Some people use Edmonton Transit to get to work or school. Some use it to connect with loved ones. Others use it to give back to community initiatives like ETS’s Stuff a Bus food drive.
Then there is Lesley and Lyle LeGrande. The ETS operators met—and married—on a bus and now give back to the community to spread the love they found with each other. They both volunteer as bus host operators at local Save-On-Foods stores for the Stuff a Bus campaign—Lesley started nine years ago, Lyle eight.
This past November, the campaign raised 20,201 kilograms of food and $9,931 in cash donations to support Edmontonians in need. The annual food drive began in 1995 and has collected 573,201 kg and $505,031 in total for Edmonton’s Food Bank.
“We need to give back”
Giving back to the community is such an important aspect of this couple’s relationship because of their own personal struggles. “Before I came to [Edmonton] Transit, I had struggled being a single parent and I really truly believed that we need to give back,” says Lesley. “What we take or what is humbly given to us, we need to return that.”
Lyle echoes his wife’s sentiments. “It’s pretty mutual for both of us because I was there myself, too,” he says. “And so I do it in the same context because I want to give back as well.”
Finding friendship on route 16
Lyle started driving for ETS in 2009, Lesley joined in 2011. They first met in February 2012 when she boarded his bus—route 16—to visit her grandmother at a Castledowns senior home.
Lesley was wearing her operator’s pass; Lyle noticed her because she was “a driver and Indigenous.” She thought he was “cute, especially his smile.” When he stopped to take a bathroom break, Lesley peeked at Lyle’s running board—the schedule of a transit operator’s stops and times—to find out which return bus to take so she could “run into him again.”
The two became fast friends, hanging out before or after their bus shifts at the City of Edmonton’s former Westwood Transit Garage. Lyle often brought Timbits for Lesley, hoping to sweep her off her feet with his thoughtfulness. Their conversations were easy and they discovered several serendipitous connections—each had three kids, all born in the same years.
The couple’s similarities ran even deeper. Both were born at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton—exactly 21 months apart. Both were part of the Sixties Scoop—when thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in non-Indigenous homes. Lyle, 54, is from Bigstone Cree Nation in Treaty 8 territory. He was adopted as a child and grew up near High Prairie in Grouard, near Lesser Slave Lake. Lesley, 56, is also Cree and is from Alexander First Nations. She grew up in Treaty 6 in Edmonton in foster care.
Fate takes its course
As Lesley and Lyle spent more time together, they couldn’t hide their feelings for each other.
She sent him a text: “I think I’m feeling more than friendship.” He ended up getting on her bus—she was driving a Late Night Owl route—to confess his emotions. “I have been feeling the same way and obviously fate is taking its course, because I think we’re gonna be beginning an amazing life together,” Lyle remembers saying.
Little more than a month later—on March 26, 2013—the two were in Castledowns, waiting to get on a route 16 bus. Unbeknownst to Lesley, Lyle was planning to propose. The driver of the first bus, however, didn’t look that cheery, so Lyle stalled to wait for the next 16.
The choice couldn’t have been more fortunate. While boarding, he whispered to the driver: “I hope you don’t mind, but at one of your bus stops, I’d like to propose to my girlfriend.” The operator, James Coull, agreed and the bus continued its route before reaching the spot where Lesley stepped on Lyle’s bus 13 months earlier. Stop 6124.
Lyle then got down on one knee in front of Lesley, asking her to spend the rest of her life with him. Lesley felt like she was floating. ”All I could do is shake my head, ‘Yes!’” she says.
A fairy tale ending
Since then, Lesley and Lyle have been together, living happily ever after and spending only four days apart through the last 11 years.
The couple married on August 30, 2013, at the very same bus stop where Lyle proposed. They chartered ETS’s Platinum bus, which has iridescent paint that changes colours depending on the light and angle. The pastor who married them? A friend of James, who was also a pastor and a bus driver. James was driving route 16 when Lyle proposed to Lesley. (As it turns out, James and his wife, Dawn Messer Coull, both work for transit, too.)
Lesley reflects on her life with Lyle and their time as ETS operators. “We both found a wonderful career we both love and found each other,” she says. “Transit has been a blessing. We volunteer as often as we can.”
The LeGrandes often do so through ETS campaigns like Stuff a Bus, Christmas Lights Tours, and the Bus Roadeo, a transit skills competition. The couple have volunteered their time for nearly a decade and encourage others to do the same.
“You just don’t stop smiling,” says Lesley. “You just feel so much joy when you help people and you just feel really good about it.”
Editor’s note: the pic at the top shows ETS operators Lesley and Lyle LeGrande at bus stop 6124 on their wedding day on August 30, 2013. Photo courtesy of the couple.