The shutdown of recreational centres and restrictions due to COVID-19 made people look at other ways to interact and participate in their favorite sport. Ours is curling. My curling team usually plays in the Manitoba Open and Ironman Outdoor Curling bonspiels. In 2021, we decided to create a curling rink on the Red River for Curling Day in Canada to fill the void. Building a sheet on the river allowed us to socialize and curl while following provincial public orders at the time.
The work effort began with group texts followed by a virtual meeting which included classic team banter and favourite beverages. A list of items and tasks was created and divided between team members. We were lucky enough to have one member with access to an ice scraper. His father is a retired ice maker and had one buried in a shed on his farm. Another member lives on the river so we had a location to make the sheet and a spot for a bonfire. The next step was to mark out the area and clear the snow. This task was easier said than done. The Winnipeg winter winds created a cover of hard packed snow and it was an effort to dig out the 155 ft by 15 ft sheet of ice but once we caught our breath and brought down our heart rates, we basked in the accomplishment of phase 1.
Phase 2 was sheet preparation and we started to flood the sheet to make it semi-level for event day. Flooding consisted of cutting a hole in the ice and dropping a sump pump to use river water. We made multiple holes along the sheet since the hose with the sump pump wasn’t very long. It took five days and during that time the temperatures varied from -12 to -2 degrees Celsius which caused havoc with the sheet development. The day we cut in the rings and painted, the temperature sat around zero and we did more harm than good to the ice. The following day was Curling Day in Canada and so it had to be done. The good news (if you could call that) is that the temperature was predicted to drop to -30 degrees overnight.
We decided to get to the river early on event day to scrape and touch-up the paint. We notified friends and family that a sheet was available for curling at 1 pm. Curling Day in Canada started with a temperature of -33 degrees. The scraping, paint touch-up and pebbling had us ready for game time, unfortunately, it began to snow within the first ten minutes and by 1:45 pm, the rings were completely covered in snow. It eventually stopped snowing after another hour or so.
After transporting the curling rocks down the river bank on a toboggan, we had our first game. It was a challenge to see where the sheet was with the snow cover so we had to follow the path that was cleared by the last rock. We will never again complain about how our club’s ice performs. Curling on river ice requires a keen eye for uneven surfaces as well as Hulk-like strength to get a rock to the house. We also found that sweeping did nothing, if you were able to even catch up to the rock to sweep it at all. Our games consisted of throwing a few rocks, talking with on-lookers and standing by a bonfire all while keeping social distancing in mind. In-between games, we enjoyed BBQ’d pizza pops, garlic sausage and frosty beverages from Mother Nature’s cooler (a snowbank). By 6 pm, the sun was setting and we decided to pack up as we could no longer see the rocks or the house for that matter. A pulley system was setup using rope and fence posts to haul curling rocks back up the river bank on a toboggan (classic Canadian ingenuity).
This event reminded me of my childhood and getting a group of friends together to build a fort. Everyone brought supplies and contributed to the design. The only difference with this event was that we droved to pick up supplies instead of using our bikes. Also, our backs ached for much longer afterwards due to our current age. We were happy to be outside and provide an opportunity for families, friends and curious passers-by to have a chance to curl as the original game intended. We now have full appreciation for the effort our club ice makers put into making and maintaining a curling sheet. We would like to thank Thompson Rink Equipment and Ironman bonspiel organizers for their guidance in making a natural ice sheet on the river. We will not soon forget the effort it took or how we beat the dismal feeling that COVID-19 has given us all over the last two years.
Team Ryan Ginger