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The Early Development of the Sport as it Crossed into Canada
Curling was brought to Canada from Scotland and some curling was played informally before 1800. The generally accepted story is that the 78th Fraser Highland Regiment melted cannonballs to make iron curling "stones" and that they curled at the city of Québec in 1759-1760.
Quebec has had a long tradition of using iron curling stones as a substitute for granite. This came about because there were problems getting granite stones from Scotland. The iron stones were made at a forge in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. John Kerr, in his History of Curling, says that these stones were shaped like huge teakettles, weighed 46 to 65 pounds each and were owned by the clubs.
Curling on the Don River, Toronto, 1836
Quebec and the Ottawa Valley used iron stones in regular play up until about 1955, when they were replaced by granite stones, thus putting Quebec in step with other parts of Canada and the rest of the world. The use of iron rather than granite was a sore point and caused problems in organizing games and bonspiels (tournaments) for Quebec teams. The Ladies Curling Association of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club held annual competitions for the Lady Tweedsmuir Trophy, and irons continued to be used in this competition up until and including 1953.
The first curling club in Canada was formed in Montréal in 1807 by 20 merchants and they used irons exclusively. The Montreal Curling Club has been operating continuously since then and will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2007. Its history is documented in The Montreal Curling Club, 1807-1907. This club took part in the very first inter-city game in Canada against the Québec Curling Club in Trois-Rivières, about halfway between the cities of Montréal and Québec, in 1835. Québec won and Montréal had to pay for the dinner (the opposite of the present-day custom). There was no whisky available and there were complaints about having to drink wine and champagne.
Curling in High Park, Toronto, 1836
After the inauguration of the Montreal Curling Club in 1807, clubs were formed in Kingston in 1820, the city of Québec in 1821 and Halifax in 1824, and other clubs were to follow. The Toronto Curling Club was founded in 1836 and in 1840 James Bicket of that club published the first Canadian Manual on Curling. The manual included remarks on the history of the game as well as the constitution of the Toronto Curling Club.
The establishment of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Edinburgh was very important for Canadian curling because it helped to standardize the game. Quebec clubs quickly joined the Scottish club as the Canadian Branch in 1841. This led to a standardization of the game in Canada, except of course for the continued use of both iron and granite stones. Ontario clubs joined the Canadian Branch later on. The decision to join the Royal Caledonian Curling Club meant that Canadians maintained close ties with the "mother club" in Edinburgh.
Gerald Redmond in his thesis, The Scots and Sport in Nineteenth Century Canada, suggests that there were many reasons for the success of curling in Canada. He comments on Canada's favourable climate, plenty of water, the widespread settlement of enthusiastic Scots, the formation of clubs, the high-class patronage of the sport and the willingness of the Scots to open their sport to other nationalities. Redmond notes that throughout the centuries that curling was played in Scotland, it was renowned for its democratic tendencies. (p. 142) This was noticeable in Canada as well, particularly in the military clubs where people of different ranks played together.
In Curling in Ontario, 1846-1946, John A. Stevenson reports that in 1841 there were two military clubs in Montréal, the 71st Regiment (now the Highland Light Infantry) and a regiment of Dragoon Guards, and that they challenged the Montreal Curling Club. Doug Maxwell, in Canada Curls, comments (p. 55) that "curling in Canada has always been aligned, historically, with the military, and their early offshoot, the police force."
Before 1850 there were no railways and the roads were poor. This made it difficult to arrange games with teams from distant cities. Three days had to be allowed for teams from Toronto and Hamilton to play a match in the other city -- only 50 miles apart. The Toronto and Scarborough clubs met more regularly as they were not far apart.
Curling, Toronto by James Edward Alexander, 1843
Curling games were played in Central and Atlantic Canada before curling clubs were formally set up. Curling was introduced into the Toronto area about 1825 and there were games between Toronto and Scarborough by 1830. Scottish immigrants were the curling pioneers in these areas of Canada. Many of them were stonemasons and made their own curling stones from granite boulders left behind by ice and removed from fields as they were cleared for farming. According to David B. Smith in Curling: An Illustrated History, wooden 'stones' were often used in Upper Canada, especially by curlers in Galt, until conventional stones were available. They were usually cut from a maple or birch tree trunk and shaped. A band of iron was fastened around the middle to prevent splitting and to add weight.
During this period, games were played outdoors and only gradually did clubs build wooden buildings to eliminate the need for snow removal during games. The early buildings were more like sheds and; later buildings also protected the ice against thaws. The Royal Montreal Curling Club was the first club in British North America to build an indoor rink, in 1838.
Clubs in existence before 1850 include the Royal Montreal Curling Club (1807), Kingston (1820), the city of Québec (1821), Halifax (1824), Fergus (1834), West Flamborough (1835), Milton (1835), Toronto (1836), Galt (1838), Guelph (1838), Hamilton (1838), Scarborough (1839), Dragoon Guards at Chambly (1841), 71st Regiment, now called the Highland Light Infantry (1841), Montreal Thistle Club (1842), Paris Curling Club (1843), London Curling Club (1847), and the Caledonia in Montréal (1850). The Fergus Curling Club claims that it has operated every year since it was established in 1834, making it the oldest continuously operating curling club in Ontario.
Opening of the Montreal Caledonia Curling Rink, 1869
Opening of the Thistle Curling Club Rink, Montréal, 1871
Prince Arthur Opening the Caledonia Curling Rink at Montreal, 1870
In the Atlantic Provinces, in addition to the Halifax Curling Club (1824), David B. Smith, in Curling: An Illustrated History, reports (p. 132) that there was reference to curling in Albion Mines and Pictou, Nova Scotia, in the 1840s. The New Caledonian Curling Club in Pictou was formed in 1852. In New Brunswick, the Fredericton Curling Club was organized in 1854 and other clubs soon followed. Alan O. Garcelon's book on New Brunswick curling, New Brunswick Curling Records, documents curling in that province up to the present. Curling has been enjoyed in Newfoundland since the 1830s, when it was initially played on Quidi Vidi Lake. In Newfoundland, a curling club was started in St. John's in 1843. By 1850, clubs were established in all Eastern provinces except Prince Edward Island. Ontario was the centre of curling in Canada. The next stage would see curling expand to the West.