A community came together to celebrate the life of a rodeo legend.
Cowboys and cowgirls of all ages converged on the Calnash Ag Event Centre in Ponoka Sept. 19 to celebrate the life of Winston Bruce, a rodeo legend who was an integral part of the western heritage.
Bruce, who was born Oct. 27, 1937, passed away peacefully on July 10 at the age of 79.
His influence with the people around him and in the industry was so strong that there was standing room only at the ag event centre with family and his many friends wanting to pay their respects. He was a man known for having incredible saddle bronc riding skills, and was influential in developing the Calgary Stampede rodeo stock program. Bruce was also the rodeo manager and arena director of the Calgary Stampede for many years.
The list of accomplishments as a professional saddle bronc rider are almost too numerous to mention but among the more prominent is the 1961 World Saddle Bronc Riding Championship, which came after the 1957 and 1958 Canadian titles.
Along with the titles were inductions into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame at Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1989 and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1995. Along with those he was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma, the Appaloosa Hall of Fame as well as the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.
It’s no wonder that folks converged on the celebration of his life, which included a special invitational saddle bronc riding event after the ceremony.
Family and friends spoke of his life and Winston Satran gave the eulogy, taking time to honour the man who influenced his outlook on life. “Winston’s story was much larger than most of us,” said Satran.
The first time he met Bruce was at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, NV. They were working on a contract to bring the Calgary Stampede horses to Home on the Range. That meeting set the stage for a longtime friendship.
“There was a lot to know about this man. His life, his fame, his humbleness, compassion, humour and his many, many friendships,” said Satran.
“His gentle manner way gave way to being a gentleman. When he would meet someone, he would inquire as to how they were doing.”
Satran pointed out that Bruce was the kind of cowboy who could strike up a sincere conversation with anyone he met. At times his humour displayed a man who enjoyed a good laugh and who lived life to the fullest.
“Enjoy life. All of it,” said Satran of how Bruce inspired him.
“Winston’s engaging personality was transferred to thousands of rodeo spectators,” he added.
As the arena manager at the Calgary Stampede, Bruce was well known for his Appaloosa horse with 18,000 fans being able to recognize the man from far away. Satran recalled the phrase, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome to the greatest show in the west.”
Satran said Bruce’s personality blossomed during those times. He pointed out that Bruce once stated he didn’t know much about horses. For Satran, this seemed incredible considering the man’s ability as a rider and producer.
“How could he admit that he didn’t know much about horses? This was his way of telling me that he wanted to know more about horses, the creatures that he loved,” said Satran.
“It was amazing insight to me and speaks to his humbleness and his pursuit of knowledge and his curiousness about all life.”
Satran called him a master in the Calgary Stampede’s breeding horse program. “There’s so many stories I could tell,” added Satran.
“I will be forever thankful for my friendship with this real true cowboy, my friend, Winston Bruce.”
He posed a question for God, asking if there is a way to relive good memories that were had. While he didn’t know the answer he made a request to God.
“To ride these Canadian prairies once more, watching the horses manes flowing in the morning breeze and listening to thunder of their hooves on the prairie with my friend Winston,” he concluded.
A special silent auction was held to provide funds to the Winston Bruce Academy of Rodeo and the evening concluded with fireworks.