IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING
In this three-part series we take an excursion back to the mid-20th century small town of Altamont, Manitoba; we search for that illusive “stuff” of curling; we renew acquaintances with Altamont residents from past posts and meet new ones who quickly become fast friends; we meet a new Parkinson’s hero; we learn something about the human capacity to overcome adversity, and the price some may pay to avoid it. Learn the difference between “the Old Buffalo” and “the Old Goat.”
We have a rare insider’s perspective of an epic confrontation at the Altamont Curling Club as told to me by three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil, who heard it from another guy named Dick. Prepare to read the play-by-play account of this fierce battle on the curling ice, a curling skills match that shapes destiny. Find out how much an 8 – Ender (a perfect end) is worth. And find out what a “Dunbar” and a “double Gordon” are anyway
So let’s begin:
PART I: IS IT ALL ABOUT THE SOUP?
Where in the world are you?
Assume someone kidnapped you, put a blindfold over your eyes and took you to a place where you could hear men or women shouting,
“I’m inside … right on it …. Hard … Hard for line, hard, HAAAAAARD … no, no, no …. whoa… right off, riiiiigggggghhhtttt off … clean, clean … weight only … leave it, leave it …. Now! … HARD! BURY IT!! … Great work!… (softly) Geez, it really dives at the end, eh?”
The answer is that you could be in any one of several different countries and the language and accents of those participating would be key to your answer. Many of you will have identified the fact that you are witnessing a curling match and therefore you could be in the UK, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, USA, Switzerland, China, Germany, Canada, Japan, or South Korea. The “eh?” at the end is one clue which would lead you to identify the country as Canada. Oh, by the way, we maybe have a few kidnappings but I don’t think we are renowned for it.
But, let’s face it; the whole of Canada is engaged at some level in the sport of curling and your location is likely somewhere within its predominantly frozen borders – and as we shall see, it would be a good bet that you are in Manitoba. No matter if it is a pick up game, a club game, a game in one of the hundreds of bonspiels held each year, a game in the provincial playoffs, a game in the Brier or the Scotties, or in a challenge match, Manitobans take curling seriously and play it with equal amounts of passion at every level. Any equality in skill or talent between or among these various categories is purely coincidental even though the delusion of equality exists within the minds of participants in each and every game, especially at the lower levels.
The Tim Horton’s Brier, the Canadian championship in men’s curling, is being held March 5 – 13, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, a place where our children were born and a place we now call home. Still, curling for me has roots in another place that I call, with equal certainty, my hometown – Altamont, Manitoba – a place whose population never warranted the designation ‘town,’ and is closer to a hamlet than a village. My earliest memories are of the Altamont Rink, built in 1919, where generations of children learned to skate and play hockey indoors – remarkable for the day. They also experienced something to which many other children in much wealthier towns and neighbourhoods’ were never exposed, never mind learned, and that was curling: the “roaring game,” “chess on ice”, the grand old game” a game for which the word “stuff” must have been invented. You see, our fortuity was not just learning how to curl but gaining a first hand understanding and appreciation of the “stuff “of curling.
Curling: Not really so much a primer as words of advice
“Bonspiel,” funny word that, eh? Oh, the dictionary definition is straightforward enough. It means, quite simply, a “curling tournament” and The Brier is just another bonspiel in a way. Of course, if you don’t know what “curling” is, then you are at a distinct disadvantage in understanding any of these terms. Nevertheless, I am pretty certain that most readers of this particular blog will have anywhere from a passing familiarity with curling and bonspiels to an expert understanding of the application and interpretation of the rules and strategy, coupled with a mastery of the skills and techniques necessary to vanquish at least an equivalent level of opponent. If you have such an intimate relationship with rocks and brooms, then by definition you have extensive experience with … uh … well … the experience.
