Dr. Roly Armitage Passes

Dr. Roly Armitage
Published: June 21, 2024 11:59 am EDT

A legendary Canadian both in and out of the harness racing industry, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famer Dr. Roly Armitage of Dunrobin, Ont. passed away on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 at the age of 99.

Born in South March, Ont, on Feb. 8, 1925, Armitage became a decorated veteran, a veterinarian, horse owner and breeder, township mayor, racetrack administrator and author over the course of his amazing life.

Roly joined the army at the age of 17 (before he was officially eligible), and served in World War II in the 3rd Medium Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery, landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day in June 1944, and participated in the Battle of Normandy through to the Liberation of Holland in 1945.

After returning from World War II, he completed high school, then attended Guelph Veterinarian College.  He graduated in 1951, and set up his veterinary practice in Shawville, Que. shortly thereafter until moving to Dunrobin in 1968 where he was a Standardbred owner, breeder and manager of Armstead Farms, along with sons Blake and Donald.

From here, Armitage became a force in Canadian horse racing, serving as president of the Canadian Trotting Association (1974 -1980) and the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society (1972 -1974). Along with the late John Hayes, Dr. Armitage was instrumental in introducing electronic eligibility to the sport, putting Canada on the leading edge of technology in horse racing. His great foresight allowed him to advocate the move to eliminate hub rails after attending the World Trotting Conference in 1981 and he was also a strong proponent for the freeze branding identification technique that came to be employed by the breeding industry.

Dr. Armitage’s natural and infectious enthusiasm for the sport has made him a valuable ambassador for Canadian harness racing. The track veterinarian at Connaught Park from 1954 - 1974, Roly was general manager of Rideau Carleton Raceway for nine years while maintaining his skills as a vet. In 1990, Dr. Armitage left Rideau Carleton for the political arena and ran for the Liberal Party. Roly won the nomination but lost by 324 votes to Norm Sterling in the federal election. He was elected mayor of West Carleton for a three-year term from 1991-1994..

Roly campaigned several noteworthy horses over the years, including Armstead Jim, Armstead Don, What A Splurge, Evensong Blue and Wendys Joker. Armstead Jim won more than $200,000, with one of his most notable wins coming in the 1979 Jockey Club Maturity. Armstead Don was Canada’s three-year-old colt trotter of the year in 1976 and winner of the Simcoe Futurity. What A Splurge was an Ontario Sires Stakes performer, winning more than $70,000. Wendys Joker allowed Armitage to introduce a whole group of new people to harness racing by selling shares in the trotter, who retired with earnings exceeding $300,000.

More recently, Armitage was associated with horses the likes of Janderson and Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final winner Dashing Muscle, Grassroots Final winner Armstead Cole, as well as Aerial Flight, and Armstead Kyra. He was looking forward to the debut of a promising two-year-old by the name of Armstead Fireball, being developed by his son, Jim.

His many accolades and accomplishments include Citizen of the Year in Shawville in 1960, veterinarian at Connaught Park (1954 - 1974), named Veterinarian of the Year by the Ontario Veterinary Association (1982), President of the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society (1972 - 1974), and the Canadian Trotting Association (1974 - 1980), inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (1999), Mayor of West Carleton (1990 - 1994; with the Community Complex named after him), General Manager of Rideau Carleton Raceway (1981 - 1990), inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame (2000), recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (2000), Key to the City of Ottawa (2006), Order of Ottawa (2019), Order of Ontario (2022), General Manager of Carp Airport for nine years (with Terminal named after him), and appointed Honorary Lifetime Member of OXA Ottawa representing Pinecrest Cemetery (2023).

He made numerous trips to Normandy, France and Holland for the post-war commemorative celebrations, the most recent being the 75th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy in June, 2019, and the 79th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland in May, 2023.  He was very disappointed to miss out on the 80th Anniversary ceremonies in Normandy, France this past June, 2024 due to ill health.

