Bruce Malcolm Randall was born a blue baby, the youngest of five children, in Toronto on Sept. 22, 1945. Because of his condition, he spent his first 3½ years in hospital isolated from his family, and raised by a nurse. His older brother, John Randall, met Bruce for the first time before his sibling’s fourth birthday. Of Bruce, he says: “He was always a dreamer, always his own boss, always shooting for something big”—perhaps because of those first years spent dreaming his way out of the white hospital room.
When Bruce was about seven, his father, John Sr., bought a farm near St. Catharines and moved the family there from their home north of Toronto. With little experience, he delved into agricultural life, but the experience did not go smoothly. John Sr. also developed a lung tumour and was sent to a sanatorium for nearly two years, so his dream of a country life faded—although it proved to be the start of a family tradition followed not only by Bruce, but his son.
During Bruce’s high school years, the family lived in Ajax, just east of Toronto. Bruce hated school, and disliked authority. When a teacher would stick a pin in the arms of children who hadn’t brushed their teeth, Bruce was the only student to complain, and got the teacher to stop. “Bruce liked to be his own man, always,” says John. “Even as a kid he liked to be in charge of his own person.”
By 15, Bruce had had enough of school, and quit. He first got a job at a cotton mill, then at GM. On the side, he raced boats. At the age of 23, on Christmas Eve, he met the love of his life, Jackie, while on a double date with her friend. “He was polite, mannerly, happy-go-lucky,” says Jackie. “And when we’d go out, he’d pay for a round and his buddy never did.” They were married the next spring, and raised three children, Ken, Susie and John, over 41 years together.
Throughout his life, Bruce went through a series of business projects, always with the hope of striking it rich and taking care of his loved ones. He moved his family around as he chased his dreams—Scarborough, Oshawa, Muskoka, Sudbury—sometimes changing houses three times in a year.
Among his ventures was a flooring business that he started in the late 1970s and later expanded, while also opening an interiors store and an additional carpet shop.
But the recession of the mid-1980s slowed him down. One day, in an echo of his father’s sudden move to the country, he abruptly announced that the family was going to move to Bent River in Muskoka, where Bruce was determined to live off the land. “He grew vegetables, raised chickens, and made his own maple syrup,” says his daughter, Susie Skovhoj, while continuing to run a carpet business on the side.
By the early 1990s, though, Bruce had grown restless, and he opened the Décor Store for sporting goods and hardware in Bent River. He hoped that his son John might take an interest, but John had other aspirations and Bruce eventually liquidated the shop. “He had this grand scheme or dream that his family would work together,” says Susie. “He would also dream that his extended family could vacation together. That’s what he wanted. More than a million dollars.”
Bruce had hoped to retire at the “family camp,” a series of cabins on a private lake near Sudbury that he’d acquired from his uncle. Here, the Randall clan would fish, play guitar, and sing on long weekends. Those plans changed when in 2006 Bruce’s eldest son Ken decided to follow in the family footsteps and quit car sales for farming. With no money down, he bought Maple Lane Farms, an equestrian farm near Bracebridge in Muskoka—which would also become the focus of Bruce’s life. “Ken didn’t always think, he would go with his heart,” says Ken’s brother John. “He got a little stuck for money, so my dad helped him out.” Bruce invested in the farm in 2008; this year, on June 1, he and Jackie moved there, hoping to retire later that month and settle in a log cabin on Ken’s lot—the latest family dream.
On June 11, Bruce and Ken were working on the cabin when it collapsed on them. Jackie dialled 911, but it was too late—father and son were pronounced dead at the scene. Ken was 39. His father, Bruce, was 64.