Along the northern shore of Lake Huron in Northern Ontario lie the communities of Little Current and Espanola. Even before there was a road there was a connection between the two communities. It developed into a friendly curling competition and the coveted Baxter Cup.
The cup is named after George Baxter, a salesman who arrived in Little Current in 1910. He worked in, and eventually ran a hardware store in the downtown.
After a friendly game between teams from the two towns, the players headed to the nearby hotel to get warmed up. After several attempts to quench their thirst the determined curlers decided to continue the game by throwing “thunder mugs” (bed pans) up and down the halls of the hotel.
George decided, after some serious and sober thoughts, that this event should be held annually, using real stones and real ice. He would provide the trophy. So, in 1925 the Baxter Cup Competition began.
There were no roads then, only a rail line. The visitors would load their rocks on the train, a slow ride with time to socialize and develop your game plan. Each player had their own set of rocks, all different sizes and weights. Once at the destination they would unload their equipment then proceed to the curling club to prepare for the games.
Of course, you had to socialize and refresh and recharge before the games. Then they curled, and afterwards they would socialize and refresh themselves some more. Sooner or later, they had to get the rocks back to the train, load them all up, then head home. This could take three or four days, weather permitting.
They then would anxiously await the arrival of the other guys a week or so later so they could start all over again. Thank goodness this happened only once a year!
The facilities have improved over the years. In the early days Little Current played in a two sheet “barn”. The two (12 foot) sheets were converted to three (10 foot) sheets. This meant a rock could be in two adjacent houses at the same time. Today, Little Current has four regulation size sheets attached to the recreation complex.
Espanola also made improvements over the years. The Club started as a converted bunkhouse once used to house road workers, bridge builders, and mill construction workers. This was located near where the present regional complex stands. This building burned down and for years curling was done on outdoor rinks. In 1951 a new arena was built and beside it the new curling club was erected. There have been many improvements and upgrades over the years.
Travel has also improved since the early years. Construction of the highway and swing bridge over the channel, better cars (stops at the Red Dog Tavern), and now riding a bus (like the good old days, socialize and finalize your strategy) have made the trip easier. Mother Nature still takes an active role and provides some memorable trips.
Both clubs are members of Northern Ontario Curling Association and each have hosted provincial and regional playdowns.
Originally the Baxter Cup games were twelve ends (natural ice in February), but this changed to ten ends and the number of teams increased to ten from eight. We now play eight ends with a broomstacking break in the middle.
The yearly event continues to this day and curlers in both communities look forward to continuing the competition, camaraderie, jokes, speeches, and of course a fine meal. Total score of the ten games (5 at each Club) determines the winner. Four trustees, two from each club, see to it the tradition continues.
It started in 1925, survived the depression, accidental dips in the North Channel, the Cup being stolen (and found), World War 2, and horrendous weather. Each side has several players who have participated for twenty or more years. This year is the 96tth and somehow, despite the pandemic, this dedicated bunch of crazy curlers will find a way to continue the tradition.
Featured Image is Jack Tait of Espanola and John Hodder of Little Current.