This July, at the 2019 Calgary Stampede, Bruce Roy of Cremona, Alberta, was honored for his 60 years of volunteering with the Stampede's Heavy Horse Committee. Prior to his becoming a volunteer, Bruce was a Percheron exhibitor at the venue, he served as Secretary of the Canadian Percheron Association and he published Feather & Fetlock for 11 years. He's attended every Stampede since he was a kid in the 1940s. Though his influence is evident throughout the heavy horse show, his primary role as a volunteer today is announcing the halter and hitch competitions.
We're glad to see credit bestowed where it's deserved. We also wanted to provide our own tribute (of sorts), so we harnessed Bruce with a few questions.
1 - What is your earliest memory of the Calgary Stampede?
My father took my older cousin and me to the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede in July 1943. This was during the height of World War II. We took the train to Calgary from Cayley, then the second largest cattle shipping station in the world. While my cousin wanted to spend the day on the midway, I was fascinated by the livestock exhibits–the draft horse exhibits in particular.
2 - You first volunteered with the Heavy Horse Committee in 1959. What were things like then for the exhibitors?
The heavy horse show at Calgary was one of five Class A fairs then held in Western Canada, that offered a full breeding and performance classification for draft horses. These week-long exhibitions were held one after another at Brandon, Calgary, Saskatoon and Edmonton, respectively. Many of the heavy horses being shown were still being transported by rail. On occasion, Alberta and Saskatchewan exhibitors would be joined by exhibitors from California, British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario. Entries traveling by rail entered Victoria Park, as Stampede Park was then known, on a rail line built on the edge of the Elbow River. Horses, plus feed, tack, harness and equipment, etc., were moved from the rail cars to the barns, where the exhibitors were stabled. This was often a herculean task. At the week's end, horses, plus tack, harness and equipment would be returned to their rail cars, which transported many exhibitors to the next Class A show attended. During the week, if the weather was hot, exhibitors often stood a horse or two in the Elbow River's cool water to tighten their hocks.
3 - What spurred you to volunteer, and what were you involved in initially?
I exhibited the Percheron horses I owned at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede in 1957. In 1959, Hardy E. Salter, then the Secretary of the Canadian Percheron Association, asked me to become a member of the Heavy Horse Committee, for the veteran horsemen that were members of the Heavy Horse Committee were leaving like rats leaving a sinking ship. Being by far the youngest committee member, I got all the "joe" jobs during the Heavy Horse Show.
4 - Who were your greatest influences at the time, and why?
Hardy Salter, Edward McKinnon, Angus McKinnon and Earl James, who were members of the Heavy Horse Committee in these difficult times, were well-known champions of the draft horse. They became great friends and mentors. Businessmen, who owned the McKinnon Ranch and operated the XL Meat Packing Plant, the McKinnon Brothers were respected members of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede's Board of Directors.
5 - You began announcing the heavy horse shows in 1974? Did that come naturally?
Yes! Announcing the Heavy Horse Show held at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede was a natural.
6 - You also served as Secretary of the Canadian Percheron Association from 1963 to 1982. Was it a challenge?
In 1962, Hardy E. Salter suffered a heart attack. He asked me to attend the Annual Meeting of The Canadian Percheron Association on his behalf. This was held that November at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. This I did. Gilbert E. Arnold, Arnoldwold Farms, Grenville, Quebec, the President of The Canadian Percheron Association, had me read the minutes that had been written by Hardy. When done, I was asked to take the minutes of the Annual Meeting and the Directors Meeting that followed. To my surprise, I was asked to replace Hardy as The Canadian Percheron Association's Secretary, as Hardy had resigned the position. Looking back, I am certain he had been in communication with the Board of Directors prior to these two meetings. I accepted the offer to become the breed Secretary, although the Canadian Percheron Association was a little short of being financially broke. If memory serves me right, my starting salary was $50 a year.
My two greatest challenges as Secretary of The Canadian Percheron Association were addressing the breed association's financial picture and writing The Canadian Percheron Broadcaster, then getting it published and mailed. When I suggested the $2 annual membership to The Canadian Percheron Association be increased to $5, several veteran Percheron breeders took exception–two were downright hostile.
While I had never excelled at writing, I tried as best I could to continue printing a Canadian Percheron Broadcaster as Hardy E. Salter had done since he became the breed secretary. In the years that followed, the content of The Broadcaster increased. And surprisingly, breed memberships, registrations and transfers of ownership increased, albeit painfully slow at first.
7 - What are the most striking changes that you've witnessed in your time with the show?
The Calgary Stampede's Heavy Horse Show has changed dramatically since I exhibited my first Percherons in 1957. For years the halter classes were shown in a sand ring, on the west side of the first barn, in the row of horse barns, across the street from the Corral Arena. There was little seating, the show ring was spartan. This was a sad replacement of the Victoria Arena I saw in 1943, which had been torn down. The performance classes were held, one after another, Saturday morning, in the infield before the grandstand, which was a quarter-mile distant from the horse barns. Again, the footing in the infield, where the afternoon rodeo events were held, was far from perfect for showing draft horses in harness.