To those of you for whom ‘curling’ and ‘bonspiels’ are foreign territories, don’t despair, and for heavens sake, don’t stop reading! This blog requires neither an expert understanding of the game nor of the details of a bonspiel. This information will be spoon-fed to you here as necessary as we proceed. Trust me on this one – it is entirely possible to overthink the subject matter resulting in confusion and frustration. Think of me as your trusty tour guide who will not let you get into trouble – good grief, we are not mountain climbing where one misplaced step, one faulty placement of a piton, or one wrong choice in the type of crampon, may mean disaster. [By the way, apparently crampon type shoes were once used in curling – great health and safety equipment to avoid slips and falls but the damage to the ice surface played havoc with shot making after the first few ends.] Assuming you don’t use crampons on the curling ice or fail to grasp the fundamental tenet that curling is a sport for gentlewomen and gentlemen where full (or even partial) body contact is expressly prohibited, the biggest mistake you will ever make in curling is failing to buy your opponent, should you lose, a drink in the lounge after the match.
I once curled in a league at the University of Western Ontario with several “eggheads” who thought that it was so much fun that they couldn’t wait to go to the library to borrow a book on how to curl. Resist this temptation with every fibre of your being! You should never read a serious book (one that explains the rules or is a “how to” book) on curling until you have a minimum of three years “on-ice” experience or five years “behind the glass.” Playing the game and/or observing the game are infinitely preferable to reading about the mechanics of the game in a book. For goodness sake, rent a sheet of ice; throw a few rocks. That will be the most fun and you will learn much more about the game in an hour than you will in a year reading about the harvesting and transforming of boulders of granite into curling stones (called ‘rocks’ in North America). It is interesting mind you, but you won’t know an “in turn” from an “out turn”, the “hack” from a “hacker”, the “hog line” from a “clothes line” or the “house button” from your “belly button” after reading the geological details and relative merits of blue\gray granite and red\brown granite of Trefor in North Wales or the blue hone granite and common green granite of Ailsa Craig, an island in the Firth of Clyde off the coast of Scotland.
I can hear every reader right now saying, “Hey, I thought you said we didn’t have to know any of those things?” Right now, you don’t. Be patient, all in good time.
If you must do extra-curricular reading (and I know some of you just can’t help it) then you are encouraged to read books such as The Back Bonspiel and Willie MacCrimmon by W. O. Mitchell, books that use curling as “the medium for the message” to quote (or misquote?) Marshall McLuhan. If curling is a medium and the book itself is a medium, then is this an example of a ‘medium within a medium’ – a double medium? Sounds like a coffee order at Tim Horton’s and why shouldn’t it? Tim Horton’s has sponsored the Brier since 2005 and has been curlers’ coffee of choice for much longer.
Of course, reading blogs such as this one is also perfectly acceptable as the salty, spicy, sweet centre of curling is the feature item on this blog post’s menu rather than the rehashing of rules, regulations and regalia. Although to ‘give the Devil His due,’ or to ‘play Devil’s advocate,’ there are a few matters in this blog where the ‘Devil is in the details.’ We will address these in due course and some not until Part II or III.
Hey! My dad once scored an 8 – Ender!
Is there a better way to understand the specifics of curling than to examine what a perfect score on any given end means and what it looks like? Each team gets eight shots per end. The maximum number of rocks that can count is eight. It does not take a genius to figure out that if you have eight rocks closer to the centre “button” than your opponent does, then you score eight – a perfect score for that end, an 8 – Ender!
On February 14, 1978 Bert Marshall and his rink scored an 8-Ender in club play at the Cudworth, Saskatchewan Curling Club. This is an extraordinary happening. You might think that a hole in one in golf or a perfect score in bowling is the equivalent but golf and bowling differ in that those events rely solely on one individual’s skill, expertise and execution of the shot(s). [I once scored a hole in one at our annual golf tournament and even a bad goalie would have made that save.] In golf, your opponent is not actively trying to knock your ball away from the hole or in bowling to protect the pins. And, of course, in curling you are reliant on three other members of your own team to be perfect, or put more starkly, to not screw up.
A perfect game for a pitcher in baseball may be closer to scoring an 8 –Ender. No hits, no runs, no walks, no runners on base, 27 batters, 27 outs over the game. This is quite a feat and rarely accomplished. The odds of throwing a perfect game in professional baseball are about 1 in 18,192. There have been only 23 perfect games in 135 years and over 200,000 games played in the major leagues. No pitcher has ever thrown more than one.
