Playback speed
Share post
Share post at current time


This one is for dad.

Hey everyone,

For anyone new to One Word, WOODBINE was originally published in September 2023.

I took Woodbine offline a few months after its release to submit it to a world-renowned film festival. The project didn’t get accepted and now I’m free to publish it again.

Despite not being accepted, I’m very proud of Woodbine. Not only is it the capstone to the first season of One Word, but it’s also my father’s life story and the culmination of my efforts as an artist.

Where I take One Word next season is directly affected by Woodbine. Like the vines featured throughout the film, this project will always cling to the home I am building for my family — a home of words and images and stories.

What follows is the original draft, including the introduction and special mentions.

Talk soon,


This film requires some more introduction than usual.

First, I’m proud to mention that all of the music in Woodbine was composed by a musician I admire greatly:

. We worked on this project for the last few months, and the fruit of our efforts can be found in my documentary and his latest track, titled Behind the Woodbine. The song was also released today, and you can listen to it here.

Second, I gave the talented cartoonist and writer

of One Could Argue early access to Woodbine, and his latest piece, Daydreaming and Black Holes, includes his thoughts. He did an incredible job, and I think you’ll like what he has to say. Here’s an excerpt:

I haven’t previously given Taegan’s films the scrutiny needed to merit write-ups in One Could Argue but he was interested in some no-bullshit feedback on the newest piece. He came to the right shop; I respect him and his work too much to be anything but honest. And my honest view is that Woodbine is a deeply affecting and overall very well-made film, and often not in the ways that I expected.

Read the full article here.

This documentary means a lot to me. It’s the culmination of my work on One Word, and I couldn’t have made it without everyone’s support. Thank you so much for taking the time to watch my videos.

I hope you enjoy Woodbine.


This is my dad, David Lionel MacLean. He went by Dave.

He had a gap-toothed smile and wore Royall aftershave. He drank rum and Diet Coke. He loved hockey and horses and his family.

He was born on December 5th, 1956. He died on August 17th, 2007. He was 50 years old. When I close my eyes, sometimes I can see him. Sometimes all I see is darkness.

Everything I have of his fits into this duffel bag, which was also his. Look inside and see the old licenses, hockey trophies, binoculars, and a necklace of St. Jude. I also have his ashes.

These are the essential facts and remnants of his life, but they feel insignificant compared to the person I remember. I want my daughter and my wife — I want everyone — to know more about my father.

To do this, I’ll need a conduit, a foundation, a word. For most of his life my dad worked in one place. It’s located just off the 427 highway on Rexdale Blvd. I haven’t stepped inside the grounds since he died. Today, I’m spending 24 hours there.

The official name is Woodbine Racetrack and Casino, but my dad called it Woodbine.


My day at Woodbine starts on the backstretch at 5 in the morning. Most of the horses that race at Woodbine live and train here. My dad was a horse trainer and, all my life, this is where he worked.

The backstretch is the name for the barns located south of the grandstand building. The last time I was here, I was nineteen. Today, I’m 36.

Entering the grounds, all those years collapse into seconds. I am a kid again, listening to the birds flitting between the barns, smelling the earthy manure waft from the steel bins. I felt the sunrise warm my face as the horses munched on their breakfast in the shed row behind me.

I am not alone this morning on the backstretch. Visitors require a chaperone, and my chaperone is a horse trainer named John. He offered to let me shadow him during training hours. I hadn’t seen John in a few years; I always liked him, but this is the first time I’ve met with him alone.

John has a handful of stalls near the training track. He has worked with the same team for nearly 27 years: two grooms, Cheryl and Sandy, and a hot walker named Leonard.

The track opens for training at 7am. I walked with John to watch his first horse of the morning train. It had rained the night before, and he worried on the condition of the surface.

“To be honest with you,” said John. “If you were getting ready to race today, the track would be perfect this afternoon because of the wind, and they'd run the harrows over it a few times. So tomorrow morning, if there's no rain, which isn't going to happen, this track would be perfect.”

“I think it's supposed to rain again,” I replied.

“Yeah, it’s absolutely supposed to rain.”

It’s peaceful here. I could almost believe we were in the country if, in the distance, I hadn’t spotted the trains ushering people to Pearson Airport.

