Al Stencell

Al is a former president of the Circus Historical Society and the author (as A.W. Stencell) of two fascinating and heavily illustrated books: Seeing is Believing: America’s Sideshows (2002) and Girl Show: Into the Canvas World of Bump and Grind (1999), both published by ECW Press in Toronto, Canada

Here’s his response to a query sent to the CHS regarding the Royal Brothers Circus:

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 [email protected]. 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.