The odds of scoring an 8 – Ender in curling are difficult to calculate. Until very recently, there were no professional leagues but there are tens of thousands of sanctioned curling games played in clubs across Canada each year. I have seen estimates that the odds are in the magnitude of 1 in 12,000 and would be much, much higher among those who are curling in the cash leagues.
I used to tease my father that he must have been playing against a very bad foursome of curlers if they allowed an 8 – Ender. But I have to admit that if the strategy of the end dictated a draw game (trying to place rocks in the rings and not trying to knock your opponent’s out) by either team then an 8 – Ender is entirely possible. I don’t know the precise shot by shot details of how they accomplished it, but accomplish it they did. In 1978 there were no smart phones with cameras to capture the excitement so my father sketched it out on a napkin that I have today along with a trophy awarded by Canada Dry.
Hey! My mother curled too!
Women are curlers in every respect that men are curlers but, as with every other sport in the world (think hockey, soccer, baseball, golf, etc.) women’s participation is discounted compared to men’s participation as being of lesser quality or skill, etc. and devalued accordingly when it comes to professional compensation and in assessing the significance of the sport in society. Curling is no exception although I believe that the elite levels have made some progress in relative terms but it is by no means close to equal in absolute terms.
Nevertheless, one of the things you need to know is that challenges are common in curling and in 1972 Saskatchewan’s Vera Pezer, Canadian Ladies’ Champion, challenged Orest Meleschuk of Manitoba, reigning Canadian and World Men’s Champion, to a game that was televised on CBC. Pezer won the game 4 – 3 to highlight the fact that good curlers are good curlers irrespective of gender. On the other side of the ledger, Randy Ferby with several Brier victories defeated Jennifer Jones, Canadian Ladies’ Champion, handily in a “skins” challenge where the teams compete for “skins” worth different dollar values in each end e.g., a “skin” could be won by stealing a point in the end. Cash money is obviously the motivator in this competition.
The battle between the sexes in curling will continue. Is this a good thing? Probably, as it broadens women’s participation generally but the structural segregation into men’s and women’s curling competitions at the national and international levels – the ones that pave the way for entry into more lucrative money bonspiels, endorsements, and fame – continues.
There are many mixed leagues throughout Canada where two men and two women make up each team, throwing alternately. Mixed curling is every bit as competitive as men’s curling and women’s curling is, no matter the level, but much as women’s curling is discounted, mixed curling is discounted. Even more interesting though is the fact that very few women ever skip the mixed teams and only one woman (Shannon Kleibrink of Saskatchewan) has ever skipped a mixed team to a Canadian championship. “Mixed Doubles” curling with one woman and one man on each team just did not exist in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It came into popularity around 2005 but it is not germane to our conversation here so I will leave it for the time being.
Over the years a few Ladies’ teams from Altamont distinguished themselves in the MCA Ladies’ Bonspiel in Winnipeg. I don’t have a complete record of all accomplishments, far from it, but it is notable that Mrs. F. Stockford (as her name was reported in the February 19, 1944 edition of the Winnipeg Tribune) of Altamont was the winner of the prestigious Birks Dingwall Trophy emblematic, I believe, of the winner of the third flight. The Tribune lamented that the trophy was leaving the city and going to a rural entry. “Olive” was Mrs. F.’s given name and to my knowledge that is what everyone called her. Olive’s winning rink included Mrs. W. P. Reeve, Miss H. Snowden and Mrs. B. (Birdie) Fraser.
Olive, her husband Frank and their extended family, had a very significant influence on community and culture in many other ways but I shall wait for another occasion to highlight those contributions. Suffice to say that Olive was quite a curler in the 1940s and she was the mother of Murray “Moe” Stockford who was to be an integral part of the Altamont O’Grady Challenge legacy of the 1960s. We shall hear more about that later.
Mrs. F. E. Milligan of Altamont is the skip of another rink listed as a former winner of the Hudson Bay Company Trophy (1945.) I have no further details at this time on this victory or the individuals who curled on this team.
As I recall, in Altamont at the recreation level, women often shared the ice with men, as it was more important to play the game rather than to forfeit because there were not enough players. The rule of the day was a “curler was a curler was a curler” with the proviso of course that it was a woman playing in place of a man and not a man playing in place of a woman in a “ladies’” game. Interesting that, eh?
