The Development of Curling as a Canadian Sport and How It Shaped and Was Shaped by Canadian Culture
Curling was well established in eastern Canada by 1850. In the early years, curling had its roots in Quebec. However, southern Ontario became the center of Canadian curling for most of the 19th century as a result of Scottish settlement in Ontario and the growth of railways. Curling continued to grow in the East after 1850, and in 1879 organized curling began in Prince Edward Island when the Caledonian Club of Charlottetown was formed. Scott Russell, in his book, Open House: Canada and the Magic of Curling has a chapter called "The Island Way," in which he provides historic and recent information on curling in Prince Edward Island.
Curling on the Lakes, Near Halifax by Henry Buckton Laurence, 1867
The sport began its quick move to Western Canada after 1850. Vera Pezer, in The Stone Age: A Social History of Curling on the Prairies, explains that curling, more than any other game, became well established on the Prairies so quickly because of the railway and the Scots who rode on it. She notes (p. 1-2) that "curling defines the character and spirit of the Prairies and its people. Its requirements of self-discipline, persistence, patience, and co-operation parallel the qualities of early settlers, and it has been linked with every aspect of prairie life -- political, religious, and commercial."
The Manitoba Curling Club was started in 1876 but ceased operation in 1884. The Granite Club was founded in 1881 in Winnipeg and became very influential, setting the standard for other clubs in the West, including the use of granite stones. In 1874 the Ontario Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was formed and Manitoba followed suit in 1888, forming the Manitoba Branch. This Branch stimulated inter-club competition and by the following year there were 17 clubs, from Calgary and Edmonton and east to Port Arthur.
The use of granite stones became the norm. Field stones ("stones" cut from logs) and irons had been used for a while but gave way to granite. The colder weather on the Prairies resulted in thicker ice, which allowed holes to be dug, and hacks (footholds at each end of the ice) replaced crampits (iron foot-boards laid on the ice or attached to the feet).
Winners of the Grand Challenge Cup, Winnipeg Bonspiel, 1892
Scottish curling team touring Canada, Winnipeg, 1903
In 1879 curling began in Prince Albert and Battleford, in Saskatchewan. In Alberta the first curling club was in Lethbridge in 1887, followed by Calgary and Edmonton in 1888. In 1889 the first Winnipeg Bonspiel was held; this bonspiel became the leading curling event in Canada until the Brier began in 1927. When the Scottish curlers visited in 1903, the Winnipeg Bonspiel and the Industrial Exhibition were the two major events of the year in Winnipeg. There was a report that a sitting of the Manitoba Legislature had to be cancelled for lack of a quorum because so many members were at the bonspiel. Bonspiels soon followed in Calgary and Edmonton and in other cities and towns. Bonspiels became the most popular forms of competition early in the 1900s and remained so even after the Brier was established.
In British Columbia, the first curling club was organized at Golden in 1894. In 1895 Golden and Kaslo joined the Manitoba Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Curl BC's The History of Curling in British Columbia describes 100 years of curling in British Columbia, from 1895 to 1995. The authors mention that "the development of curling in British Columbia was 90 years behind Eastern Canada because of the delayed settlement of the west and the construction of the transcontinental railway system." (p. 13) Bonspiels were important forms of competition and the British Columbia Bonspiel ran for 65 years.
Curling on a pond, Prince Rupert, B.C., 1915
Dawson Curling Club championship game, 1901
Curling at Banff, Alberta, 1906
Bonspiels continued to grow in size and popularity on the Prairies from 1925 to 1950, as they did elsewhere in Canada, although the Depression and the Second World War hurt many clubs. Bonspiels and the existence of curling clubs helped to get people through the long prairie winters. For curlers, curling itself was social and recreational and helped them keep up morale during difficult times. Neighbours often dropped by the rink to watch curling and to play cards. The curling rink became a social centre for both curlers and non-curlers.
Women's curling began in earnest in the 1890s. The Montreal Ladies Curling Club was organized in Montréal in 1894. This club may have been the first of its kind in the world; the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Scotland did not admit women until 1895. In January 1900 the first intercity curling bonspiel took place between women from Montréal and Québec. Women's curling grew slowly and it was only in 1912 that Ontario ladies' clubs were recognized by the Ontario Curling Association. Women's curling grew in the 20th century in all provinces.
In the years after the Second World War, many new curling clubs were constructed and bonspiels offered bigger prizes to competitors. In Quebec and Ontario inter-club competition was easier because Quebec switched over to granite stones in the 1950s. T. Howard Stewart donated "100 or more pairs of granite stones to such clubs as might desire them" (RCCC Canadian Branch Minutes of the Granite Curling Association, 1924-31, Feb. 27, 1924, vol. 9, p. 1-2) Clubs were quick to take him up on the offer.
Page 1 of the Granite Club Minutebook, 1924
Page 2 of the Granite Club Minutebook, 1924
A decision was made to amalgamate the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and the Granite Curling Association. This led to the adoption of granite stones in Quebec in the 1950s and to the standardization everywhere of stones used in curling.
Page 246 of Granite Curling Club Minutebook, containing a motion to amalgamate (1931-1949
Page 247 of Granite Curling Club Minutebook, containing a motion to amalgamate (1931-1949)
Curling became more mainstream as time went on. Curling for juniors and little rock curlers, seniors and other groups became part of the curling scene. Wheelchair curling and curling for the visually and hearing impaired began in Canada and elsewhere. The media became more interested in the sport and curling games were broadcast on television.
The Roarin' Game
Curling's popularity is evident in the fact that it has made its way into literary works and popular culture. In Max Braithwaite's The Night We Stole the Mountie's Car, for example, chapter 9 is entitled "You Can't Curl All Night." A literary manuscript contains a song for curlers called The Roarin' Game. Bowser & Blue, a musical duo, have "The Curling Song" in their The Illustrated Canadian Songbook, and films such as Men with Brooms have made Canadians more familiar with curling.
Page 46 of the Granite Curling Club minute book, 1924
Page 47 of the Granite Curling Club minute book, 1924
Page 48 of the Granite Curling Club minute book, 1924
Page from a curling club account book, 1871-72
Page from a curling club account book, 1871-1872