My first introduction to curling was accompanying my dad to the old Curling Rink. It was situated east of the old Mackenzie Hotel or later the parking lot of the Hudson’s Bay Store that used to be in the slide zone.

The rink had two sheets of natural ice and a small lobby area. In the lobby was a large two-barrel wood stove. My dad went early to start a fire to warm up the place. On very cold evenings, the curlers would come in off the ice to warm up.

In the mid to late 50’s a new curling rink was built. It had a round Quonset/igloo shape and later backed onto the Arena. With three sheets of natural ice, a lobby area with a confectionary, tiered viewing benches and bathrooms downstairs. Upstairs more viewing seats and the lounge/bar.

This was the powerhouse of curling in the North! With no TV, curling was a prime winter sport. Home grown talent soon emerged and I got to see them all in action.

Starting with the older guys, Tom Hudson Sr. was a strong curler. Unfortunately, he dropped the first eight ender to Moe E Evans! Next were Reg Campbell, Jim Schaefer, Paul Kaeser, Eugene Mercredi, and Jack Russell. All great curlers. Paul Kaeser was the strongest corn broom sweeper. Jim Schaefer stole an eight ender in mixed curling against Dick Cisarowski. I witnessed that one! The upstairs bar was full, and the place erupted when Dick’s draw was heavy and went through the house!

The next group came out of the Federal Day School, junior curlers program. Eddy Bird skipped a Territorial winning team. Charlie Schaefer was a brilliant shot maker and represented the North many times. Bob Sanderson, great delivery, and the strongest corn broom sweeper. He snapped the broom handles on a regular basis. Malcolm Jewell one of the steadiest elite curlers who always played at the highest level. Jake Heron, my curling partner who never missed a shot. Johnny/Jack Poitras the draw artist with strong sweeping skills.

After us came the MacArthur boys, Bob, Bruce, Terry, Brad, and Darryl (Cheeky) and the Kaeser two boys, Nick, and Paul.

A few southern guys complimented our home-grown talent. Some stayed for life and others came and went. Archie Bevington took a senior men’s team to the Nationals. Al Delmage skipped many teams at the Brier and Howard Brazeau skipped and won the National Firemen’s title. Also, guys like Dick Cisarowski, Bill Melnyk and others played with them.

The curling rink was just across the road from the Federal Day School. After school, Mr. Fraser opened the place for student mixed curling. Anyone who wanted could play. It was a wonderful way to start playing the game. It was also the practice time for the Junior Men’s school team.

The team was usually set but they allowed a few of us to practice with them. That is where I learned to “hit the broom.” I would be sliding out and releasing the rock and I would hear Charlie Schaefer yelling at the top of his voice saying “Hit the F..King Broom! Hit the F..King Broom!” You hear that enough; you learn to Hit the Broom!

Sliding in the delivery was important. We did not have a lot of money so a little ingenuity was necessary. Initially we tried tacks on the soles of our shoes but they scratched the ice so that did not work. Next, plastic was the answer. We cut the top and bottom of Perfex containers, then we cut it down the middle to get a flat surface. We then drew an outline of our shoes with a small tab at the from and back of this new cut out slider. The tabs were for tacks to attach the slider to the shoe. This worked fine for a while but thankfully the new slip on half sliders became readily available.

Once the shooter released the rock, sweeping was important to help complete the shot. Good sweepers could pull a slow rock and keep it online. We used corn brooms, and you could hear the sound and rhythm as they worked their way down the ice. After brushes became popular because they were more efficient, we lost something as the game became quieter.

Now a days competitive curlers use positive reinforcement comments to the shooter. We used negative ones. Words like “can’t and don’t” were always used. “You can’t be light or don’t be wide.” Naturally, if you hit the broom and threw the proper weight, you made you shot every time!

My friend Jake Heron made the team a year ahead of me. That year they took our schools best athlete Bob Beaulieu instead of me. Finally in 1963 I made the team. Skip Malcolm Jewell, Third Jake Heron. Me at Second and Johnny/Jack Poitras at Lead

We did not do much studying that year. A typical day was 4:00PM to 6:00PM practice. Competition between ourselves. Delivery, draws in turn and out, take outs in turn and out, port shots, double take outs, who could slide with a rock the farthest etc. etc.

