GRUFF AND TOUGH BUT EVER SO GENTLE: ROY BORSTAD (1932–2019)
The gate on the Grande Prairie Athletics player box is closed today to honour Grande Prairie hockey legend Roy Borstad.
It is difficult for me to imagine Grande Prairie without the physical presence of Roy. More important than his imposing physical presence are the indelible marks he has left in so many areas – his contributions to the business community – service clubs - men’s and women’s softball at the local and provincial level, minor and senior hockey. I will focus mainly on his involvement in hockey – the area that effected me personally keeping mind that the nature of his impact on hockey was repeated many times over in the areas noted above.
My brother Ron and Roy were classmates from the time he came to Grande Prairie in the sixth grade until they left high school. According to Ron, Roy’s leadership ability and knowledge about sports was immediately apparent – especially hockey. Interestingly apart from scrimmaging on local ponds Roy did not play much hockey but he was an ardent student of the game and as far as Ron was concerned he knew more about hockey than any adult in the community. As an adult his knowledge about and passion for hockey was apparent in his tireless support for participants of the game at every level. Picture this – Roy Borstad was a Volunteer Fire Fighter back in the day and on many frigid Saturdays during the winter he could be seen driving the pumper truck around the town flooding outdoor neighbourhood rinks. It is a scene that should have graced the cover page of a popular weekly magazine in his era - the Saturday Evening Post that often featured the art of Norman Rockwell.
In addition to Roy’s many contributions to his community and to senior hockey in Grande Prairie, from a personal perspective Roy’s most important contribution was directed toward kids in minor hockey. As a young boy in the 60’s I fondly remember him as a physical giant – the volunteer fireman in full dress dismounting from a pumper truck wielding a fire hose to resurface the ice rinks on the Bear Creek flats – rinks that he helped to construct. Roy coached our Mite team. We respected and admired him as our coach but as kids we were unable to grasp the extent of Roy’s contributions and what went on behind his obvious and direct involvement with us. For example it was a mystery to us exactly how rinks on the Bear Creek Flats came to be - how the ice was made – who organized the teams – who drew up the schedule – who recruited and trained the coaches - who sponsored and designed our treasured jerseys – how were coaches and referees recruited and trained etc. etc. As kids we took much for granted. We were unable to peel away the outer layers of the onion lacking the insight to comprehend the complex and valuable contributions that Roy and others like him were providing. Our interest was confined to lacing up our skates, getting on the ice and playing hockey. For Roy and others involved in minor hockey it was thanks enough to see us having fun and learning the game. He became an important role model for many young kids. I know my sentiments are shared by my Royals Mite team-mates including another well known hockey advocate and volunteer Lorne Radbourne.
As noted earlier, Roy was active at every level of the game. For example, he was the driving force in bringing artificial ice and year round skating and hockey to Grande Prairie. In August, 1962 representing the Grande Prairie Kinsman Club, Roy and Mayor George Repka poured the first concrete for the artificial ice making technology, a $40.000.00 project in the long gone Memorial Arena.
Roy Borstad is pushed around in a wheelbarrow to officially begin the giant pouring of cement for artificial ice at the old Memorial arena.
Behind the handle bars is Mayor George Repka with Kinsmen President Gunnar Henriksen. Herald Tribune photo
Roy Borstad formed a syndicate and purchased Athletics from the Kinsmen Club for $1,500. Submitted photo
Roy Borstad, new manager of Grande Prairie Athletics, checks out equipment with coach Pete Wright. Submitted photo
Roy Borstad was instrumental to Grande Prairie Athletics winning a South Peace Hockey League championship
Len Iles was one of the first to implement the goaly mask. Herald Tribune photo taken by Stan Neufeld
Roy continued to be an avid supporter of the Athletics, often recruiting colleagues to help him support the team when lack of support and finances were threatening to interfere. Roy’s initial involvement with the Athletics harkens back to 1954. His various roles with the organization included Manager, Treasurer, and President. Roy and his brother Elmer were co-owners of Borstad Cartage. Borstad Cartage often provided employment for players that needed jobs and at one point Borstad Cartage sponsored the team in order to keep it afloat. It is reported that he often loaned money to players in need and I use the word loaned very loosely. In his assumed role as recruiter for the As Roy was responsible for introducing the first three First Nations players to the SPHL, the talented trio of Percy Wolfe, his brother Larry and Harley Hodgson. They were the first players in the League to make extensive use of the slap shot.