As I shadowed John, the backstretch lulled me into its rhythm. It starts with the groom, knocking the dust off the horses and picking their feet. The trainer steps in as they tack up, checking for subtle hints of stress or pain, and then the rider appears, this horse just one of a dozen or more he or she will ride every morning.

The horse gallops. The trainer watches from a distance. And then it’s back to the barn for a warm bath, a brisk walk around the shed row, and a few long draughts of water. Horse after horse, the rhythm continues until the track closes before lunch.

The steps of this intricate dance centre around the track, which is an animal, too. It needs water and brushing and rest. Over at the main track, grounds crew hunch over like inspectors of fine marble, carefully repairing the turf.

And as I filmed John throughout his morning, I realized I had never spent time with another trainer. My whole life, I had met many trainers on the track, but the only trainer I knew was dad.

Dad in an interview on TSN in the 1990s: I think it's a real strong field. I can't remember the King Edward being just one field of horses like this and being so strong right from top to bottom. I think there's going to be some surprises in there. Cool Northerner seems to be in real good order. The race is going to be won from crossing the dirt home. Before that, I don't think it makes any difference what goes on. It'd be a real run for home, though.

Part of my father’s character was embedded in the labour and passion of a horse trainer. So, I began to observe the trainers on the backstretch, searching for similarities to my dad.

Race horse trainers are solitary people. I could easily spot them because they were alone with their thoughts near a rail or in their truck. What were they thinking about?

I often wondered what was on my dad’s mind. He needed his alone and would often be outside washing the car or sun bathing. I’d observe him from a distance, alone myself. One of the things we loved to do was watch movies. That was often our father-son time: alone together.

John asked if I wanted to head over to the starting gate, and I said yes. On the way, he told me how the gateway into his horse racing career was his father.

“I guess I was about seven, eight years old,” reflected John. “He started dragging me out to the racetrack. I was a little older, and I was fascinated. But the environment was different, because there was no gambling in our society.

“It was an activity, an outing for a family. You'd get 15,000 people at Woodbine every weekend. I was just fascinated by it. It was a sport. They had coverage in the paper. There were three newspapers in Toronto, and each of them had a racing writer, specifically for racing. So, you know, exposure was there. It was on TV all the time, and it didn't take me long to follow racing.

“I was fascinated by it. And it just grew from there, and as soon as I got kind of old enough, I got a summer job. So I worked two summers here. I was working for this trainer that I knew, because he trained for my dad. So I knew him for a few years.

“On the second day on the job, I was working in Fort Erie. I better like the job, I thought, because I'm 90 miles from home, and got nowhere to go. I'm living in a tack room!

“You know, I loved it. I loved it. I absorbed everything. So I started to clean the stalls, took horses to the paddock, and I'd been on the track a few weeks, and I was doing all that. I had two more years of high school, and then I came here instead of going to university.”

Hearing John explain how he loved the work made me realize how much I did not enjoy my childhood on the racetrack. I worked with my dad for years, and I haven’t retained any of his training knowledge.

Dad’s interview on TSN in the 1990s, continued: For this horse, crossing the dirt, I'd much rather have it at the end of the race like it is than at the beginning of the race. He's a horse that likes to lay close to the pace, three, four, five lengths off of it, and consequently, when he leaves the gate, he's on the bit. So when you cross the dirt and you're on the bit, your horse is struggling a little, and they have to change surfaces twice, whereas at the end of the race, most of them are under a drive anyway, so the changeover isn't quite so dramatic.

Dad knew a lot; he tried to teach me what he knew, and now, talking with John, I’m reminded that I don’t share the passions of a horse trainer. What gets loaded in my head today will escape in a month or a year.

Phil runs the gate crew: a group of horsemen that teach horses how to enter and exit the starting gate.

“This works better,” said Phil as he discussed a tool the crew uses to train horses at the gate. “Because a lot of times when the crew reach down, missing their hands, and it's like you're tickling the horse, so you put this on the top, and, see? It loops right down the horse.”

All morning, they work with the horses that race at Woodbine, and often retrain the animals that have had a rough experience in the past, like this young filly.

The last set train at 11am, then John preps the feed for dinner and he washes the tack; Sandy and Cheryl bandage the horses and the riders and gate crew rest, because they’ll be back in the afternoon for racing.

Before I left the backstretch to spend the afternoon alone at the Grandstands, John took me to see my dad’s old barn.

