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The Tragic And Mysterious Death Of A Harness Horseman

In a sport where memorial races and commemorative awards are the norm, it seems bleakly ironic that a former horseman can die alone and forgotten. But this was the fate that befell Ron Graham, who ended up homeless in Toronto. The Cape Breton-born trainer/driver passed away sometime during the night of October 27, 2018. His body was discovered the next morning, inside the gates of the Osgoode Hall legal building. He was 62.

Graham was not friendless, despite the hardship of his living conditions. But his companions were living rough themselves, ill-equipped to help each other get back on their feet. Many, like Ron, were clients of Haven Toronto, Canada’s only drop-in centre for older (50+) homeless men. Lauro Monteiro, Haven’s executive director, recalls getting the disturbing news. The morning of October 28, other people sleeping rough near Osgoode Hall “were just getting ready for the day. (Ron) wasn’t moving or getting up. One of our guys called 911, but he was already deceased.”

The official record has scant details of Ron Graham’s life. His career in harness racing predates the era of ready digital data availability, although it seems that he played a valuable role behind the scenes, working as a groom and possibly a trainer or assistant trainer at major tracks.

“Here in Toronto, there were two principal racetracks,” said Monteiro. “He worked at both Woodbine (harness) and Greenwood. He spent a good deal of time at Blue Bonnets.”

Greenwood Raceway ceased racing in 1994; Blue Bonnets/Hippodrome de Montréal followed suit in 2009. Yet Graham’s freefall cannot be attributed to the closure of any one racetrack, nor to the end of Ontario’s Slots at Racetracks Program in 2012.

Graham once declined Monteiro’s offer to directly contact any old connections back home, making a different request instead. “When I went to Cape Breton, he told me to bring him a lobster, and I did—and he threw it at me, because it was plastic,” said the Haven administrator, who frequently joked with Ron and considered him a friend. Exchanges with a number of prominent Cape Bretoners in harness racing—including the unrelated Northlands Park trainer/driver Ron Graham, who is happily retired and living in Edmonton—suggest that the late Ron Graham came from a racing family in the Sydney, NS area.