We would have coffee and hang around to spare on the 7:00PM draw. Coffee break and spare again on the 9:00 draw. Do it all over again the next day. We were getting ready to defend our school and towns curling honor.

The Territorials were in Yellowknife that year and we were to play Inuvik, Hay River, and Yellowknife in a Double Round Robin competition. We quickly made friends with the Inuvik and Hay River teams, but the Yellowknife team was aloof and would not talk to us.

We played Inuvik the first two games and unfortunately ran our score up extremely high and wrapped the scoring board both games. Next was two against Hay River which we won easily as well. Finally, two against Yellowknife! They would not talk to us, so we made sure to beat them decisively! Not even close. We were the Territorial Champs and needed to get ready to go South.

Howard Brazeau’s team won the Senior Men’s Territorials and were practicing with us. The week before we left to go south, we played them three times. First game they beat us 3 to 2. Second game we got them 3 to 2, both ten end games. The final game after ten ends, we were tied 2 to 2, so they asked to play another two ends. After twelve ends we were still tied three all. Brazeau said “that is enough, we’re ready and so are you guys. Let’s go South and win some games! Good Luck!”

In those days we needed to play Alberta to gain entry to the National Brier. The Brazeau rink played the Watchorn rink from the Peace River Region, Hector Gervais from Central Alberta, former Canadian and World Champ and Ron Northcott from Calgary. Brazeau knocked off Gervais but lost the final to Northcott who went on to win the Canadian Brier and the World Curling Championship three years in a row.

When we went South, a teacher, Mr. Edwards accompanied us as the school chaperone/coach, although he did not know much about the game. He did though, know that we had only played on natural ice and our next games would be on artificial ice. On our way to Calgary, we overnighted in Edmonton, landing at the downtown Municipal Airport.

Once settled in the Kingsway Hotel Mr. Edwards booked a one-hour practice time on artificial ice at the Sportex. We never seen anything like it! Twenty-four sheets of ice and we were assigned sheet number one. People playing on sheet number twenty-four looked less than an inch tall!

We were used to practicing so we made the most of our time there. We learned that artificial ice was amazingly fast, a draw rock could curl four feet or more and take out weight went very straight.

Next morning another first for us, a train ride to Calgary. It was on the daily milk run with numerous stops along the way. Leduc, Wetaskiwin, Lacombe, Red Deer, Innisfail, Olds, Airdri and finally Calgary.

They booked us into the posh, iconic Canadian Pacific Palliser Hotel. Wow, we were impressed!

Next day, our Chaperone/ Coach hired a taxi and took us to the Big Four Curling Rink. Forty-eight sheets of ice, twenty-four upstairs and twenty-four downstairs. Unfortunately, wrong place! Phone around to find out where we are playing, get another taxi and finally arrive at the proper place five minutes before the scheduled start! Naturally, we lost our first game. Luckily, it was a double knock out format, so we needed to win on the B side. We were also still learning how to play on artificial ice.

We won the B side and a team from Viking won the A side. The winner of the next game wins the right to represent Alberta/NWT at the Nationals. Representatives from the Alberta Curling Association were very concerned. If the NWT won, would they wear the Alberta sweaters or NWT’s?

We lost the coin toss, and they got the hammer. It was a low scoring game with lots of blank ends and we needed a two ender somewhere to get control of the game.

Unfortunately, we met our match that day and could not get a deuce. They beat us 3 to 2 and went to the Nationals. We heard they beat everyone there and went on to the World where they also won all their game and became World Champions. Their closest game throughout their winning run was against us.

During our playdown, we curled on the next sheet to Northcott’s team as they won the right to represent Southern Alberta. They were impressive and little did we know that they would become three-time World Champs. I remember thinking that our Skip, Malcolm Jewell could replace anyone on that team, and they would not miss a beat. He was that good.

Both our Fort Smith Junior Men and Senior Men’s rinks came within a whisker of making it to the Big Time.

Curling is a very slippery game but that year, we made our small Northern town, Fort Smith proud.

Darryl Bohnet