My dad’s barn burned down in 2005. So the one John showed me isn’t where dad worked. And yet, I feel like I could still run into dad. When I open a door or turn the corner in the shed row, I expect to hear his laugh, see his face.

There’s a timeless quality to the backstretch, but at the same time, everything has changed. I know I can’t touch or talk to him, but I hope I might, and the experience reminds me of another, much older, story.


A father named Osiris dies and his body is divided and spread across the kingdom, like seed. Years later, his son Horace wants to find the pieces of his father and try to put him back together. But he doesn’t know where to look. His mom, Isis, tells him that life flourishes where the pieces lay. So he spends years searching where green has sprouted from the earth.

I’ve always been drawn to the story, but I’m a terrible groundskeeper. In my backyard, the weeds squeeze between the concrete pavers and reach from under the stairs. The condo board has sent me letters complaining about the Virginia Creeper on my fence. The tiny heads of the vine slip through the boards and rot the wood.

I try to keep up with pulling the vines, but their roots run deep into the soil. I rip them out, and a few weeks later, they have returned.

I assumed better gardeners than I have come up with a solution, so I searched for remedies. In my research I discovered that the noisome vine in my backyard, Virginia Creeper, has another name: Woodbine.


I drive by Woodbine every Saturday. Each time I see the grandstands, I think about dad. I think about how he drove into that parking lot nearly every day. The last time he stepped on the grounds was a few days before he died.

The first time, he must’ve been my daughter’s age — just a few years old.

Woodbine’s pull on my family began before I was born. After the war, my grandfather worked as a tool and die maker on the Avro Arrow project. Canada was moving faster than the speed of sound. But in 1959, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker pulled the funding, and my grandfather, along with 25,000 skilled labourers, had to look for work.

Around the same time, Woodbine Racetrack opened for business. The original Toronto racetrack, Greenwood, was at Kingston and Queen, on the East end of the city near the lake. That track is gone now. All that remains is an off-track betting facility and movie theatre. The rest of the property is town homes and a green space known as Measurement Park.

Woodbine opened in Rexdale, a suburb of Toronto, in 1956. Grandpa got a job there maintaining the mechanical tote machines. The ones at the track today are all digital and you can bet on just about any race on any racetrack.

In the 1960s, my dad would take the bus from the family home on Burrard Road, across Rexdale Boulevard and visit grandpa. There was nothing around the racetrack then. He ventured across empty farm fields. At the end of his trip, he reached an oasis, with working class men and women in their finest slacks and dresses.

I sit in the grandstand and listen to it breathe; long, peaceful silences dappled with exclamations. A horse race lasts less than three minutes and post times are 30 minutes apart. So most of the day, the grandstands are impressively quiet, like Catholics whispering in anticipation for the second coming.

My brother and I came here ever since we were kids. If the backstretch was work, the grandstands was fun. We loved to buy fried chicken from the vendor and run up to the 5th floor.

The staff have closed the 5th floor seating. But my nostalgia had it’s grips on my heart and I snuck upstairs. It looks like the facility uses the top floor to host events. I sat in the stands and stared at the well-manicured grounds. The ponds twinkled, the grass so green I had to turn down the vibrancy while editing the footage.

I’ve always been in awe of the races and in awe of my dad.

His work often kept him away from home, but when he was with us, Kelly and I soaked up his love like sunlight.

He had this way of devoting attention, of being present, that made us feel special. Maybe it was the horse trainer in him, an attentiveness from making a living watching such a beautiful animal move.

There was nothing quite like watching him lace up skates or rollerblades. Like his horses, he moved through this world with astonishing grace.

Like his horses, his life seemed faster than ours. I wish I told him to slow down. Just for a moment dad, slow down.

Dad wore dirty jeans and old shirts on the backstretch. On race days, the days we’d go to the grandstands, he wore a suit and tie.

Many of the riders from the morning now button down the colourful silks of the stables they represent. The gate crew wake from their naps, slip on their red shirts and zip up their protective vests. They gently usher the horses into the gates. Most of the animals they know by name. The horses know them, too.

All the early mornings and hard work and sacrifice comes down to this moment at the gate. Some trainers say a prayer, others cross their fingers. Win or lose, every race starts with just a few simple words: And they’re off.


