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Speedway Spotlight: Langford had a speedway many years before Western

A look at the tracks around Greater Victoria
Jim Laird #52, Howie Bianchi #2, and Jimmy Wilburn prepare for their race in 1935 in front of a capacity crowd at Willows Speedway in Oak Bay. (Photo contributed)

Long before Western Speedway – now Westshore Motorsports Park – was on the map, fans got to watch thoroughbred racing one weekend and auto racing the next at the old Willows Fairgrounds and Willows Speedway (between Foul Bay Road and Cadboro Bay Road), where the sport of auto racing first appeared in Greater Victoria in 1912.

But it wasn’t until 1919 that The Willows became a full-fledged auto racing facility. The first big race took place Aug, 16, 1919. The track was a half-mile dirt oval and speed fiends from all over the Pacific Northwest came with such racing machines as the Kewpie, Duesenberg, Mercer, Maxwell, and Stutz. Auto racing continued at The Willows over the years, although not regularly, but gained popularity as the drivers became accustomed to performing in front of huge crowds. Auto racing continued there until the late 1940s when it finally closed down.

The popularity of the Willows Track gave rise to other tracks in Greater Victoria. In 1937, Jack Taylor and the British Columbia Automobile Sports Association (BCASA) began construction of Langford Speedway, on the site of which is now Ruth King Elementary School on Goldstream Avenue.

There was also a racetrack on the current site of West Shore Parks and Recreation known as Colwood Race Track, a one-mile dirt track. While it was in operation for only a short time, it remains part of the auto racing history in the area.

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Langford Speedway was very much a community project. To build the new dirt track, drivers, mechanics and local residents donated their time and labour. In 1946, Taylor wanted to get out of the speedway; so he sold his property to Bruce Passmore and the track became known as Bruce Passmore’s Langford Speedway.

Passmore also raced and owned a stable of race cars that helped get auto racing underway. He was responsible for some big changes at Langford Speedway, including having the track paved in the spring of 1947 – it had the distinction of being the only paved track in Canada. Passmore promoted the speedway by encouraging drivers from throughout the Pacific Northwest and California to come up and race against local drivers, a philosophy that helped put Victoria on the auto racing map and continues to do so.

In 1950, Passmore’s property was expropriated to make way for the school. That situation left local racers with nowhere to race. They made their way over the Malahat to Shearing Speedway in Cobble Hill. It has been said that on occasion, drivers used their race cars to haul streetcars over the ‘Hat because the weight of the race cars was too much for the average car to handle at the time.

As time went by, Shearing Speedway closed its gates and once again local racers were without a place to race until 1952, when Andy Cottyn purchased a 62-acre parcel of wilderness in Langford off Millstream Road.

READ MORE: Speedway - 1954-2022


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About the Author: Goldstream News Gazette Staff

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