Along with an imposing physical presence – Roy had a commanding, booming voice and when he was concerned that justice was not being dispensed he had a withering glare that could scatter a buffalo herd. Underlying that gruff exterior was a gentle and caring man. I would be remiss if I failed to remind you of Roy’s rich sense of humour that brought colour to his interactions with others. In March of 1987 it was decided to hold a reunion of past and current players that included the likes of local hockey legends Pete Wright, Oscar Blais, Jim Patterson, Max Henning, Ken Head, Grant Menzies and my older brother Bob. The reunion included a hockey tournament featuring a Roy Borstad roast.
A photo of the queen was salvaged from the old Memorial arena and served as a centrepiece behind the head table including Roy Borstad and guest speaker Al “Boomer” Adair. Submitted photo
Bob Wallace, a long time and respected referee in the SPHL was Master of Ceremonies at the reunion. He recalls that Roy was skillful at baiting referees when he disagreed with a call. For example, his signature “slamming of the player’s gate” when he disagreed with one of Wallace’s calls illustrated his ability to walk a fine line between getting tossed and making a point. Prior to moving to Grande Prairie Wallace reported hearing about Borstad College, an educational institution he assumed was Roy’s major recruiting base for the A’s. Imagine his surprise upon learning that it was Borstad Cartage – not Borstad College. Well Roy – you may not have given birth to a college but you had roles in starting and nurturing many other organizations so why not add a college to bear your name and pad your resume? Not that your resume needs padding.
Roy’s older brother Elmer declared that he was not at the reunion to roast Roy. Having been a business partner with his younger brother for over thirty years, he was tired of that role. Guy Spencer who played forward for the Athletics reported that Roy sometimes had difficulty distinguishing his role as a business partner with Borstad Cartage and his responsibility as the A’s Manager and major recruiter. Each fall as the hockey season approached a Borstad Trucking ad appeared in the local newspaper as follows: “ Wanted – Truck Driver. Must have Class A license - be able to turn both ways and do crossovers. Candidates meet at the Memorial Arena for interviews with hockey gear at 7 pm.” Spencer, with his quick wit, further reported that when Roy was asked how long he had been married he replied, “Thirty three seasons.”
When the GP Hockey Legends program was organized 2003 and I was asked to provide leadership, Roy was the first person that came to mind.
Roy served on the Grande Prairie Legends committee since 2003. The most recent committee group photo includes: Back row from left: Roy Borstad, John Lehners, Darren Foley and Cam Henning. Front row from left: Bill Bessent, Marty Tingstad and Stan Neufeld. Photo courtesy of Donna Koch
The original nine Legends of Hockey were selected in 2004. From left to right - Roy Peterson, Leo Auger, Bryan Edmundson (representing brother Duke) Max Henning, Gwen Turner (representing husband Charlie) Roy Borstad, Elvie Wright (representing husband Pete) Gord Head (representing father Ken) and Lila-May Plontke ( representing Father Johnny Macdonald). Submitted Photo
Roy - it is difficult for me to know where to stop. I conclude my tribute to you by simply saying - you were everything that a thriving community could hope for as an exemplary citizen.
A more recent group of Inductees. Front row from left: Jim Patterson, Max Henning and Roy Borstad. Back row from left: Bob Neufeld, Marj McAusland, Darren McAusland and Ken Head. Photo by Stan Neufeld
Roy - you truly are a legend - you have served our world with distinction.
Barb and Roy Borstad. Photo by Stan Neufeld
Grande Prairie Hockey Legends is researched, written and presented by Stan and Ron Neufeld