Back in 1976 I was hitching across Canada and wound up working for a circus for 8 months. The name of the circus was Royal Bros. Circus. They were from Oklahoma, but were based out of Cambelford, Ontario, Canada. Lately I have been wondering what ever happened to them. It has been almost 30 years so I really can’t remember any names of the owners other than the owner’s name was John. If anyone can help me, I would be much grateful. I know it’s a long shot, but what the hey – it was a great 8 months for a 19 year old, but was all work and no site seeing, but was a blast none the less.
Thank you for your time, Franko
The movie “High Grass Circus” is now freely viewable on the National Film Board website (http://www.nfb.ca/film/high_grass_circus/?ec=en20110831). I’m a theoretical physicist with no connection with circus life but this film is incredibly evocative of life in a travelling circus in Canada and is a real pleasure to watch. It has been wonderful to read the replies relating to the Royal Bros. Circus. Thank you.
1976 was a good year. I joined up in picton that year. Did two seasons up here,then went with johnny for the winter. Show was broke, me and Jim went to work at a zoo. After a face to face with a lion I hightailed back to Ontario.
Nice to hear from you, Wayne
In the mid 1970s I spent time taking photographs of the Royal Brothers Circus, in and around Guelph Ontario. They are mostly of the different performers off stage. I have had six rolls of black and white negatives with me since that time. Is anyone interested in these negatives?
My name is Robert S, Frazier, my dad’s name was Jack Frazier. He died in the early nineties but his life and his families life was always bigger than life to me. You see I grew up half in and half out of a Circus family. I always tried so hard to be part of their lives but never could since the life of a “Circusteer” and a “Circus Family” lies in their ties to the world of the “Traveling Show”. Not like a carnival mind you, but, the differences that come from having to pick-up and move everyday. Repeating the incredible feats of yesterday all over today, only in another town. It sorta had to be in your blood. It is there in mine but very very dormant. You see my dad was a clown named “Corky” and he will never know how much I loved him and his family. Their way of life was one of action, fun, moving from place to place, and the big show. It was a hard life but an exciting one. Everyone seem to look up at you as if you were something very special. If you were part of the “Circus” or “Show”, you could always count on free cotton candy, popcorn and a candy apple or two. I would always become part of the circus when ever we visited and everything was free. I ever spent a summer or two in Canada with the “Royal Bros” and “Fisher Bros” shows. These circus folk are a very giving lot, they would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. In fact I do think this is where I get my own generous heart from. I can still smell that ominous odor coming from the elephant truck or the side show where the gorilla was. I remember at night, when the work was finished, everyone on the show would meet at the “Meal Car” or “Dinner Wagon” to exchange stories. You would always get that late night snack there and then spent until the early morning hours telling and hearing stories. I can still hear Bob Raburn yelling “Get your butts out of the rack, we got to be on the road in an hour and set up in two”.
The names I remember best are the “Royal Brothers Circus”, “Fisher Brothers Circus” and the “Keller Miller Circus”. I can still remember like it was yesterday having to work around the film crew doing the documentary on the Royal Bros Show. I spent a couple summers working with my dad on both the Royal Bros and Fisher Bros shows and in the mean time saw Canada from a very different perspective. I even wrecked the pole truck I was driving. Dad always thought I was screwing around with this cat we had in the cab and wasn’t paying attention to the road, which by the way I wasn’t, but “I WASN’T SCREWING WITH THE CAT”. We came up on a very sharp curve but the sign on the side of the road had been messed with and I thought the sign said 45 mph. A digit was changed from a “1” to a “4” making the speed 45 when it should have read 15. Well, big “Bertha” moved, the truck jackknifed, and there went the entire load of big top poles onto the highway. The bleachers went with them as well.
I was just 15 myself and didn’t have a clue as what to do, so I sat down, got comfortable, and waited for the crew to catch up to me. Oh, big Bertha was the big tops main center pole.
There was this other time when I blew the arrows and ended up going into the U.S. without boarder patrol permission and had half of Maine looking for me. I did however, sneak back across without incident. I owe this to a very very nice Canadian Monty. Incidentally. “Thank You very much for being so kind, if you happen to read this. I loved the meal and was happy to meet the family. I think you will know who you are.
