Mr. Amazing

Jul 7, 2023 | ASD History

Best of Two wins the Buffalo Stakes for trainer Lawrence Anonychuk. July 28, 1976.

Best of Two wins the Buffalo Stakes for trainer Lawrence Anonychuk. July 28, 1976.

by Bob Gates

Lawrence “Mr. Amazing” Anonychuk trained thoroughbred racehorses at Assiniboia Downs for more than 30 years. If we were to restrict ourselves to a discussion of that part of his life, we wouldn’t do his memory proud. He was so much more. We’ll get to his life at the track, but hang on because it’s going to be quite the ride!

For starters, Lawrence studied theology and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree and pre-masters’ classes in sociology. His daughter, Triecial explained he was ordained, but “his love of women, horses and dogs didn’t jive with that lifestyle.”

Lisa the Lion was given refuge at Lawrence's kennel while her owner tried to find her forever home.

Lisa the Lion was given refuge at Lawrence’s kennel while her owner tried to find her forever home.

Plain and simple, Lawrence loved animals to Dolittlean proportions. He was fond of and trained a host of the earth’s creatures. In addition to dogs and horses, as an animal “wrangler” for television and movie productions he worked with deer, racoons, pigs, chickens, cats, rats and birds. His Canisphere Kennels would even see him caring for a lion and a few wolves.

Where did the moniker “Mr. Amazing” come from? Triecial explained, “Well, that is open to interpretation. Some say it is for his five kids from four women, others claim it is from the sheer magnitude of his life accomplishments in the animal world; from starting the K9 unit with the Winnipeg City Police in 1971, to the array of exotic animals from a lion and other big cats to a pet timber wolf that slept in my crib.Perhaps it is his accomplishments with the thoroughbreds, or simply that he managed to juggle all of the above at the same time.”  His personalized licence plate appropriately read “Amazng.”

The Winnipeg Police Canine Unit was established in 1971 under the watchful eye of Lawrence. The program all began with three German Shepherd pups and their handlers, who were trained in the art of canine/human “team” police work.

As if there wasn’t enough on his plate, Lawrence’s Equine Stables conducted a groom school in 1976. In addition, Lawrence co-published a “Race Fans Manual” in 1979 for Assiniboia Downs that provided a variety of information about horse racing.

What is truly amazing is the way Lawrence balanced his multifaceted career while heading up the City of Winnipeg’s Animal Services. Animal trainer extraordinaire, he also worked in racing organizations such as the HBPA and the CTHS. Lawrence did it all!

In the summer of 1981, life pulled the rug out from under Lawrence. The advanced cancer of the lymphatic system diagnosis was life-changing, and the prognosis wasn’t good. Left untreated he probably had one to three years to live.

Once the initial shock had passed, Lawrence looked upon the disease as a chance to make amends and lead a more positive and fruitful life. Horse racing and his other interests kept him busy enough, but he had no real long-term plans.  Come spring of 1982 things were looking up for Lawrence, as he was responding well to treatment, but even in remission, cancer was always in his rearview mirror.

In the horse world Lawrence worked with some of the best. Two that come to mind are Best of Two and Beausejour Boy. Best of Two had to be one of the most promising fillies to ever grace the track at Assiniboia Downs. Sadly, she suffered an on-track injury. In the late 1970s, Big Boy Stables’ Beausejour Boy was one of the premier stakes runners, a horse that could hold his own against the best on the grounds. I’ll bet most of you will remember at least one of the following Anonychuk barn occupants: McNert, Runaway Bandita, Captain Flight and Lonesome Larry?

I first met Lawrence, aka Mr. Amazing in 1971 when he was a dog breeder and dog trainer who owned Canisphere Kennels. I am not sure he had even touched a horse before that. I have a myriad of stories featuring Lawrence, most of them well known by the whole backstretch at that time.  He was in fact, in spite of his foibles, a really nice guy!  Dr. Ross McKague

Theology graduate, Lawrence Anonychuk.

Theology graduate, Lawrence Anonychuk.

Let us not forget that our own CEO Darren Dunn, and his brother Daryl, got their start working side-by-side in Lawrence’s barn in the early 1980s.

The idea for telling this story took shape last February. The night was cold, and television had little to offer. So I took to the computer to work on some potential topics for the upcoming year. Somewhere, somehow, Lawrence Anonychuk’s name surfaced, and I found myself in a Facebook conversation with his daughter, Triecial who indicated a willingness to help with the telling of her father’s story.

It was late in the evening and plans were made for us to talk again. However, before calling it a night I considered what little information I had for her father.  Sure enough, he was born on February 10, and by sheer coincidence our chat took place on what would have been her father’s 80th birthday. Talk about karma, that was it! Mr. Lawrence Anonychuk was definitely one of the stories I had to tell this year.

With Doc McKague’s assistance I reached out to Karen Shiels, who was Lawrence’s wife at the time of his death who… perhaps it’s best if Karen speaks for herself:

Lawrence was one of a kind. His love for thoroughbreds, German Shepherd dogs, Animal Wrangling, acquiring his licence to judge A1 Breed Dog Shows, just to mention a few of his passions. Being president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Association for two terms was a job which entitled him to travel to Canada’s top breeders. His biggest love was people, he loved to chat, exchange views and educate. Lawrence was the love of my life!

Lawrence loved his critters.

Lawrence loved his critters.

Lawrence fought the good fight, always knowing that his days were numbered.  After battling cancer for the better part of 25 years, he left our world May 6, 2007.

Mr. Amazing was a charmer with a weakness for women and a limitless love for animals who left his mark…

On the backside at Assiniboia Downs.