Roly lived in his home in Dunrobin until the age of 98, where he enjoyed country living, his apple trees, all the birds and animals, visiting the horses next door at his son Donald’s stable, and his many visitors.  In October, 2023, he moved to the Perley Rideau Veterans Residence.  He loved it there, and considered it his new home very quickly.  He loved all the many activities available, and especially the benefit of the pub, where he could share a drink with friends and family.  He and his family are very appreciative of the care he received from the wonderful staff there (he loved them, and they loved him).

A special thank you to his PSWs who cared for him at home, Allan Reid and Carl Manning, his noon helper and “soup maker”, Susan Jinarak, his favourite PSW, Barbara Curvan, and Dr. Cuong Ngo-Minh at Perley Health.

Predeceased by his parents Godfrey and Joan (Foot) Armitage.  Also predeceased by his siblings and their spouses, Maxwell (WW2), Robin (Lu), William (Shirley), Frank (Kay), June Pye (Brian), and Peggy Scott (George).  He is survived by his brother Kingsley (Heather).

Roly was married to Mary Spearman in June, 1947, who passed away in 1985, and is the much loved father of Mick, Ann Webster (Robert), Blake (deceased 1981), and James a/k/a Donald (Glenda).  Special grandfather of Shaun Armitage (Shannon), Emily and Margaret Armitage, and great-grandfather of Blake and Katie Armitage.

He was predeceased by son-in-law Wayne Shepherd (1995), and twin great-granddaughters, Sarah and Brooke Armitage (2002).

He is also predeceased by his second wife, Karen Flahven (2013).

He will be fondly remembered by daughters-in-law Mary Lou Carrier-Ellis, Patti Sheppard-Armitage, and Mary Nelson, his god-daughter niece Joanne Pye-Milligan, his brother-in-law George Spearman (Helen), the Spearman family, and many nieces and nephews, in particular Kelly, Paul and Cassidy Atkins, and Jeff and Sheila Armitage.

A private funeral service will be held, with a celebration of life for Roly on Saturday, July 13 from 1-4 p.m. at Cole Funeral Services & Highland Park Cemetery, 2037 McGee Side Rd., Carp, Ont.

Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Roly Armitage.

(Standardbred Canada; with files from the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame)



First, Roly was a great Canadian hero for his World War II contributions to save the free world. And the world of Canadian harness racing was twice blessed with his many years of leadership at the Canadian Trotting Association - Roly always had that ocean-to-ocean concept for our sport and only wanted what would help and benefit everybody. Thank you, Roly. Twice.

'Example is an eloquent orator.' Dr. Roly Armitage's eclectic career was a shining example of a life well lived and spoke volumes about the character of this remarkable man!

Roly is in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame for all the right reasons .....an owner, trainer, driver, breeder, administrator, manager, veterinarian, visionary and for 99 years one of horse racing's biggest and best promoters.

Outside of horse racing Roly was a mayor, an author, a recipient of both the Order of Ottawa and Order of Ontario. Perhaps most impressive was his time spent fighting for our country Canada in World War 2, landing in Normandy in June, 1944 and helping the Allied Forces win the Battle of Normandy. Needless to say Roly was a decorated war veteran.

Sincere condolences to the Armitage family with the passing of their indefatigable patriarch and special condolences to my lifelong friend Don Armitage who loved and adored his father with his heart and soul !

In reply to by hecclouthier@h…

Well said Hec. It is hard to imagine anyone who wore so many hats as Roly and did them all so well.

RIP Mr Armitage, i remember going to your family home in Shawville with my Dad, i thought you were one of the nicest people ever

A life well lived! It was a privilege training for the Armitages and chatting with Roly about his incredible life always was a highlight of their visits. Rest in peace Roly you have certainly earned it.

Roly was larger than life in so many ways. He was a founding member of the Shawville Driving Club and a great friend of my father. I recall him vouching for me in the paddock at Connaught Park when I was about 14 years old. Truly a great Canadian.

Talked to Donny last week at KD he said Roly wasn't good. To the whole family very sorry for your loss ❤️. R.I.P Roly!

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