My mother curled in the Altamont Ladies’ and mixed leagues when they had them, and often in the Ladies’ Bonspiel when we children were not too burdensome (not sure quite when that was…) Women usually had their own curling events and these “traditions” persist to this very day at both elite and club level play. It is also noteworthy that the events for women are usually identified as “Ladies’” and not “Women’s” or “Girls,’” although sometimes in a nod to the Scots, they are called “Lassies.’” I suppose that is a half step forward but full gender equality still seems a long way off in the world of curling. Nevertheless, the competition is always fierce and fun. Perhaps, the “stuff” of curling has something to do with those facts.
My mother continued to curl after moving away from Altamont. Recently, I came across a clipping in the March 4, 1976 edition of the Wakaw Recorder in Saskatchewan where she and her teammates merited attention as winners of the A event in the “Ladies’ Closed Spiel.” At the time my parents were living in Cudworth, Saskatchewan and this victory was two years prior to my father’s scoring the 8 – Ender chronicled earlier in this posting.
To sum up, curling is a sport enjoyed by both women and men and is immensely competitive irrespective of level of skill. Historically, gender has played a large role in the sport in that the “value” attributed to the competition or the game is higher if men are playing than if women are playing. There is some tempering of this bias in mixed curling but a strong correlation between males and leadership positions remains. Still, the fact is that women and men had, and are having, one Hell of a good time curling no matter the level of skill and ability. This is a consequence of the “stuff” of curling – the “stuff” for which we are searching. Oh, gendered inequality is a negative factor but the real question is, does the positive “stuff” outweigh the negative “stuff?”
Sweet wines and potato vodka
My parents seldom drank alcohol and they never served wine with any meal. If there was ever wine in the house, it came with someone else. Who buys, brings and drinks Mogen David and Manischewitz, anyway? As I reflect on this I am amused by the role albeit minor these sweet wines that fill Seder cups at Passover played in Altamont’s culture during my early teenage years. There was no one of Jewish religion within 50 miles and the call for kosher wine at our place was probably never heard. Still, Mogen David and Manischewitz did pass the threshold of our house. Maybe, this predilection was linked to a love for the Concord grape from which these wines were made. My paternal grandparents grew Concords in their orchard but I highly doubt that they made any wine from those grapes. Perhaps, it was just because these wines were sweet and more palatable than the homemade dandelion or chokecherry wines served up by nearby Hutterite and French Canadian populations. Whatever it was, I know for certain that the rich tradition of these wines in the celebration of a such a gut-wrenching occasion as Passover within Jewish culture was lost on us young fuzzy cheeked gentiles who opted for Mogen David or Manischewitz as our very first choice in wine.
As an aside, I must tell you that my father, (and this is very unlike my father,) made (or obtained) some homemade potato vodka when I was about 10 or 12 years old. Occasionally we would visit the root cellar and we would take a swig from an old brown crock jug. I never liked the taste but I always took a small sip. Without a word of a lie, I never considered the juxtaposition of this information with the facts of the preceding paragraph, until now. Kosher potato vodka such as Chopin is often consumed during Jewish Passover celebrations. Now, I am certain that the potato vodka in our root cellar was not kosher, but it does remind me of a saying that a friend of mine often uses – “not far from the shtetl,” meaning that some people, no matter where or how they live, are not far removed from the small towns/farms of their roots or ancestors. Entirely by coincidence I am sure, we gentiles from Altamont who grew up with Mogen David, Manischewitz and potato vodka, are not ”far from the shtetl.”
The first hard liquor or spirits I ever remember being in our house was a bottle of Gilbey’s Lemon Gin Collins that appeared in our refrigerator one time during the Altamont Ladies’ Bonspiel. After a game my mother, her teammates and a few others gathered at our house for a drink. I don’t recall everyone who was there or who was the skip but I know that Flo Jenkins, our neighbour across the back lane, and Terri Bourrier, a very nice lady from north of Altamont, were part of the team. I say this not to cast any aspersions on Flo or Terri, far from it, but to mollify myself somewhat that my memory can at least recollect two people other than my mother who participated that day. I can say with some certainty that they were having a good time – curling has that quality, you know. [By the way, the design of the Gilbey’s bottle and label circa 1960 looks very much the same as it does today. Some things never change.] This too, is part of the “stuff” of curling.
