Bruce Roy partially pastures his horse voice
When Bruce Roy was a history teacher he made sure his students got a full helping of Alberta heritage that included the story of the horse.
“It wasn’t on the curriculum and the kids loved it,” he said.
Roy has loved draft horses since his childhood on a farm near High River where frequent visits to the nearby historic Bar U Ranch and EP Ranch in the Alberta foothills introduced him to Percherons.
In the early 1900s, the Bar U maintained the world’s largest breeding herd of about 1,700 head.
His father also farmed with horses.
“When the horse fell out of favour and the Bar U switched over to more cattle, all these old horsemen were out of a job. My dad kept getting all these old horsemen and I used to love their stories,” he said.
Now after 55 years on the Calgary Stampede draft horse committee and 40 consecutive years announcing the show, he looks back at his own story, where he has watched the big beasts recover from near extinction to renewed popularity.
“All the draft breeds are enjoying literally a Renaissance,” he said.
While he admires all the breeds, he has raised mostly Percherons. He attended the University of Alberta agriculture program partly because the school had an award winning Percheron team.
As a young man, he got a summer job with Agriculture Canada’s research substation at Fort Simpson, an isolated Northwest Territories community with few diversions for a young man to spend money. He bought his first Percheron mare with his earnings in 1956.
His first job out of university was a six-month stint with the meat company, Canada Packers as a quality control officer.
An opportunity to go south took him to the Macland Plantation in Georgia as a farm manager.
At that time the farm had the largest Shorthorn herd in the United States.
He had a working visa and discovered after two years in the U.S. he was eligible for the military draft even though he was Canadian.
He came back to Canada to avoid that draft in favour of working with draft horses.
During a trip with his horses to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto he met Wib Donaldson of Louada Manor Shorthorns in Ontario. He worked at Louada for two years.
He returned to Alberta feeling at loose ends so he decided to get his teaching certificate from the University of Calgary.
He also met Hardy Salter, secretary of the Canadian Percheron Association and the two traveled the province looking at horses. His friend encouraged him to take a teaching position at Cremona because there were “lots of good draft horses up in that country.”
“I ended up falling for the school secretary and we married and I never left.”
He owned 80 acres and started breeding more horses. Now his daughter Megan Phillips of Didsbury and son, Cameron Roy of Markerville and his grandchildren have carried on the tradition of raising and showing Percherons.
When he retired from teaching he started a draft horse magazine called Feather and Fetlock. The U.S. owned publication Draft Horse Journal eventually bought him out with an agreement that he would continue to write about horsemen, their animals and history.
A well qualified horse historian, he was secretary of Canadian Percheron Association for 19 years starting in 1963.
He has Canada’s largest collection of photographs of the Bar U Ranch and allowed Parks Canada to copy them to build the history of the ranch when it was declared a national historic site. The pictures were used to authenticate some of the buildings on site as well as the horses because he had identifications on the pictures.
His draft horse memorabilia includes a scrapbook devoted to Percherons maintained by Bar U owner George Lane.
In addition he has about 7,000 pictures of Percherons from the time the horses arrived in Canada to the present.
While he traveled with the horses he kept his seat with the Stampede draft horse committee and helped build the show from a sideline event to a prestige gala. A team of 20 volunteers run the show and recent Stampede polls ranks the draft horse exhibition as the most popular agriculture event.
The show is a favourite with the largely urban guests because a live classical music concert is played while the horses are driven before a team of judges.
In 1998 Calgary hosted the World Percheron Congress during the Stampede and Roy suggested inviting the Calgary philharmonic orchestra to accompany the show. The horse owners and musicians were dubious but the spectators loved it and many insist the horses canter in time to the music.
By far his favourite event is announcing the breeding classes where individuals are judged. Over the years he has noticed that section of the show growing in popularity.
“I love the breeding classes. I was amazed at the number of people who sat there through the whole breeding show,” he said.
The Stampede is part of a large show circuit where enthusiasts travel the continent. He is one of those travellers and has announced shows and sales such as Amish horse auctions in the U.S. Midwest and world conferences. Most recently he was invited to do the world Clydesdale conference in London, Ont. in 2015.
Being nearly 80 and retired, he suggested he might work as a co-an-nouncer rather than being responsible for the whole event.
“It’s a busy retirement, but it’s a fun retirement,” he said.