VERNON - If Okanagan cowboy legend Kenny McLean had been alive to accept his induction into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame this summer, he would've enjoyed chatting with his old rodeo buddies more than being in the limelight.
McLean is considered by many to be Canada’s greatest rodeo cowboy of all time. The induction is his most recent of accomplishments after being appointed to the Order of Canada, having a film made about his life, and being bucked off only five times in 77 National Finals rides. The list goes on.
McLean’s only son Guy accepted his dad’s induction to the Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs July 13. It was 11 years to the day that McLean died of a heart attack while on horseback at the National Senior Pro Rodeo in Taber, Alberta. He was 62 years old.
Guy, who like his dad is a man of few words, says it was both exciting and emotional to accept the honour on his father’s behalf.
“They showed a video of him saddle broncing and then the last bit... showed him and I fishing when I was five. I couldn’t talk for a bit,” Guy says softly.
Guy lived on the road with his mom and dad, following the rodeo circuit until he was four. By then, with countless wins under his belt, McLean decided it was time to scale back his rodeo career and settle down somewhere. Born in Penticton, McLean eventually moved his family to a property in Vernon, on Pottery Road. Celebrity followed him wherever he went.
“Everyone knew his name,” Guy says. “He didn’t care for the fame at all. He was just doing what he loved.”
McLean sponsored and hosted rodeo schools, teaching young cowboys and future champions the tricks of the trade. While he was as comfortable on a horse as he was behind the wheel of a car, his philosophy was one of determination and constant training.
“He didn’t like being called a natural. He was one of the first rodeo guys to start working out and running. He rode six hours a day. He had natural abilities, yeah, but it was a lot of hard work,” Guy says.
Guy, who keeps a poster of McLean on his wall, says it was good for his two young sons to see what their grandfather accomplished. His youngest son Tayber, who never met his grandfather, is named after the city where McLean died.
Admired by many, McLean had hundreds attend his funeral in Okanagan Falls. As part of the ceremony, his horse was led into the park with a pair of his cowboy boots resting backwards in the stirrups and his 1962 world champion buckle looped around the saddle horn. Eight years later, a bronze sculpture of McLean was erected in Okanagan Falls’ Centennial Park.
Guy misses his father greatly, saying he tries not to think about him too much.
“I pretty much do every morning though. I get up early, he did too. I’d call him up, or he’d call me. It was just a thing we always did. I kinda miss those calls.”
McLean learned to ride at 12 and entered his first rodeo at 17. He won top British Columbia Amateur Bronc Rider in 1958, took the title of Canadian Saddle Bronc Champion five times, won the 1962 World Bronc Championship in Los Angeles, and captured the U.S. National Champion Bronc Rider an unrivaled three times. He has been inducted into the Canadian Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame (and remains the only rodeo cowboy ever to do so), and the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. He is also the only cowboy to become a member of the Order of Canada.
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