It began as a way to get the family together during the long stretch of winter between Christmas and Easter. My parents had curled, but none of the kids new the first thing about curling. However, in 1996 I called the Paisley Curling club and booked a Saturday in February, and the Donnelly Curling Bonspiel was born. I remember the club manager giving us the ice for $150 for the whole day and that included all three sheets, the lounge and the bartender! We had eight teams that first year, 32 curlers from age 12 to age 65. My Dad, Ernie Donnelly and a couple of the other veteran curlers, spent that day teaching the newcomers how to play the game. I don’t know if we even really kept score that first year, but everyone fell in love with the sport.
They had curling on the tv in the lounge and the whole day was just curling. We had a full day of food, family and fun curling and that’s why, 27 years later, the Donnelly Curling Bonspiel lives on.

Over the years things have changed a lot. I remember the older players using the big corn brooms and the “thwacking” sound it made on the ice as they swept. A lot of the veterans from 1996 have passed on or retired, but those who are still with us come out each year to cheer us on and share in the memories we’ve made. We lost my Dad in 2016, but we were able to keep his memory alive by creating the “Ernie Donnelly Memorial Trophy”, which is awarded to the winning team each year now.

We’ve also gotten better and learned the nuances of the game. Several of us play in leagues now from Walkerton, to Stratford, to St. Catharines. Those curlers who were just kids in 1996 have now taken up the game and we’re teaching the next generation of our family about the great game of curling. And because our game has improved, the championship round is more competitive than it used to be, however in the true spirit of the game as we were taught, the day always ends with handshakes and the winners buying in the lounge.

I credit my Dad and a couple of the others for introducing us to curling back in 1996. By coupling his love for the game with our love of family, three generations of our family and friends have now participated in the tournament and fallen in love with curling. That love of the game will be on display in Listowel this year as the Donnelly Curling Bonspiel is booked for February 11th and we’ve got a full roster of 32 curlers, including three rookies who weren’t even born when this bonspiel started. And the love continues to grow…..