Bruce McGill’s work is never truly done, but he doesn’t seem to mind one little bit.
For the 60-year-old father-of-two, there is the occasional knock at the door as he sits down to dinner with his wife, Heather. He’s also been flagged down while doing his yard work by a frantic hockey parent or two, pleading for him to sharpen their child’s skates after hours ‘just this once.’
“If I’m cutting the lawn and someone pulls into my driveway and desperately needs their skates sharpened for a game or tournament, I’m not about to turn them away,” says McGill, who opened Bruce’s Edge Skate Sharpening in the basement of his South Surrey, B.C. home around 12 years ago.
“It just takes about 10 minutes and then I am right back to cutting the grass.”
While the familiar hum of his sharpening stone can be heard at some peculiar hours inside their home — even when the rest of the world is sound asleep — McGill never grows tired of the sound. Nor does he ever grow weary of the customers, many of whom he has watched grow from young children toting hockey sticks into adults with babies of their own.
“A lot of those little guys who used to sit on the counter to watch their skates get sharpened now have to duck to fit in the front door,” he says.
On average, McGill estimates he sharpens around 60 to 90 pairs of skates a day — no easy feat for a sufferer of Ankylosing spondylitis — a long-term disease that involves inflammation of the joints between the spinal bones, and joints between the spine and pelvis.
While his condition may prevent the minor league hockey veteran from hitting the rink as much as he’d like, it doesn’t stop him from doing what he does best — sharpening a mean set of blades.
“By the end of the day my back is pretty tired, but what can you do?” says McGill, who has played for Vancouver’s PNE minor league team, the Burnaby Minors as well as the New Westminster Royals’ junior team back in the day.
“I love what I do and would like to continue doing it as long as I can… well, as long as my health holds up.”
Although it’s a small shop (approximately 500 square feet), Bruce’s Edge has been known to hold quite the crowd, especially on Saturdays, or right before tryouts and tournaments.
“It can get very lively in here,” laughs McGill, who takes pride in serving each customer as quickly as possible.
On slower days, McGill enjoys chatting with customers to find out the scoop about what’s going on at rink as well as how his local junior team (the Surrey Eagles) is faring.
“Talking to the kids and their parents is probably my favourite part of the job,” says McGill, who has a winning hat trick up his sleeve that he uses for young players who are down in the dumps about losing a game.
“I try to perk up the kids by telling them that I will put a goal in their skates for them. The best is when they come back in to tell me it worked.”
But not all who come through his door need a little perking up. Many are eager to share some great news with McGill, who is just as happy to listen.
“I asked one young lad how his game went and he was so excited he got a goal that he started demonstrating his play in my shop. He was spinning around, accidentally hit someone in corner and was bounding of the walls when he shouted ‘and then I roofed it!’ You get all kinds of stories like this… it really does the heart good.”
Chatting with the young minor and junior players often brings him back to his own youth and reminds him of why he is such a big fan of the all-time classic Canuck sport in the first place.
“I’ve played hockey since I was five years old and have coached and refereed in the past…it’s so nice to see the younger generation so excited about the sport… it’s something that doesn’t go out of your blood, ever. This is Canada’s game!”