Life lessons from the utterly original and deeply generous Charlie Juravinski
The former owner of Flamboro Downs died Wednesday at the age of 92, but not before becoming one of the greatest philanthropists in Canadian history.
by Dave Briggs
It would be easy enough to remember Charlie Juravinski for the flamboyant clothes, his deep tan, or the no-nicotine, no-BS boss bark that told you exactly how it is. In that way, there was a certain J. Jonah Jameson quality to the man.
It would also be appropriate to remember Juravinski’s many passions: his deep 65-year romance with his wife Margaret at the top of a love list that included horses and dogs and Flamboro Downs, Hamilton’s racetrack that he founded with main partners Ray Connell and John Grant and rode proudly like the commander of a battleship. On Juravinski’s ship, no quarter was given to rivals from the Ontario Jockey Club or riders who disagreed with the way things should be done. Yet he also made sure everything was spotless and nothing was out of place.
On the latter, I remember a day spent with Juravinski, 25 years ago now, when he took a detour to pick up any litter on a trip through the Flamboro Grandstand and even quickly produced a dust collector next to his desk to take away the slightest grain of cigarette ash that has had the audacity to escape from his ashtray.
For a man born the day the stock market crashed in 1929 and North America was plunged into the Great Depression, the sting of poverty never fully faded.
“I’m still in my heart as cheap now as I was when we were at the height of the Depression,” he once told me.
Yet depression also taught him to work hard and trained his thoroughness to take care of the things he loved.
Hamiltonians know that better than anyone.
Juravinski died Wednesday at the age of 92, but not before donating some $60 million to various health care initiatives in Hamilton and establishing a $100 million endowment fund that will provide funds for a long time to take care of those who took care of him as former clients of Bas Flamboro.
“All these people supported us. They came to the track. They put the money in our pocket, in the pocket of our staff,” he told me one day just before being inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame as a builder. “We decided, ‘What better way to give back and touch their lives?'”
Juravinski and his partners opened Flamboro Downs in April 1975. The track cost $5 million to build. The idea was to collect the cash as quickly as possible. When Flamboro opened, the boy made it sink. The opening night was a resounding success.
“We caused a traffic jam on Highway #5 and Highway #6. You couldn’t move in the grandstand… It was cheek to jowl. We had to lock the door because you couldn’t let anyone in. ‘other. There was no room to move,” Juravinski said.
He sold Flamboro Downs to Magna Entertainment in 2002 for $72 million (the track is now owned by the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation). Long after he sold the track, Juravinski still showed up at the door to greet customers on Confederation Cup night and present the trophy as if he still owned the seal. No one was about to tell Charlie Juravinski otherwise.
This is the same man who loudly proclaimed that he would roll in the mud if his Georgina Seelster won an Ontario Sires Stakes event at Flamboro in 1988, then followed – lime suit and all – when she did. . Despite his reputation as a badass, Juravinski liked to have a good time.
Juravinski was linked to a number of exceptional horses, including two Hall of Famers – Matts Scooter and his beloved pedigree mare Ellamony.
“What destroyed me about owning horses was when we had to put Ellamony down,” he once told me. “She was going to be the broodmare of all broodmares, as far as we were concerned.”
For many years after Ellamony’s induction into the Canadian Hall of Fame in 1998, Charlie wore her ring until he got his own.
But his greatest achievement was dedicating his life to extreme philanthropy after selling Flamboro Downs.
Just the day before he died, and in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, he and Margaret announced a donation of $5.1 million for health care in the city through the Research Institute Juravinsky.
Many years before, when he announced his first multi-million dollar donation to Hamilton health care, Juravinski had called the press in Flamboro to implore the horse racing industry to do the same as a thank you to the locals who had offered the lucrative Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP) to the industry. His logic: No politician would dare cut a program if the industry used part of the profits to support health care.
Naturally, the industry ignored his advice – as they often used to – and the SARP is a distant, fading memory.
But I hope Charlie Juravinski won’t be. While his death left the world far less colorful, his extreme generosity and unparalleled sense of life should be a constant role model for all of us.