As any seasoned curler knows, it can take just one good call to dramatically change a match’s direction. That, I have come to appreciate, is also true in life.

It was a beautiful spring day in 2016 as I sat in my Abbotsford, BC living room, considering my options for the remainder of the week. It was the season of new life, and things were sprouting up everywhere in southwestern B.C. My life too was about to sprout some new life.

At the time, I fostered a special-needs person in my home, following the 2018 global economic collapse that left me outside of my journalism career. The home-share contract kept me tied down in my house, and was a far cry from my days as a community newspaper reporter or a government communications officer, but it was a good way to make a living after being downsized out of my career by the global recession of 2008.

I was pouring another coffee, and checking the television guide one more time when, unexpectedly, my cell phone chimed up, and I could see that it was my old friend Kim Kirkham from Penticton calling. Kim was my ex-wife’s sister and someone with whom I did not ordinarily casually call for a chat. So, I was curious about the call.

“Hi Kim, how are you,” I said happy to talk to an old friend. We exchanged pleasantries and caught up a bit before she told me that she was involved with the local chamber of commerce, and a couple of other community endeavours.

Then she said something that would change the direction of my life for good.

“So I am co-chair of a local committee that is trying to land the national women’s curling championship event for Penticton,” she explained.

“Oh the Scotties Tournament of Hearts,” I replied. “I’m familiar with the event, having been a community sports reporter for a time, and having written about local curlers who were trying to represent BC at the Scotties.”

Kim said that she and a handful of people from her community were putting together pitch reports, and holding local events in an attempt to sell ticket commitments to locals, so they could show Curling Canada that Penticton was worthy of holding the event.

“But we’re thinking it would be a good idea if we put out a press release or something to help people know about our events,” Kim queried. “I immediately thought of you.”

I said I understood the bidding process a little, and I told her that she would, more than likely she would need something more along the lines of a “media campaign” than a single press release for a public-information event.

“But,” I said, “you happen to be in luck as I was looking for a good project to get behind.”

I knew I would benefit from getting involved in something like this — something to take me away from sit-com reruns and the blahs of my living room.
Kim said she was excited to have me on board, and we started talking about some strategies.

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to submit a bid for the 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts,” said Kim in our “Rock the Bid” initial press release in May of 2016.

“Our organizing committee consists of many people who were involved in the 2013 Continental Cup of Curling, also held in Penticton …. The SOEC is perfect for the event as the competition venue and the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, where the Party (the Patch) will be held, are connected via enclosed walkway. We are confident that we can put on a first-class event. We just need the public to get behind this and purchase a full-event pass,” said Kirkham in the release.

The committee would hold several community events to gather support, and the City of Penticton would get behind the bid as it gained more and more community support. Former Scotties champion Kelly Long would endorse the bid, with another press release of course, and Penticton city staff would put together a report indicating how it could contribute to running the event. As more releases were issued, and more events were held, more and more advanced ticket sales were secured.

By September 2016, the beginning of the curling season, I knew that in October Curling Canada would be making an announcement at Penticton Valley First Vault Bar & Grill in the South Okanagan Events Centre. We knew we had landed the 2018 Scotties for Penticton.

“I am delighted to announce that the SOEC here in Penticton will host the 2018 Scotties tournament of Hearts,” Curling Canada board director Lena West said, on Oct. 27th, to a room full of media representatives, elected officials, and community dignitaries.

Former world champion and Scotties Tournament of Heart champion Kelly Scott of Kelowna, who represented the Penticton bid, took the podium for that press event.

“A huge congratulations goes out to Kim and Charlie, and their committee members for their hard work on the Scotties 2018 bid, and now for bringing the Scotties to Penticton,” Scott told the assembled crowd.

“The Scotties tournament of Hearts is one of Canada’s best-known women’s sporting events, and people from all across the world will be watching.”
That, for me, was where the second part, and perhaps the best part, of this story truly begins.

Recognizing I was now part of a fantastic story, with worldwide viewership, about bringing the Scotties Tournament of Hearts to B.C., I shuddered with the recognition that I had never curled a day, or an end, in my life.

Yeah there was that time I attempted to throw cedar-burl “rocks” along a frozen Rideau Canal during the Smiths Falls, ON winter Festival in 1981 … but that doesn’t really count.

I didn’t even understand how the scoreboard worked. I had a year to get into curling, and I needed to learn fast.

A quick online search revealed to me that the local Abbotsford Curling Club offered “Learn to Curl” clinics, and I called in a reservation for me and a buddy. After a couple of nights of one-on-one instruction, I was directed toward a social novice league that was as much about socializing as it was about learning the game.

As Curling Canada was announcing the Penticton curling Club’s success in landing the right to host the 2018 Scotties Tournament, was well on my way to becoming a curling participant, and a club member.

I was curling every Wednesday night in the novice social league, where I met Derek, a younger guy who took me under his wing and helped me learn the game. That year Derek convinced me to join him in the Hope men’s bonspiel where I met Steve and Geoff for the first time. We would win the B event at the Hope bonspiel, and I was hooked. They are my men’s teammates to this very day.

But I would meet a hundred new people from my community in the Abbotsford curling Club, and make a bunch of new friends with whom I golf, camp, and participate in a variety of community recreational activities.

I would go on to help the Abbotsford club manager promote the 2017 B.C. Men’s Championships at our club; and Derek would get involved with helping me organize volunteers as we joined the organizing committee, and the community of Penticton, in putting on the 2018 Scotties tournament of Hearts.
Derek and I would take part in a Kelowna 2017 summer bonspiel with bid committee co-chairs Kirkham and Charlie Cohoe to get better acquainted.
Kirkham would even bring up my “Learn to Curl” involvement at the Scotties announcement event.

I would go on to act as emcee for the 2017 Men’s Provincial championships as well as the emcee for the Friday night Wild Card match at the 2018 Scotties, between Chelsea Carey and Kerri Einarson. One memorable moment for me, as I prepared to announced the Wild Card teams, was me showing my curling rookie chops by sidling up to Einarson and asking her how to properly pronounce her name. She smiled, told me, then thanked me.
But, truth be told, the best part of that Penticton tournament, and my involvement in landing it, was that it turned me onto the sport of curling, and introduced me to this group of new friends and acquaintances in my own community of Abbotsford.

And all of that started with a phone call from my friend Kim. I am forever grateful.

Good curling. 🥌 🥌 🥌 🥌 🥌 🥌 🥌 🥌


Kevin Gillies