What do airplanes, horse races, and hardball have in common? Around Lytton quite a lot. It is known as one of the hottest spots in the canyon, probably for more than just the temperature.
People have been living in the Lytton area for almost 9,000 years. Many historians consider the Lytton-Lillooet region as one of the longest continually inhabited areas in North America. While people may have been meandering about the area for what seems an eternity, horses were only introduced to the region since the early 1800s. The automobile has only been around Lytton since 1907, but small aircraft didn’t start landing in Lytton until the middle of the 1900s.
In the 1920s the flat land a mile north of the Lytton, not far from what is now the southern boundary of Skihist Provincial Park, was cleared to create a racing track. High above the Cariboo Wagon road, now Highway 97, the flats at the top at the foot of the hills was an ideal place. And the horse racing was hot. It was a big draw, with folks coming from as far away as Merritt and Ashcroft with hopes of winning the big race.
There were pony races, ladies’ races, men’s races and saddle races. All tried very hard to make the finish line first – betting was rather serious business around the track. However, the biggest bets were saved for the Thompson Stakes. The race, which was a half-mile, ran some well known local horses of the time including Hennessey, owned by John Pasco, Birdie, owned by Alphonso Hautier and Singer, owned by Walter Baillie, to mention a few.
During July 1st celebrations while races were running, a small rodeo would be taking place in the middle of the field. The day started with a baseball tournament and ended with the big highlight – the Point-to-Point Mountain Race.1 A hair-raising, air-raising race of scary proportions and excitement.
Riders and horses would mosey up the back ridge of the steep hills above the field and wait on the flat several metres back at the top. The spectators would be gathered at the far end of the field across from the steep incline waiting breathlessly. Suddenly, the horses and riders would literally be flying down the hillside. Once at the bottom the thundering hooves sprinted the distance to the racetrack, made a hard left and ran the last 100 metres to the finish line.
While the horse racing would eventually die down, other activities on the field did not. It became evident in the middle of the century that the field was ideal as landing strip and thus it became so. Instead of horses flying down hillsides, it was now small aircraft flying in to, and flying out from, the 685-metre grass runway.
Baseball was played on the field for years. Whether it was softball, hardball or slow-pitch, practices, games and tournaments shared the field with pilots up until the end of the 1960s. This airstrip has been decommissioned and is only used in case of an emegency.
It was a busy field! From horse races to baseball and to airplanes, there is little activity this field hasn’t seen. There was always something going on at the end of Airport Road, high above the quaint town of Lytton, in the heart of Gold Country.