Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Young Man's Dreams Dashed with Tragedy in our home town of Fort William, Ontario

Thank you all for being patient....I've improved quite a bit since my eye surgery in Winnipeg and finally able to get back to some blog posts.  Thank you for all the well wishes......Dave
This is one I've been working on for some time....

HR&J doesn't usually delve into subjects like this, however this sad story is part of Canadian Lakehead Exhibition racing history, and after some research and donated photos, we can read about the most serious local accident in racing history here in our Lakehead cities of Fort William and Port Arthur.  NOTE: IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU CLICK ONCE OR TWICE ON ALL THE PHOTOS AND ESPECIALLY THE NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS TO ENLARGE THEM.
We start with the dream.
In the photo below, taken in front of Wes and Jerry's Service station on 231 N. May St. (The Service Station is behind the photographer) is Wes Inkster, Jerry Whittaker, a very young Lorne Hay, and in the cockpit of Wes' 1934 Plymouth Jalopy (stock car) is also a very young Lyn McIntosh.  The car was just built and sported a new paint job with #13 and even white wall tires.

 The building in the background of the above photo no longer exists...there is presently an empty lot on the north/east corner of Cummings and May streets as shown here.
The photo below was taken at the same time as the one above, and shows that Wes & Jerry's was a White Rose station....and kitty corner across the street was Gibson's Bowladrome which still exists today as Superior Bowladrome.  Sitting in Wes' car is a very young Lyn McIntosh who would later go on to an incredible racing career of his own.

 Gibson's Bowladrome and in the today photo Superior Bowladrome, as mentioned is still there, but the restaurant that is there used to be separate from the bowling alley.  It was named Uncle Frank's Top Hat Coffee Bar and Billiards and was located at 214 N. May St.
Wes and Jerry's Service from the front and still yet another rear angle photo of Wes' #13.  The Service Station was located at 231 N. May Street here in Fort William, Ontario.

 This corner is and has been completely vacant for some time now, and will likely be used as a parking facility for the new Court House as needed.
A huge thank you to my friend DENNIS WINKO for donating the above photos for use on HR&J.
Another friend of mine who also acts as a proof reader for me, ALAN YAHN put together the following history of the addresses surrounding Wes and Jerry's Service.

Wes and Jerry's would be to the right (north/west corner), Jessiman Motors would be to the right (north) of Wes and Jerry's and on the south/west corner would have been Tom's Texaco at the time.

Here is Wes' car at the CLE track the first day he raced it.

 This is what an original 1934 Plymouth Coupe would look like brand new and the picture I edited below it is a "what if" photo.....
Wes had dreams just as we all have.  He wanted to be a great driver like all the rest of the guys who entertained thousands of people at the old CLE track such as Merv Dove, Louis Tocheri, Tom Dow, Barry Kettering, Louis Tocheri and the Massaro Brothers.
Sadly this would not happen.
Read on to see and read the clippings, well done by the editors of our newspaper back in the 1950's.  The following clippings appeared in local newspapers after that fateful night back in the summer of 1957.......


After the accident, many fund raising events were planned to assist Wes and his family with the huge medical bills, such as raffles, dances, dinners and concerts.  The beautiful dolls below were raffled off and someone made tons of little cars to sell that kids could paint up with their favourite driver's numbers and names...some shown below....

Here's a young fellow showing off his wooden car collection all painted up.  If someone knows who built these cars for the fund raiser, I would like to know who it was.....Thanks

The above clipping was taken from the Fort William Gardens roster of 1957.  The benefit concert held at the Gardens was incredibly well attended and local artists gave of their time to help the Inkster family.  Our cities of Fort William and Port Arthur always came together to assist others through the years.

 This final clipping was taken from the 1957 CLE racing program showing a thank you from the Wes Inkster Benefit Fund Committee

Wes' #13 Car shown below with some of the damage from his accident never stopped racing however, as Junior (Fran) Speer took over the car sponsored later by Master Cleaners and Tailors on Victoria Ave.  Junior raced this car for only one year as #13, and later changed the number to #21. 

Junior Speer continued to race the car for many racing seasons thereafter and even headed across the border to race on occasion.

 A year later this advertisement with an earlier photo of Wes taken before his accident appeared in the News Chronicle.  At that time Wes was the sole proprietor.

This photo of the same car as #21 and still driven by Junior Speer may have been taken in Superior Wisconsin at their track.
Wes had moved out west many years ago.
After much research we believe that Wes passed away in Medicine Hat Alberta on October 2, 2013 at the age of 78 years.
1957 however was an extremely sad ending to a promising racing career at the old Canadian Lakehead Exhibition Track in Fort William Ontario.
RIP Wes Inkster....Your story lives on............