Many years later long after the Royal and Fisher Bros. show dissolved I planted roots in Missouri and every year when Kelly Miller circus got close I would always get excited that I might run into some friends and family. My cousin was Kelly Bros manager, and I think even own the show for awhile but don’t quote me on that I am not really sure. I know they were very kind to me and my family when ever we went out but I could tell they really didn’t want us there. I always felt pretty much like an outsider. But we always loved seeing the show. One year we ever got a chance to visit with my Aunt and Uncle, Harry and Mary Rawls. If any of you happen to read this, I love you all and would like to hear from any of you. As for the other Frazier’s out there, I love you guys too and would like to hear from you guys as well. I pray everyday that the pains of the pass would be forgotten and we could all just love one another. I pass on love, goodness and health to each and every one of you. Including you John John.
Sincerely, Robert S. Frazier
My father John Frazier and Al Stencil were partners on this show. I was 12 years old and I remember the year that the show opened and the halfway house where we built and painted the poles. If I recall many of the poles were trees that were either cut around there or someplace close. I still have blisters on my hands from skinning the bark off of the trees prior to painting them.
Regards, John Frazier
I owned Royal Bros. Circus in partnership with John Frazier from 1973-1976. In 1976 Johnny and his brother Corky bought Fisher Bros. Circus on the income from Mel Silverlake and operated it as Fisher Bros. Circus. Corky ran it. That year Harry Rawls worked for us and Johnny was gone several times trying to keep Fisher Bros. booked. We had wintered the show in Barons, Alberta and opened on an Indian reserve near there that spring. I had already made plans to dissolve the partnership at the end of the season. In October or so Johnny wrote saying he wanted to end the partnership which made it easier for me. I had already ordered a new tent and was framing Martin and Downs Circus which opened in May 1977 which I kept going until 1983. That year we started a new indoor circus – Super Circus International. At the end of the 1983 season we decided to just keep the indoor circus and I toured it until I retired in 1991.
You are right about Campbellford, Ontario. I put the show together at a half way house for paroled convicts that (Howard King – ex carny jam auction man); a friend of Shirley’s mother was running in Keswick, Ontario. The cons all helped paint and get the show ready. One ex-con turned out to be a great agent until he fell off the wagon and drove our station wagon into the side of a church. We closed the show near Peterboro that season. A few weeks before we had shown Campbellford. Willard Ransom a circus fan in the town had Shirley and me over to his house for a meal and on the corner of the block that he lived on was a big old house with a double lot for sale. Shirley and myself bought the house a few weeks later and lived in it until 1982 when we moved to Toronto. We wintered Royal Bros. once in Campbellford. We wintered Martin and Downs there for a season but then moved into the market building at the Peterboro fairgrounds until 1982 when the city needed all the space for market stalls. That last season we wintered it in the fairgrounds in Lakefield, Ont. – a few miles north of Peterboro. Later we bought a flea market on highway 7 by-pass to use as a winter quarters for the indoor show and we stored the tent show there, too. When Golpher Davenport was through a few years ago we sold him our seats. I sold Ron Morris and Tuffy Nicols my indoor show which Tuffy now operates as Stars of the Moscow Circus. We sold the winter quarters two years ago and our Toronto office on Kingston Rd. We sold last year.
On Royal Bros. half of the equipment had Oklahoma plates because we both contributed equipment to the show plus all the animal trucks went south with Johnnie for the winter. We also from time to time leased equipment from Dory and others. In 1975 we had a leased hippo from Mel Silverlake plus a cage semi of animals from Dory plus three bulls from Dory. John built a new elephant semi that year and that went with him in the split of equipment. He used it on his Circus Genoa. I ended up with one of the early Kelly-Miller spool trucks.
If you want more info contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. May want to find High Grass Circus, an hour documentary done on the show in 1975 that came out in 1976 and was nominated for an academy award. It was done by the National Film Board of Canada. It is still shown from time to time on PBS in the U.S. We went west in 1975.
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