Taylor Bruce was born on Dec. 15, 1992, at Ottawa’s Grace Hospital. He was the first son of Gene Bruce and Peggy White, two country musicians who met on tour, got married, and decided to retire their road-weary F150 and have kids. Taylor was fearless, constantly smiling, and hated being confined. Every morning Peggy and Gene would find him rattling the bars of his crib in their Nepean home for attention. That stopped within a few months, once he learned how to flip himself over the edge to freedom. “One of his uncles said to me, ‘Taylor does everything he knows all at once, every somersault, every skip.’ He was an extremely physical boy,” says Gene.
He also had his parents’ ear for music, but nothing excited him more than the roar of a revving engine. “As a tiny guy, he could draw every imaginable type of machine, whether it was a crane or a bulldozer, always from memory,” says Gene. “He could identify individual vehicles just from the sound of them—or tell me the year by the shape of a headlight.”
Despite his talents, Taylor had a hard time at school—he had verbal and physical tics, got into fights, and was constantly teased. At the start of Grade 2 he was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. He’d fly into rages at home and had a hard time making friends, but that all started to change when, at seven, his parents bought him a cheap Canadian Tire bike. “He went flying down the hill—he was trying to get the bike to jump. I said, ‘Okay buddy, you’ve got to look for cars,’ ” says Peggy. “He’d say, ‘yeah, mom,’ then take off and go off the sidewalk.” Once Taylor went mountain biking with some of Peggy’s friends. The group loved his determination so much they scraped together extra parts to make his bicycle a viable mountain bike so he could tag along again. “That bike was his saving grace,” says Peggy. “He loved the adrenalin—the rush of going fast.”
Gene and Peggy divorced in 2002. The shock of the separation devastated Taylor, but he quickly managed to turn his frustrations into an endless thirst for new adventures. “He’d ski for one season, then sell the skis and buy a snowboard, then buy trick skis,” says Jacqueline Kirkland, Gene’s partner. “He’d smash ribs, but he could do all these sports and just excel.” Extreme sports became an outlet for Taylor’s pent-up energy, and helped him get his tics under control. He started to make friends—he remembered being teased, so he was never selective—and settled into a groove of spending one week with his father and the next with his mother. With both of his parents finding new partners, the family stayed close. And just like when Taylor was a baby, he was always smiling. “A flash of that smile, he just broke hearts,” says Justin Metcalfe, one of Taylor’s best friends. “The girls loved him all over.”
Peggy says they couldn’t help but fall for his good-natured, rebel-without-a-cause attitude. At 16, he started taking out his parents’ trucks, and often brought them back coated in mud—with plants in the undercarriage. When Peggy questioned him, he’d just shrug and say he hit a puddle. “He’d steal his dad’s huge cruise motorcycle and drive it around like nobody would know,” says Moira Wilkie, a family friend. “He didn’t have a clue that he’d get caught, and he’d get caught every time.”
When Taylor wasn’t taking his father’s motorcycle, he was often a homebody. He’d spend hours on his computer, looking at new parts for whatever he was currently speeding around on, and both his parents’ couches became well worn from action-movie marathons. When he went out it would often be with friends in Justin’s Chrysler New Yorker, listening to music—Bill Withers’s Lean on Me was a favourite—and talking about life. “His personality is bigger than anything. We didn’t have to be doing anything, no matter what, it was fun,” says Justin. “You couldn’t have asked for a better friend.”
Taylor was in his last year of high school and was about to start apprenticing with Peggy’s brother, an electrician. Already an expert on the road, the mountain, and the ski hill, Taylor’s next conquest was snowmobiling. He managed to scrounge the cash together to buy a used 1000 cc Yamaha, and picked it up on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 30. He was riding around the country trails and was only about 10 minutes away from his house when he lost control of the vehicle, struck a telephone pole, and was killed. Taylor Bruce was 18.