It was January 1969 in Fort Chipewyan, a remote community in northeastern Alberta with a population of 1000, mostly Indigenous people. As young teenagers we would go watch the adults in the community curling night after night. It was the only organized recreational activity in our community and was played almost daily from December to March every year. December to February was always -30 to -45 in those days. We had this rickety old curling rink which was about 160 feet long, about 20 feet wide and about 8 feet high. The 2 x 4 frame and rafters were visible as there was no inner walls or ceilings. Same construction as some homes and many outhouses in our community. The rink must have been there for a few years as the wood frame and sidings were dark grey probably from the moist damp conditions throughout the year. An inch of frost covered the walls and rafters throughout the rink.

There was a string of lights down the centre of the ice with 100 watt and some 60 watt bulbs along the way making for dim and brighter spots in the rink. A lobby at one end of the rink was about 30 x 60 feet and made for an overall ‘L’ shaped building. The lobby had inner walls and was heated with a homemade wood stove which was originally a 45 gallon oil barrel. There was a water pump in the lobby that provided water for the natural ice and drinking water for the curlers or for their coffee. The curling club had a concession in one corner where we could buy a ‘pep chew’ chocolate bar or bag of plain chips to eat while we watched the adults play and sweep their straw brooms like crazy, laughing and having lots of fun. It must have been like minus 40 in that rink as the adult curlers had their parkas, toques, mittens, and warm footwear. They probably had their long johns on as we kids did most of the time during the winter. After a hard sweep some adults were sweating, so they would unzip their jackets while huffing and puffing clouds of warm air from their smiling mouths in the ice cold rink. We watched night after night wishing we were old enough to play and join in the fun. There was no TV in our community and limited radio so we didn’t know much about the outside world. Whether there was curling going on in other places was beyond our imagination. The curling club had an 18 year age restriction so all we could do was watch and wish.

That year our world changed when one of our teachers, Mr. G, arranged with the curling club to supervise a junior curling time after school hours and before the adult leagues. We were full of joy, ecstatic, and all of sudden we felt like we had become part of the curling community. For most of us it was our first organized team ever. During the first week Mr. G and some community curlers taught us how to throw or deliver rocks, how to throw the ‘in’ and ‘out’ turns, how to move our feet as we slid down the ice, and how to sweep. Those who were having trouble getting the rock down the ice would have both feet in the hacks and told to push the rock forcefully down the ice with an in or out turn. Some players swept the straw brooms like dusting off the coffee tabletop while others tried to imitate the strong men who played at night and make the brooms ‘flap’ loudly. Those of us that caught on quickly were made skips and were taught the basics on where to place rocks and how to guard them or remove them. We had 8 teams and Mr. G organized a round robin schedule to be followed by a playoff for the championship in March. Whether we were scheduled to play or not we were at the rink watching the other teams, cheering and also keeping an eye on the round robin results. Our foursome took our game serious and at the end of the round robin we were 7 and 0. We continued our winning ways in the first two games of the playoffs which put us in the final game. It was March and the weather was getting warmer to the point of some melting during the day. It was still cold in the rink however the bulbs were melting the frost off the rafters during our final game. In the second end there were mounds of ice forming down the middle of rink below the light bulb areas. Good thing we were taught how to throw in and out turns so we could throw around the ice bumps. It was a bit tricky to deliver the rocks as some ice mounds formed near the delivery area. We learned to slide to the side and release the rock in a bit of an opposite direction part way through our slide. We were playing against Beatrice’s team and it came down to the final rocks. She had the hammer and on my last rock I had a great hit and roll to sit two counting rocks near the center of the rings. Beatrice had to remove both rocks to win the game. In her delivery, she slid to the right and with a powerful push she sent her final rock across the ice headed for the far side of the house. Her rock hit an ice mound about half way down the rink and popped up with some air time. It landed on another ice bump and bounced toward the other side of the house. It hit another ice bump and straightened out towards my two rocks in the center of the rings. Beatrice’s rock sliced my top rock and got both rocks out for an unbelievable double takeout. She had one rock counting and won the final game. I’m not sure if Beatrice ever curled again however whenever we meet she does not let me forget about the outcome our championship match in 1969.

Roy V