Realtor Bruce Johnson has at least a million reasons to be proud – one for every dollar he has raised for Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, riding his motorcycle with his daughter Holly from one end of the earth to the other.
The sales agent from Re/Max by The Bay in Wasaga Beach, Ont., and Holly have ridden more than 31,000 miles in memory of Alyssa Rae. Johnson’s and wife Mary’s first daughter was born in 1998 and died 20 days later. The Alyssa Rae Johnson Fund was set up in her honour.
Holly was 13 years old at the time of their first Motorcycle for Miracles ride, which left Toronto in 2013 and wound its way to Costa Rica. “Holly would ask, ‘Where are we going to stay tonight?’ I said, ‘I don’t know,” Johnson says. But hundreds of colleagues and strangers have opened their homes.
Johnson says he told one family about losing Alyssa Rae and riding to raise money to help other sick children. “One of the family’s children dumped their piggy bank contents on the counter wanting to donate,” he says, adding that the generosity of people, especially children, leaves him deeply touched.
Along the way, more than 500 donors, including former basketball player Magic Johnson signed a Re/Max flag. It was auctioned off for $30,000 to Re/Max Integra of Ontario. The company gave the flag back to Bruce Johnson, and every year the winning bidder follows suit, returning the flag so it can be auctioned off the following year.
During their first trip, they had to explain to people what their journey was all about. But the following rides were different. Johnson says people along the way were waiting. At one Re/Max office in Mexico, they were greeted by 40 agents wearing t-shirts with the message “Welcome Bruce and Holly.”
They have since completed two other rides. During their Ride Across Canada, they visited 14 children’s hospitals. It took six months to complete the 15,500-mile Ends of the Earth Ride.
In 1991, during a trip to the Arctic, Johnson met his wife, Mary. “I knew within an hour that I would marry her,” he says. They kept in touch, then decided to ride from the Arctic to Argentina. Their bicycle trip took 34 months. Johnson, a journalism and photography graduate, freelanced, selling stories and photos to local papers as they travelled.
When Holly was 10, she asked if she and her father could make the same trip by motorcycle, and in 2018, starting at the same campsite in Inuvik, NWT, where her parents met, they set out.
Despite the miles, weather ranging from freezing cold to endless rain to searing heat and being chased by bears, “Holly has never complained,” says Johnson, adding that his daughter is a remarkable young woman with a kind heart.
Johnson has always loved riding, but “the experience doesn’t compare with travelling for something greater than yourself.”
This year has been a year of 25s, Burlington Ont.-born, Cambridge-raised Johnson says. He got his real estate licence 25 years ago, has been with the same Re/Max office (where his sister is a broker) for 25 years and has been supporting the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) for 25 years.
“Real estate is the greatest gig on earth,” he says, appreciating the flexibility to continue his fund-raising efforts. If he’s away, some clients will wait to buy or sell their homes. He also relies on family members (he calls them “The Glue”) to look after his clients.
Along with the rides with Holly, Johnson recently completed a solo 10,000-km ride around eastern Canada. He says the experience wasn’t the same without Holly to keep him company. (Holly, now 21, and her 18-year-old sister Jocelyn, also an instrumental part of the fund-raising team, are attending university in Ottawa.)
Donations can be made electronically on the CMN website and go to the donors’ local hospital. The Johnson family pays their own expenses, and none of the money donated goes to administration.
Johnson is the 2019 recipient of the National Association of Realtor’s Good Neighbor award, which honours Realtors who have made a positive impact on their communities. He is the first and only Canadian to be so honoured. He is also an Ontario Real Estate Association Real Heart Ambassador. The program highlights the good work Realtors do.
He takes any opportunity to talk about the cause, raise money and help sick children and their families. One thing he wants his family and all the people who have helped him is to know that he’s grateful. He says he couldn’t have done it alone.
Click here to donate, and join the Johnson Family in supporting SickKids and CMN.
Connie Adair is a contributing writer for REM.