Dear Curling Canada,
Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to submit our story, with a chance, and a hope of being a contender in the 2023 Curling Story Contest. Oh, who are we kidding? We want to WIN the contest!! Let us tell you a little story about growing the game of curling in small-town Newfoundland & Labrador in the early 1980’s (the font for this story was specifically chosen as it reminds us of local newsletters and church bulletins from back in the day!).
In the early 1980’s “curling” was not a household word in most parts of Newfoundland & Labrador. Back then, there were, at most, a dozen curling clubs scattered throughout the province, including two or three in Labrador. Only the larger centres, towns with populations of at least four or five thousand people, were fortunate enough to have a local curling club. For the most part, these were “company towns”, which had been built around a single major business, like the paper mills and mining companies. And of course, the province’s largest city, St. John’s, had the luxury of two Curling Clubs.
But for the rest of the approximately 300 small towns peppered throughout the province, hockey was the main attraction in winter, and almost EVERY town had a hockey arena.
Clarenville was one of those hockey towns. Then one year, the town was offered, for free, an old set of curling stones from a club on the province’s east coast. So, after the local hockey season had wrapped up, the game of curling made its debut in Clarenville. An experienced curler from St. John’s was brought to town for a single weekend of instruction to any locals who wanted to try their luck at this “new” game.
I would hazard a guess that before that weekend, the only stones any of us had ever thrown were probably picked up from the shore and tossed into the harbour – certainly none of us had never thrown a curling stone prior to this! In addition to the weekend of instruction, a crash course in how to read the scoreboards, understanding how to score and trying to figure out straw brooms (Al Hackner & Eddy Werenich we definitely were NOT!), we had the benefit of a couple of old timers living in Clarenville who had been exposed to the game in England and Scotland. They, along with the experienced curler from the east coast, helped us learn the basics of curling, and they tried to show us what we were supposed to do.
The instruction and lessons, our “curling clinic”, if you will, was delivered in the local hockey arena. The rings were painted on the ice over the fading red and blue lines, and hacks were installed not far from the goalie’s creases. We had successfully created four curling sheets.
While we weren’t necessarily the best students, after a few more evenings of instruction, a decision was made to hold Clarenville’s very first Bonspiel. Our motley crew of eager new curlers lured, enticed, cajoled and threatened their families and friends to come out and give this “new winter sport” a try. For anyone sitting on the fence, the scales were tipped when we shared the details of post-game etiquette – the winning team buys the losing team a round of drinks, so everybody wins! And come out they did! We had enough interest to form eight full teams for our little community bonspiel.
As our bonspiel kicked off, Clarenville’s newest curlers were quick to learn some of the curling lingo. Encouraging his sweepers to dig a little deeper, to “hurry harder”, one skip’s command to “pick it up” took on a whole new meaning when a player chased his stone down the ice after releasing it and actually picked it up! And players on the outside sheets very quickly figured out what “negative ice” meant – the skips would have to hold their brooms far outside the paint in order for shots to curl back into the rings; Zambonis flooding the rink didn’t exactly make for the greatest curling ice!
Despite these, and other stadium curling hurdles, the sport of curling caught on in Clarenville, and by the start of the next curling season we were hooked, eager and convinced that we could play. Within a year or so, and with the addition of an experienced skip who had moved to the area and had done a fair amount of curling through high school, we felt we were good enough to enter a ladies’ bonspiel that was hosted annually in Gander. With our matching sweaters and new curling shoes, feeling like we were really something, the four of us set out to challenge the curling world. It took us about three years to win our first game, but we had a blast trying!
While we had all known one another previously, our curling exploits, including our annual trips to that same spiel, certainly cemented our friendships forever. And my gosh, we had so, so much fun! There are countless stories we could tell about those weekend bonspiels, but our policy was always “what happens in Gander, stays in Gander”, so mum’s the word!
Stadium curling remained a big part of our sports lives in Clarenville and fostered so many great friendships. It has continued to prosper over the years, and is still being played in Clarenville, and many other smaller towns, today. Since those days, our foursome of Holly, Margie, Ruby and Marg have all moved on to other locations but nearly 40 years later, we stay in touch, and laugh and reminisce about the good old days of curling, mostly through social media. We have never had the opportunity to go to a Brier competition together, though we’re all avid fans still, and think it would be so exciting to once again take in a bonspiel as a team, but this time in the stands, as fans of the greatest game and watching Canada’s best! It would certainly be the most amazing reunion ever!
Thank you for reading, and we hope you’ve enjoyed our story as much as we have!
From, The Clarenville Ladies Rink of:
Skip: Holly Pickett
Third: Margie Bromley
Second: Ruby Boone
Lead: Marg Lannon