The Dundas Driving Park was founded on land originally owned by prominent lawyer and political figure George Rolph. It had been part of his estate since 1822, and he allowed a large portion of the flat land to be used as a village green for picnic sports and other activities. Most of this land was purchased by Rolph’s son-in-law, Dr. A. Holford Walker, in 1865. Despite Rolph’s principled objection to any form of racing, Walker established a horse track shortly afterward, closing off the street at Cross and Cayley. The track was primarily intended for residents to exercise their horses, but some people supposedly took part in several ‘trials of speed.’ The land was officially purchased by the Town of Dundas on September 20th, 1886. Shortly after, on February 7th, 1887, it was proclaimed the Dundas Driving Park in a by-law.
From 1905 until 1915, a ‘Citizen’s Committee’ was responsible for overseeing the park. In 1915, it was turned over to a management board under the Public Park Act. Over years and decades, the park would see a large expansion in variety of recreational activities, with several private benefactors making investments in the park’s development. Lawn Bowling games, for example, started to be organized by Dr. T.A. Bertram on a green behind his Main Street home, and a space for them in the park became available in the early 1900s. One interesting addition was made in 1909, when Colonel J.J. Grafton relocated the first log cabin courthouse and jail in Wentworth County to the park. In 1911, he then donated new gates for the park, and converted the cabin into a picnic centre, which remained a well-used structure until it was destroyed by a fire in 1967. The largest expansion came in 1913, with the addition of a “bandstand, dance pavilion, race track, covered grandstand, log cabin, washrooms, water, lights, benches, and romantic pathways.” Unfortunately, the bandstand too was destroyed by fire in 1949, but games carried on with park benches moved to provide replacement seating. A tennis clubhouse was created the same year, and a new band shell was erected by an anonymous donor in 1953.
The park remains a beautiful place for residents of and visitors to Dundas to relax and enjoy the day.
Thank you to the students from McMaster University Department of History for their assistance with this project.