Tom Joy was a successful industrialist who purchased Windsor Raceway in the late 1980s. Under his stewardship, the then-struggling Raceway modernized, grew, and significantly contributed to the Windsor-Essex economy for a number of years.
Joy was born to Canadian parents on May 8, 1929 in Niagara Falls, New York. In the 1930s, he moved with his family moved to St. Catharines, Ontario, where he attended elementary and secondary school.
Joy left school at age 16, but he later finished his high school studies and enrolled in some university courses at night. He served in the United States Army, in the Finance Department, from 1948 to ’53. He worked in various locations in Germany and Europe and attained the rank of Sergeant by the time he was discharged. Joy then accepted a civilian franchise position as Deputy Controller in charge of US military banking operations in the Far East. In this role, he worked extensively in Okinawa, Japan and Hong Kong.
In 1960, Joy returned to St. Catharines. Having invented a unique nut and bolt product, he decided to establish his own plastics business. Starting with capital resources of only $2,000, Joy went on to own, operate, develop, reorganize, or involve himself in more than 18 companies in Canada, the United States, and Europe over the next 30 years. Before Canada’s Centennial in 1967, a company that he had co-founded made the first new Canadian flags, including the flag raised on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, when the new design was dedicated.
Over the years, Joy has been associated with companies dealing in everything from plastics and stainless steel to sandpaper, container caps, and nuclear tubes. A company he owns called NuTech, – located in Arnprior, Ontario, and Bridgeport, Connecticut – is the sole worldwide manufacturer of pressure tubes for the CANDU Reactor.
In 1989, Joy bought Windsor Raceway from Louie Levesque, a Montreal industrialist and financier. He had enjoyed horseracing for most of his life. “When I was a young boy,” he stated at one point on the record, “there were eight or nine tracks in southern Ontario, and I started to go to the races when I was only eight or nine years old, and I absolutely loved it.” He had purchased his first horse, a three-year-old gelding, in the early 1960s for $3,500. The horse was previously owned by Mr. E. P. Taylor, who was considered to be the ultimate capitalist in Canada at that time. Taylor created the Ontario Jockey Club, built Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and was the breeder and owner of Northern Dancer. Joy referred to Taylor as the godfather of racing in Canada.
Before long, Joy’s Windsor Raceway became one of the most remarkable turnaround projects of Joy’s long business career. At its height, Windsor Raceway was the largest independently owned racetrack in Canada, with annual sales of approximately $200 million.
When Windsor Raceway opened in 1966, it was the pioneer winter harness racetrack in North America. For the next 23 years, the track offered live Standardbred racing from October to March. During that period, the sport of harness racing experienced very little change; Windsor Raceway almost always turned at least a marginal profit, and occasionally it was substantially profitable.
Unfortunately, “pari-mutuel” racing in North America began declining seriously in the latter half of the 1980s. The industry was changing, there was a lack of horses, and the purses were small. While new technology was coming into the industry, Windsor Raceway was poorly positioned to take advantage of it. As a result, Joy’s racing enterprise changed from a comfortable passive investment he could enjoy from afar to a liability that suddenly began losing a great deal of money. In the first four years of his ownership, Joy poured $2.5 million into renovating the Windsor Raceway track and promptly lost another $8.5 million.
In 1994, Casino Windsor opened and Michigan authorized full-card simulcasting across the Detroit River. While both posed potential life-threatening danger to the Raceway’s existence, there was nothing like a money-losing investment to invigorate Joy’s entrepreneurial juices.
Joy’s response to the Raceway’s new, seemingly overwhelming competition was to compete “better and smarter.” In that spirit, Windsor Raceway invested in high-tech pari-mutuel communications. He purchased its own satellite uplink then paid to design a computer program to allow American and Canadian dollars to be paid into the same pool. This allowed Windsor to offer and send its own live racing — which was much improved in response to higher purses – to more than 100 North American locations and to bring in a variety of interesting cards for its local patrons. These cards included a Hong Kong race, which the Raceway introduced along with a festive, historic live-race program that started after midnight. 1,400 people attended. To make things even easier, the Raceway also added cashless tabletop wagering.
In the ensuing years, Windsor Raceway made a remarkable, almost legendary turnaround – at least for a time. Records for both purses and wagering were broken, and, in 1995, Windsor Raceway celebrated its 30th anniversary with corporate revenues exceeding $170 million and profits in excess of $3 million. 1995 was the Raceway’s most profitable year ever to that date.
Joy’s leadership enabled the Raceway to evolve into an “entertainment complex.” It kept horseracing as its core business but offered a number of other attractions to entice visitors, including a 700-seat bingo parlour and video lottery terminals (VLTs). Under Joy, the Raceway also expended over $1.5 million to install its own employee-manned tote equipment. The upgrade significantly increased the size of the Raceway’s purses, which in turn improved the quality of horses on the live cards. Joy was also responsible for teaching government officials about the racing industry. He explained how many people it employs, how important it is to the economy, and how important it is for legislative bodies to work with racetracks. His efforts resulted in a reduction in the monopoly tax paid by racetracks (from seven-percent to five-percent) and permission for tracks to install VLTs. The innovations have dramatically improved the earnings of both track owners and horsemen.
During its heyday under Joy’s ownership, Windsor Raceway had a huge impact on the local economy. It was the fifth largest taxpayer and the sixth largest user of utilities in Windsor, and it purchased 95% of all its supplies (to the tune of $10 to 12 million per year) in Windsor. Between the backstretch and the grandstand, it employed 1,600 people. Windsor Raceway was also the largest food-service operation in all of Western Ontario. It has its own print shop, a huge construction crew, and 38 janitors on the payroll. Were it not for Joy’s leadership, this industry that was so important to the wellbeing of Windsor would not have existed.
In 1996, Joy received a most prestigious honour. He accepted the John W. Galbreath Award, which is presented annually to an entrepreneur who has utilized leadership and management skills to make a significant impact on the equine industry. The award is presented to an individual “who has introduced original, creative, and successful business techniques; has demonstrated willingness to take risks; has utilized vision and ability to make a business or organization more profitable and effective; and has gained the respect of business associates.” The award is named for John W. Galbreath, a self-made man who distinguished himself as a businessman and horseman and who is the only man ever to breed and race a Kentucky Derby winner (Chateaugay and Proud Clarion), and an Epsom Derby winner (Roberto).
Joy was a good friend of the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame. Prior to 1993, a display at Roseland Golf and Country Club constituted the Hall of Fame’s physical home. That year, when renovations at Roseland reduced the amount of space available to the Hall, several member portraits had to be placed in storage. In 1995, to ameliorate the situation, Joy generously established the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame Lounge at Windsor Raceway. An attractive and cozy setting, it permitted the simultaneous display of all the inductees’ portraits. The Lounge officially opened to the public on Sunday, February 26, 1995. It served as the Hall’s interim home until May 1998.
Tom Joy passed away on October 9, 2001. He was posthumously inducted into the Windsor/Essex County Hall of Fame in 2004.