Woodbine stands as one of many of my attempts to make sense of my dad’s life. Even when he was alive, I wrote stories about him. I’ve taken photos and written poetry. Every attempt ends the same: me lost among my work; the vines adept at opening old wounds, but not strong enough to seal them.

It’s getting late and I’m tired. I’m tired of writing about dad and trying to make sense of his death. Like a thoroughbred after a race, I have nothing left to give.

As I watch the Woodbine outside, I wonder about Horace and the scattered pieces of his father. What if his mother was not telling him where to go, but rather, warning him what to avoid?

“Be careful my son,” she said to him out of the scribe’s earshot. “For where there is green, there is sorrow.”


I’ve never stepped foot in a casino until tonight.

Woodbine added slots in 2006, not long after dad got sick, and it seemed to our family a small addition, an afterthought. Now, Ontario Gaming is expanding the project into a full casino, with card tables and an accompanying hotel, an entertainment centre.

Walking among Woodbine’s construction reminded me of a sepulchre. The dark, peaceful skeletons of the buildings, hulking and green, elides the dance of man and animal, and the beauty of the grounds, for something more consistent and impenetrable.

I put 5 dollars into a machine with a picture of a woman that sort of resembled Isis. I pushed a button a few times, and then received a voucher for 60 cents.

My memories of dad are not unlike the slot machines. I’ve spent thousands of hours reliving my time with him. No matter where I start, how happy the scene, I’m left with the moment everything turned into nothing.

Around the time of this footage, dad had trouble eating. My mom noticed him take a big gulp of root beer to swallow a little food. He went for an ultrasound, and the tech found a tumour the size of a football sprouting from his pancreas.

Soon after, a specialist diagnosed him with Acinar Cell Carcinoma: a rare, terminal cancer. He was given six months to live. But he lived for almost three years. There were operations and treatments, a tube installed in his back to drain the fluid, and a brief remission.

My father died in this house on August 17th, 2007. I only one picture from that year: his trainer’s license. This is my dad the summer he passed away.

In his final moments, he was trapped inside himself, struggling to breathe, with his family around him. His lungs had filled with fluid, and the nurse told us when he was about to go.

And then he left.

There is an image that reminds me of his final moments: the first picture of a black hole. When I stare into this photo, the corona of blurry, wavering light and the endless darkness beyond it, I see dad just before he died and I see the years after his death, a black endlessness that stretches from that moment until now.

The first image of a black hole, taken in April 2019


Hey Dad.

I went to Woodbine yesterday. Some parts of the track were just as you left them; other parts couldn’t be more different.

I keep revising the documentary about you. At first, I was going to use your licenses as transitions. My friend Kyle and I rented a studio. We shot a lot of footage. I spoke about you at a table with your things.

“It's the first time I've ever put all these licenses together like this,” I say in the unused footage. “I've had him in a box since he died. I forget how I got all of these. You know, after he died, it was just kind of a fog."

Then I wrote about how the vines in our backyard are also named Woodbine. I had artsy, black and white sequences. Last night, after returning home from Woodbine, I ripped the vines off the back fence.

This morning, I went outside onto the deck and discovered a hole where the vines used to be.

I don’t know how long this hole has been here. Maybe it appeared after my day at the track. Or maybe the hole has always been hiding under the Woodbine.

Now, I notice the vines everywhere: on the train into the city, during my walks with the dog, in the woods hugging the ravine. If I rip these vines off, would the hole be there, too?

Today, I played my first round of golf, ever, with Kelly.

He has your old golf bag. I told him about the afternoon you bought it.

“We were at a Subway,” I say sitting in the golf cart with Kelly. “We were just eating a sub. It was in Aiken when I was with him. Then he said, ‘I'll be right back.’ Next door, there was a golf store. I guess they had a sale on the bag and the clubs. He bought it.”

“That's hilarious,” laughs Kelly.

You had meant to take Kelly and I golfing, but your work at Woodbine got in the way. So instead teaching us, Kelly learned himself and now he’s teaching me. I see a lot of you in him: his joy of sports, his competitive focus.

Despite my lack of skill, I enjoy golfing. The wind off the ponds and the manicured turf reminded me of Woodbine.

Funny enough, the golf course paired us with a man named Greg. His dad worked as a mechanic at Woodbine for 40 years. What are the odds of that, eh dad?

Afterwards, on the drive back to the house, we talked about you. Kelly told me some of his memories.

