59 years strong: Meet Calgary Stampede's longest running volunteer, Bruce Roy

Bruce Roy has been volunteering at the Calgary Stampede for 59 years, but he says it never gets old.

Roy says his passion for horses and rodeo keep him coming back

Bruce Roy is the Calgary Stampede's longest running volunteer. He first visited the event as a child in 1943. (CBC)

Bruce Roy has been volunteering at the Calgary Stampede for 59 years, and he hasn't missed a single year.

Roy first visited the Stampede as a kid with his father and cousin in 1943 and fell in love. 

"We saw the parade, walked to the fairgrounds and it was unreal," he told Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray on Wednesday. "Surreal for a country kid."

Roy said that in 1943, the Stampede looked a lot different than it does now.

"There weren't very many rides at that time and I distinctly remember the fairgrounds were covered in sawdust," he said. 

"I remember that there were no end of side shows with all these fat ladies and the snakes and all the rest of the big band were singing out front."

From that moment on, Roy was hooked on the Stampede spirit. In 1959 he volunteered at the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" for the first time.

An undated photo of Bruce Roy shows him with a horse. He's competed, judged and announced for the heavy horse events. (CBC)

Since then he's competed, judged and announced for the heavy horse events — events that were thought to be a thing of the past when Roy started as a volunteer.

"Draft horses were going out out of commission in their agricultural scene and the committee was falling away, but then the head of the committee, who was secretary of the Canadian Percheron Association, asked me if I would come aboard," he said.

"And I was always game for anything and so I did and then I never left."

Roy said he recalls when heavy horses worked on the streets of Calgary. There were milk horses all over the city, including a beautiful grey Percheron mare named Blossom, he said.

Bruce Roy, shown in this undated photo, says he has a passion for horses. (CBC)

According to Roy, every morning Blossom would come down 9th Avenue with the milkman. He'd walk on one side of the street with his basket full of milk bottles, and Blossom would move up and down on the other side of the street.

"And every morning when Blossom went by the Palliser Hotel the doorman would met her and greet her and give her a couple cubes," he said.

But one morning the doorman wasn't there.

"The milk man was on the other side of the street and Blossom was looking for her sugar cubes while attached to the milk wagon," he said.

"She went right up the steps to the revolving door and there was milk coming out of the back of that wagon. Ninth Avenue looked like a river of milk."

Loves the crowd's reaction

Roy said it's a passion for the horses and Stampede that keeps him coming back every year.

"I love the horses. I love to see the horses perform for the crowd and I love to see the crowd's reaction to their performance," he said.

Tuesday evening's heavy horse performance particularly touched Roy. The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra began playing William tell Overture, and the horses began their performance on cue, something he's witnessed for nearly six decades.

"Oh, it was powerful... With those nickel chrome fittings on that black patent leather harness, the steel shod shoes shining," he said.

"And then the rumble of those great wagons and with that music, it was overwhelming. The crowd just went ape."

In his 59th year of volunteering, Roy is approaching the next in important milestone: 60 years.

"I'm hoping to, and then I'll probably want to go to 85."



With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Lucie most recently headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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