Roadside-attraction showdown: Chesley’s Big Bruce

This big bull represents the region’s history of farming livestock — and stands as a tribute to the legacy of one man
By Nathaniel Basen - Published on Jul 30, 2021
Harvey Davis originally spotted the fibreglass bull while travelling in the United States. (Courtesy of Mark Davis)



Maybe you’ve already been to Niagara Falls or up to the top of the CN Tower. But have you made a pit stop near a giant goose? Or snapped a selfie next to a giant wheel of cheese?

Those are just a couple of the roadside attractions on offer in towns and cities across Ontario, which have devised unusual and eye-catching ways of setting their communities apart.

If you’re looking for summertime fun close to home, you can hit the road and check out these local legends. If you’re looking for summertime fun even closer to home, you can check in with over the next two months — each week, we’ll be bringing you profiles of the weirdest, wackiest, and largest objects gracing Ontario’s roadways.

At the end of August, you’ll get the chance to pick your favourites when we open up the voting brackets. So travel Ontario with us, and get ready for a showdown.

Check out the other contestants here.

Update: Big Bruce has claimed the showdown crown!

In the early 1970s, Harvey Davis was travelling somewhere in the United States, maybe Wisconsin, when he came across a fibreglass bull four and a half metres tall and six metres long. He knew he had to have it. 

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At the time, Davis was the reeve of Elderslie Township (now Arran-Elderslie) and a warden of Bruce County, roughly two hours north of London. No one remembers now what the bull had been used for south of the border, but Davis had a vision for its future: tour it around the province to promote the 1976 International Plowing Match, hosted by local farmers.

black and white photo of a fibreglass bull on a tractor
Big Bruce travelled throughout the province. (Courtesy of Mark Davis)

The plowing match was set to attract roughly 100,000 people to the area. Davis thought the bull, which the sellers were willing to part with for roughly $3,000, could represent the region’s proud history of farming livestock. “He had a tough time talking the Cattlemen’s Association into it,” says Mark Davis, Harvey’s son and now the deputy mayor of Arran-Elderslie. “Finally, he said, ‘Well, if you guys don't want to, I'll just buy it myself.’ And then they decided they would.”

Big Bruce, as he came to be known, travelled on a golden trailer and was greeted by photo-taking onlookers. His expeditions were later captured on a commemorative medallion.  

black and white photo of a smiling man
Harvey Davis was a warden of Bruce County.
(Courtesy of Mark Davis)

Four years after the match, Harvey died of malignant melanoma. The Cattlemen’s Association retired Big Bruce's trailer and parked him outside the township offices, on the northern edge of Chesley, where it stands as a tribute to Harvey. “He was always a real strong promoter of Bruce County,” Mark says. “You know, just totally believed that is the best place in the world to live. They saw it as a fitting memento and a tribute to dad.”

Mark credits his father for his own interest in regional politics: “I’ve lived in a family for my whole life that was involved in the local government.”

In the years since Bruce’s arrival, the region has changed. It now relies more on crops and less on livestock, although Mark says that there is still high-quality beef coming out of Bruce County. Big Bruce, meanwhile, has become a popular destination for photo-ops — Mark says it’s not uncommon to see families pull over for a shot with the bull. 

And the big guy is now part of a very small herd. For the 2008 plowing match, the association commissioned Little Bruce, which is also fiberglass and stands nearly two metres tall. He was put up for auction afterward, and the proceeds went to nearby children’s hospitals. “With the prodding of some friends and neighbours,” Mark says,” I bought him.” 

smiling man and woman in front of fibreglass bull
Mark Davis and sister Joan Stewart with Little Bruce. (Courtesy of Mark Davis)

Mark keeps Little Bruce, which cost him $5,500, on a trailer and brings him out for parades and events. “He’s available for functions whenever he’s asked to be there,” he says.

Big Bruce, meanwhile, continues to stand tall. “We actually just gave him a paint job this past year; he was due for a freshen-up. He looks good. We're trying to protect the finish and make sure he survives, you know, because he’s standing outside 365 days a year in the elements,” Mark says. “But he's doing well.”

a large fibreglass bull
Big Bruce now stands outside the township offices, on the northern edge of Chesley. (Wikimedia/Kevin M Klerks)

For Mark, that’s a constant reminder of his father’s influence: “It means a lot. I mean, the family will forever be appreciative of those that made that decision to have it mounted there. It is a great reminder, and there's a plaque there, you know, right beside him that people can read and understand, why he's there and what it is, and it's just tremendous.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the year Little Bruce was commissioned. regrets the error.

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