Hundreds rally in support of horse-drawn carriage industry

Emotions were high at a rally Thursday evening that brought out hundreds in support of Victoria’s horse-drawn carriage industry.

A city councillor’s motion to phase out the industry has put it in a precarious position. Coun. Ben Isitt put forth a motion asking the city to develop regulations next year to phase out the carriages by 2023, citing traffic safety. Councillors voted last week to refer the issue to city staff for a report on the implications of such a move. The report is expected in September.

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Supporters of the carriage industry run the gamut from those working directly with the horses to residents who feel strongly about their presence on city streets. In speeches to the crowd at Centennial Square, several called the horse-drawn carriages “iconic.”

Randy Tucker has been a driver for Tally-Ho Carriage Tours, one of Victoria’s two carriage companies, for 23 years. He said the industry is a “hallmark” of the city. Tucker has worked with the same horse for 17 years. He said he and Bud have a special connection. “I eat the watermelons. He spits out the seeds.”

He said he doesn’t know what will happen to him if Isitt’s motion is successful. “I’ll never find anything I’m this good at,” he said. “Right now I’m not thinking about that. I know what will happen to the horses. They’ll be slaughtered.”

Tucker said if the industry is phased out, it will become impossible for the companies to afford to keep the horses. They will have to sell them, he said, and a new owner would inevitably send them to their deaths.

Kate Clark, another Tally-Ho driver, said the company is proud of its great safety rating and works hard to maintain it. “I feel like we’ve been demonized in the public quite a bit and I’ve been hurt by it,” she said in a speech. Clark finished her speech by starting a chant of “Ban Ben,” that the crowd continued. The slogan, referring to Isitt, appeared on many signs in the crowd.

Central Saanich’s mayor voiced his support. Ryan Windsor said the municipality is highly supportive of the industry. The horses live in Central Saanich and train on the municipality’s roads. “I hope cooler heads prevail in the City of Victoria and that they take a much more reasonable and collaborative approach in working with these operators and this industry,” he said.

Miesje Taylor, a James Bay resident who works in tourism, held back tears while expressing her support. “I see them work all day. They take breaks. They’re not abused. They’re an awesome part of the tourism industry,” she said.

Saanich resident JoAnne Nelson said she will feel “devastated” if the city phases out the industry, adding that the pairing of horses and people in Victoria is “a deep and magical thing, and we cannot lose it.”

Linnea Comolli attended the rally because she is worried about what will happen to the horses. “They are going to end up being slaughtered, and that really bothers me,” she said.

The owner of Tally-Ho Carriage Tours, Donna Friedlander, thanked the crowd on behalf of her late husband for coming to show support, saying he was the impetus behind the family getting involved in the industry. “He put his heart and soul into this business,” she said. “We’re carrying on in his name, and he would be so honoured tonight to see you all here.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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