One year, Harold Clark, who was the judge, had to ride the Arena' Director's horse, to judge the performance classes. The mud was too deep for the judge to walk. Needless to suggest, teamsters, horses, harness and equipment, were covered with mud when the last performance class was held in pouring rain. Exhibitors today are spoiled.
Today, the draft horses are stabled in the Livestock Pavilion, which is being refitted with spacious box stalls. The halter show is in the adjacent Northern Lights Pavilion; the performance classes are held in the adjacent Nutrien Events Centre. Compared to what I remember of the last 60 years, this is uptown.
In 1959, the Belgian, Clydesdale and Percheron breeds had two stallion halter classes, five female halter classes and three group classes, each. The prize money in each class was $45, $35, $25 and $15 respectively, for first, second, third and fourth. Each breed had one gelding class. The prize money offered for geldings shown on halter was $26, $22, $18, $14, $10 and $6, respectively.
Belgians and Percherons were shown together in one of two performance classes, those for an agricultural team and for a heavy draft team, as did the Clydesdales and Shires. The prize money offered in the class for an open four-horse hitch was $110, $90, $70, $55 and $40; while the prize money in the class for an open six-horse hitch was $210, $160, $110 and $80, respectively. Compare this with the prize money offered at Calgary's 2019 Heavy Horse Show.
Four breeds–Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire–offer two gelding, four stallion, six female and three group classes for halter horses; that pay $150, $100, $75, $50, $40, $30, $25 and $25, respectively; as do the many cart and team classes. The Champion team of each breed receives an added $100, while the Supreme Champion Team receives an added $1,000.
Unicorn hitch classes pay $300, $250, $150, $150, $150 and $150, respectively; while the four-horse hitch classes pay $500, $400, $300, $200, $200, $200 and $200, respectively. The six-horse hitch classes pay $1,000, $800, $700, $500, $400, $300 and $300, respectively; excepting the World Six-Horse Championship, which pays $15,000, $10,000, $8,000, $6,000, $4,000 respectively, with those hitches placed 6th to 18th, receiving $3,000, each.
Furthermore, exhibitors, large and small, vie for $5,000 in Golden Fork Awards. This year, 20 exhibitors received the $300 and $200 Golden Fork Awards. How times have changed.
8 - How and when did the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra come to be a part of the hitch performances?
Twenty years ago, Jess Debnam, then Chairman of the Heavy Horse Committee at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, called a meeting to discuss ways and means of making the Heavy Horse Show increasingly spectator friendly. It was suggested that the Calgary Stampede hold a World Six-Horse Hitch Championship, for no other show had claimed that title. I then suggested members of the world-famous Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra be invited to provide the background music. Hopefully, this would draw a crowd. In 2019, officials had to close the entrance to the Nutrien Event Centre, as the crowd gathered ringside surpassed the building's capacity. The roar that greeted each six-horse hitch that entered to the music provided surpassed all expectations.
9 - Where does the heavy horse exhibition rank today amongst all that the Stampede has to offer?
Over the past few years, the Heavy Horse Show has been the most popular event held at The Calgary Stampede.
10 - What is your greatest memory of the show?
The enthusiastic crowd gathered for the Heavy Horse Show on Stampede Park, albeit for the World Champion Six, the other performance classes, the halter and the youth classes.
11 - Worst memory?
Years ago, the Percherons I was exhibiting were stabled in a narrow aisle. Arlin Wareing's Shires were stalled across the aisle. When Arlin backed a Shire stallion from his stall, one of my Percheron mares kicked at the stallion, hitting Arlin, who was rushed to the hospital. I couldn't sleep or eat for the following week, as Arlin was hospitalized for several days, before he was able to return home. Every year Arlin returns to Calgary, I thank God he recovered and continues to exhibit his Shires at Calgary's Heavy Horse Show.
Ace, the Grand Champion Percheron Gelding, shown by the Pinnacle Country Club, Milan, Illinois, at America's 1994 National Percheron Show, was out of the mare that kicked Arlin. Like his mother, he was a high energy horse, that sparked on all cylinders. One of the stepping cart horses of his time, he was shown by Rod Derrer with tremendous success, although I recall one occasion where Ace and Rod ended up center-ring during a drive on the rail.
12 - What does it mean to you to have been a part of this institution as long as you have?
Over the past few years, the Heavy Horse Show has become the most popular agricultural event held at The Calgary Stampede. Year-after-year, I look forward to it. I've come to know so many North American horsemen that have shown there once or more. Each year, the event offers new challenges and results in new friendships being made.
13 - What would you like to see occur to or at the Stampede before you hang it up? And why?
I would like to see the number of quality draft horses shown on halter and in harness increase in number, for the prize money offered the four breed halter and performance classifications has no equal. And the public's interest in the Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons and Shires has never been greater.