Francis Gerard McIsaac did not want to be known as a star, but that’s how he’ll be remembered. Born in Fairview, PEI, on October 14, 1937, Francis became involved in harness racing as a youth, and eventually owned his own stable. He became one of the premiere names in the all time list of Maritime harness racing drivers. He died at the youthful age of 42 while engaged in his sport at the Saint John track.
The humble, affable and sincere Francis McIsaac rose quickly from racing obscurity to the ranks of the all time greats in Maritime harness racing. Through commitment, dedication and hard work, he built a reputation as one of the most talented and skilled competitors in the sport. Modesty was his trademark – if his horses were doing well in Saint John, McIsaac would comment that it was thanks to Wally McInnis, his trainer and back-up driver; if he had a big night in Charlottetown, he would declare that it was due to the efforts of his trainers Toby MacDonald or George Gaudet. McIsaac was an athlete who was all heart.
Francis McIsaac became only the third Island driver in the history of the sport to reach the 1000 mark in victories. This was outstanding, in light of the short season in the Maritimes where he did most of his racing.
He had nearly 1400 career wins and earned over $600 000 in his lifetime; his records as such are recorded with others in the “World Famous Drivers” record book. They are amazing totals for a Maritime-based horseman.
He was leading driver in the Maritimes in 1978 with 171 wins and $95 000 in prize money. In the same year, he finished in the top 50 among leading North American dash-winning drivers, and was the leading dash winner at Exhibition Park Raceway in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Francis was also the leading dash winner at the Charlottetown Driving Park in 1977 and 1978.
Francis McIsaac was the leading driver at Old Home Week in Charlottetown in ten of the eleven years leading up to his death in 1979. In addition, he had accumulated more Old Home Week British Consols driving titles than any other driver since wins were first recorded in 1925.
Francis was selected to participate in the first international ice racing competition on the Ottawa Rideau Canal in 1979. He was also chosen to compete annually in the Maritime Driving Championships at Sackville Downs, Nova Scotia, winning this event in 1978. In the winter of 1979, he campaigned a stable of Maritime horses at Blue Bonnet’s racing meet in Montreal, and recorded 14 wins in 142 starts.
In 1975 and 1976, he was president of the PEI Standardbred Horse Owner’s Association. He was trainer-driver of the 1968 two-year-old pacing Atlantic Sire Stake Champion, Mr. Gratton, and, ten years later, in 1978, he was trainer-driver of the two-year-old trotting Atlantic Sire Stakes Champion, Blazen M.
Some of the top pacers and trotters that Francis worked with during his career included: Mr. Jollity, Miss P. K., Cape Breton Doug, Another Mecca, Fly-Past, and Columbia Seelster and many others.
Tragically Francis McIsaac’s life ended on August 31, 1979, when he was killed in a harness racing spill at Exhibition Raceway in Saint John. The accident was sadly ironic due to the general consensus among Maritime horsemen that McIsaac was by the far the region’s most careful driver.
The Charlottetown Driving Park’s yearbook tribute to Francis McIsaac is honest and clearly stated, as was the man who gave his life to harness racing: Francis McIsaac, a great horseman, a good friend, and a fine man.
Francis McIsaac was inducted posthumously into the Prince Edward Island Sports Hall of Fame in May 31, 1981.
Updated: July 2018
File Contains: “Trot” magazine September 1979, photographs, citation, composites, career wins and earnings list, photograph with Pierre Trudeau (Signed by Trudeau), stopwatch, and news clippings.