“Yeah, a lot of my memories are of work,” said Kelly. “Which is crazy, right? Like it'd be at the farm, mucking stalls, building the track at the back of the farm. I remember doing that with Rejean and dad a lot, where we took all the shavings and the manure from the stalls. We made a track at the back 20 acre line and we just made a track. I remember doing that. That was a lot of fun.

“But yeah, to think of it, a lot of my memories are of work. And that makes me sad to think of. Because, yeah, he was a father there in those times.

“Maybe that was one of his only ways that he could show me how. But by showing me his love, the only way he could do it was through work and teaching me lessons. The other ways he showed his love was gifts and he was really good at that. My first snowboard was by dad, but dad never came snowboarding with me, never went skiing with me. And he could ski.”

He told me about a letter you wrote to him that, some years ago, he lost.

“It was definitely something I held onto and I remember losing it in Calgary. I moved and I think I left it in a book, in a glove box in the truck I was driving for work at the company I was at. But the letter pretty much just said: I'm proud of you. Really proud to see the man you're becoming.

“And there's one thing I do remember that I keep very close to me. He said, ‘Kelly, you always have that ambition to get up and do it again and you don't want anyone to tell you different.’ And he said, ‘Don't lose that.’

“His words brings me back to rollerblading because I would just keep falling and falling and falling. And he was trying to teach me and I said, ‘No, I got this. I got this.’ I just kept getting up. Same with snowboarding, right? I didn't take any lessons for snowboarding. And I think that was something that I never thought dad saw in me and was proud of: that tenacity to be able to get up and keep going.

“I was really happy to hear that he was proud of me. It touched my heart.”

I asked Kelly what he would say to you if he could see you one more time.

“I would just be able to give him a hug,” Kelly said, “because I was never there for his last moments. And tell him I'm sorry that I wasn't there. I’d tell him that everything was okay and everything's going to turn out okay. That he did a great job. He was an amazing father and I love him and I respect him.”

After I talked to Kelly, Mom came by and I asked her what I asked Kelly: what would she say to you if she could see you one more time.

“Obviously I miss him terribly,” she said.

“But also I feel like when he was really sick, all we ever did was just go to the hospital and do that kind of stuff, you know? And I wish we had spent more time maybe going out and doing things when he was feeling a bit better. Of course, he always wanted to be at the barn, so we did that together, which was good.

“But really that's all. I think we had a great marriage and we had a really good time together and we loved the same things. We had you two boys, right? I think, obviously after somebody passes, all of us — you, me and Kelly — we kind of dealt with it in our own ways.

“I have a little bit of regret about that. I tried to help. I helped you and helped Kelly a little bit, but not as much as I maybe wanted to. It was a shock, right? But yeah, we all miss him terribly and it changes the scope of your life when something like that happens. I think we really had a great time together and just wish that we could have more time together, but that's not going to happen.”

She also voiced a regret she had from the night you died: she blames herself for Kelly’s absence.

“Well, I feel that maybe I should have done more,” she said. “Maybe I should havemade him stay while your dad was passing. And that was his choice. But I could have made him stay and that's a big regret of mine: I could have made him stay instead of giving him a choice.”

I made a decision on the night you died, too.

My last words to your were: I promise to look after Kelly. But I didn’t look after my brother. I moved to the city, a few blocks blocks away from the old Greenwood Racetrack. I left Kelly and mom to navigate their grief alone.

This is the first time the three of us have talked about our regrets. I know each of us would make different choices if we had the chance. But that is not our story. Woodbine is our story.

In the myth of Osiris, the responsibility falls on his son, Horus, to put the pieces of his father back together. Since you left, I’ve been trying to tell your story because it’s meaningful to me, and if I can’t tell your story, how could I take up the responsibility of telling another?

I’ve collected all the pieces and put them together the best I can. The truth is, my life is bright and glorious and would not exist without your sacrifice.

So, thank you for your life and your death.

But Isis was right: where there is green there is sorrow. Under Woodbine, a black hole mourns. If I continue to throw my words into this void, I will never grow as an artist, a son, a friend, a husband, and a father.

I know you can’t choose to leave; it’s up to the living to say goodbye to the dead. It’s time for me to go now, dad. It won’t be forever. But it will be for awhile.

We all miss you very much.


One Word
One Word
Taegan MacLean