July 5, 1933 - Dec 17, 2023.
By Karen Dallimore and Cheryl Nye Blagden
Another cowboy has left us, to be greeted around the campfire by all the other cowboys who passed before him. After a long fight with cancer, Don Nye passed away peacefully on December 17, 2023, in his 91st year.
Don was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. In his early days he was an avid 10-pin bowler with a few different leagues. He grew up loving horses but it wasn’t until his teenage years that he got more involved in the industry. Don began riding at the Bar 11 Ranch in Dundas with his best buddy, Jack Blagden, which soon led to them joining the rodeo. He boarded his horse at Russell Brown’s. They competed in calf roping, bull-dogging, bronc riding and other rodeo events, with other cowboys such as Don and Gord Lawrence, Leroy Kufske, Jim Hutchison, Peter VanEerd, and Roy Ionson, to name a few.
It was during Don’s rodeo days that he hooked up with George Coverdale, Roy Ionson, Bob Tweed and Mick Pettypiece to become one of the ‘Original Five’ founding members of the Ontario Quarter Horse Association (OQHA). The OQHA was actually formed in 1959 but did not get its name until 1960. The American Quarter Horse was new to Ontario at that time and these men wanted others to know and get involved with this beautiful, strong, fast breed of horse, hence OQHA was formed, acting as the official provincial liaison with the AQHA and the Canadian Quarter Horse Association (CQHA). Don was the first secretary of OQHA, a position he held for eight years until becoming President in 1969, 1970 and 1971. He was very proud of OQHA and what he and the other founding members would accomplish.
Before founding OQHA, Don was part of the Western Horse Association. He was also a board member with The Canadian Quarter Horse Association (CQHA), serving for 20 plus years as manager of the Western Horseshow Division, and held his judges’ cards for the Western Horse Association (WHA), the Ontario Paint Horse Association (OPHA), and the Ontario Appaloosa Horse Association (OAHA), but his passion lay with the Quarter Horse. He became very dedicated to this particular breed.
Despite becoming so heavily involved, horses were only Don’s pastime. His sales career started at Cloke and Son’s in downtown Hamilton, working in the office supply and furniture industry. From there he moved to an international office product supply company, Esselte, where he was awarded ‘Salesman of the Year’ for several years in a row. He was dedicated to anything he put his mind to, a trait that helped him also with the horse industry, knowing the importance of keeping proper records of meetings and organization of records and shows.
During his three years of being President of OQHA his accomplishments included the induction of the OQHYA (Youth Association), establishment of the first approved AQHA quarter horse racing event in Ontario that was held at Picov Downs in Ajax, and starting the OQHBF – Ontario Quarter Horse Breeders Futurity - with the first show being held at Roy Ionson’s place, and, of course, the start of Quarterama.
The five founding members of OQHA really wanted to do more for the Quarter Horse breed by expanding the shows to a larger audience and more competitors. In 1969, Quarterama, Canada’s largest single breed horse show, was founded. The prestigious week-long horse show was held in Toronto, Ontario every March, and dominated Canada’s Quarter Horse industry. It held the honour of being the second largest AQHA show in North America, second only to the AQHA Congress. The show would feature clinics and lectures and, for breeders, ‘Stallion Avenue’ was a highlight where they could showcase their stallions.
Don was the first Chairman of Quarterama and served for three years, and not just in an office capacity. He was seen many times out on a tractor moving things around for trail and jumping obstacles as well as moving barrels and working the chutes. The days started early and ended late with sleep being just catching a nap in one of the rooms off the Coliseum Annex and usually coming home with what Don’s daughter, Cheryl Nye Blagden, described as the ‘Quarterama Croup’!
During its prime, Quarterama would be ranked among one of the top 10 AQHA shows, a very proud accomplishment for Don, Roy, George, Bob and Mick.
After Don’s presidency with OQHA he became part of their Disciplinary Committee for a short time. Recognized as an industry leader, he became part of an elite group of people known as the OQHA ‘Past Presidents’. In 1997, Don was one of the first people to be inducted into the newly formed Ontario Quarter Horse Hall of Fame, alongside George Coverdale and Mick Pettypiece. Through the years, he continued his involvement with the OQHA annual meetings and Past Presidents’ meetings. Don’s hard work, dedication and knowledge of the industry in many capacities was highly valued in the horse industry. He was credited for beginning the concept of professional horseshow management and ring stewarding.
Rodeos were held a lot of the time at Roy Ionson’s place in Georgetown and Russell Brown’s place in Hamilton on what is now known as Garner Road. Doing all his rodeoing prompted Don to buy Evans Lucille, AKA ‘Lucy’, one of the first registered quarter horses in Ontario and the first mare brought into Canada thru Cletus Hulling in Illinois. Don and Lucy would perform speed and performance events as well as calf roping and other rodeo events, getting lots of ribbons.
Don was a tough cowboy. His wife, Sue Nye, recalled the time when, “Don got gored by a bull through his arm and into his ribs without breaking a bone, which was amazing because at the time he only weighed about 120lbs soaking wet.”
Cheryl also shared a few stories about her father. “During Dad’s time with the horses he got kicked in the mouth by a horse and lost all his teeth, but that never stopped his love of the horses. I remember this one time when Dad was asked to do an interview for the evening news on TV at the Royal Winter Fair, where Dad represented the Western Horse Association. Dad had just gotten his new teeth and kept biting the inside of his mouth. When I saw him on the news that night his cheeks were all swollen like a chipmunk storing its food to hide for the winter.”
It was at a WHA show where Don met Aidan Finn, owner of Golden Arc Publishing and the company that published the newspaper then known as The Western Rider, now The Rider. Don worked a bit for Aidan, finding advertising spots and Sue helped out with ‘cutting and pasting’, as she put it.
Many memories of good times were generated at George and Barb Coverdale’s ranch, said Cheryl, “with Dad always being the life of the party, noted as a co-contributor of starting the infamous food fight in the kitchen between the adults while all us kids watched from the other room. Needless to say, the fridge and freezer were emptied and the laughter was contagious. WHAT A MESS!”
After Don’s days with the horses and work he retired to the golf course and became a force to be reckoned with there too. “Still always the hard worker,” said Cheryl, “while not on the golf course himself he would do some marshalling and maintenance of the different courses where he was a member, until only a few years ago.”
Don is extremely missed by Joyce (better known as Sue), his long-time love of 66 years but friend and team mate since the age of 5 years old. They played together and climbed trees together as children, later working together within the horse industry. He is also extremely missed by his four children, Sue, Terry, Cheryl and Kathy, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Today, Cheryl figures that her Dad now rests in peace with his other cowboy buddies whom he had missed, recalling legendary names like Jack Blagden, Roy Ionson, George Coverdale, Mick Pettypiece, Bob Tweed, Leroy Kufske, Herb Towers, Johnny Royal, Walt Hellyer, Doug Rapson, Don Lawrence, and Dave Robertson to name a few. More recently, he was joined around the campfire by his buddy Joe Jarvis, who he was always asking about. Joe passed away on December 24, 2023.
What does Cowboy Heaven look like? Cheryl thinks they would be, “whooping it up, riding the storms and talking around the campfire about the crazy things they did in their youth and all their accomplishments. I bet there would be a rodeo up there somewhere! Reminiscing about the good old days, listening to Johnny Cash and talking about how things have changed. Beers flowing around with laughter, hugs and pats on the back,” said Cheryl. “A large lighted path was led for Dad by this group of elite cowboys. Cheers to you, Dad, and all your accomplishments in life.”