terry was introduced to racing in the early 1960s when a friend encouraged him to go to the races with him at what was then known as Western Fair Raceway.
“When I first got involved with racing my parents were mortified, they never gambled and thought I would go to hell,” laughed Provost who also refereed basketball on a senior level for 55 years.
“One of the things I’m proud of is writing a stakes series for claimers. We had been at Pompano Park for race secretaries meetings and I remember seeing all of these $4,000 claimers and thinking that it would be great to be able to crown one of them champion.
“That led to what I introduced as the King of the Claimers series which some other race secretaries laughed at initially, but it’s certainly caught on now.”
Provost retired from Western Fair when he was 46 for a couple of reasons.
“My father passed away the day he received his first retirement cheque and I was determined that was not going to happen to me. I was also burned out; I needed a change. We had a place in Florida and spent some time there. About a year later the Ontario Racing Commission contacted me about being a part time judge.”
That suited the affable official who now spends the summer in Ontario judging at various tracks and part of the winter in Florida.
“It’s worked out perfectly for our life style,” noted Terry who was very appreciative when he was informed he would be joining the Wall of Fame, Western Fair’s highest honour. The induction for which will take place on the evening of May 18 which will also feature the eliminations for the track’s signature race, the Molson Pace.
Fittingly, one of the most memorable races Provost recalls during his tenure at London was Lime Time’s 1:56.1 effort for Doug Brown in the 1981 event which was a world record at the time.
“I’m very honoured and what makes it more special is that I join two of the ladies I worked with for years in the race office, Nettie Rumas and Kas Allison and the man who hired me, Evan McGugan. Back then it truly was the Western Fair family and they were a big part of it.”
WFD Media Relations