I know, I have been inundating you merrily with a variety of seemingly useless facts all in the name of searching for something called “stuff” and it occurs to me that maybe this whole idea needs some elucidation. Here, I am trying to project an air of confidence that I can actually provide that clarity. Let’s try ….
Curling is all about the “stuff”
One of the first things you learn about curling and bonspiels is that the best parts have absolutely nothing to do with the rules, regulations, skills and technique … or even winning or losing for that matter. For the most part, unless you are an elite curler, the less attention paid to these aspects the better. No, it is the “je ne sait quoi” of curling that we have to understand – that “sumthin’, sumthin’” that it has, the atmosphere, the ambiance, the culture, the lifestyle, the character, the flavour, the tone, the feeling, the ethos, the values, the ideology, the mindset, the spirit, the mores, the community – that really matters. Hmmm …. Not too clear yet, is it?
Many years ago, Judith, the mother of my children, and I were moving to London, Ontario, and her Great Aunt Jean who lived in Altamont was telling us that there were other relatives living in the London area and remarked, “Well, I guess you will be seeing them around at the curling rink.” It was not until years later that I came to realize that Great Aunt Jean did not have a parochial and naïve view of the relative sizes of communities and cities as I often intimated in my telling of the tale. In fact, Great Aunt Jean’s comment was magnificently insightful and is essential to understanding the “stuff” of curling. She understood intuitively that everyone in a given community would inevitably and inexorably be drawn to the curling rink. More on this stuff of “stuff” later.
Is the “stuff” of curling similar to the “stuff of life?” Ah, that technical term, “stuff of life,” thrown about as if it adds some deep meaning to our existence as living breathing human beings. Most philosophers or commentators probably would say this is merely another way of expressing the “essence” of life.
Movie buffs and space junkies can identify with the 1983 Oscar winning movie, The Right Stuff, celebrating the heroics of the Mercury 7 astronauts and their daring approach to the space program. Sam Shepard played Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier and a shining example of “The Right Stuff,” even before Mercury 7 was launched into space. OK, let’s not get too hung up on semantics here but suffice to say at this point that “stuff” has both meaning and, dare I say, “gravitas” aside from being associated with DNA and genetics.
OK, maybe we should just ditch “life” (figuratively only) for a minute. Let’s think of “stuff” as something that makes … well … anything … including, but not limited to, a concept, a construct, a thing, a physical structure, a geological formation, a galaxy, a thought, or a feeling, greater than the sum of its parts? Anne, my ballet-dancing lover, is fond of saying that great dance performances are so ephemeral and ethereal that the beauty and delicateness of its entirety cannot be captured on film or even recalled perfectly by one’s mind. It is interesting that the human brain, exquisite and accurate as it is in capturing such sentience in the first instance, does not have the capacity to summon a precise replica of what existed in that brief moment of lived experience. It is as if the expenditure of energy in the performance diminishes the capacity of those who witness it to re-create it, no matter how acute their senses were in the initial viewing. The combinations and permutations of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing along with other more ambiguous factors such as mood, ambiance, etc. of that one instance, are too great to calculate and too great to replicate. We are left wondering: what is the “stuff” that makes the hairs of your arms prickle when you witness an event for which there are no superlatives sufficient to describe its effect?
Sociologist Emile Durheim maintained that society was greater than the sum of its parts. I happen to ascribe to that theory as well. What is it that makes society come alive? Maybe it is human social interaction or spirituality? My view is that neither of these adequately describes “stuff” although the latter may be closer to it.
So, I return to my question: What is the “stuff” that makes curling greater than the sum of ice, brooms, rocks/stones, etc.? Is it merely the fact that humans play this game? Perhaps, but not likely. Do rules and regulations give the game life? You are permitted to laugh uproariously at this suggestion. It is my own view that curling has a reach (an attraction or pull, if you will) that is not attributable to the hard infrastructure with which the game is played, the formal code that governs every element of the play, or the informal code that governs both on ice and off ice behaviours.
Curling is a social sport and a competitive game where strategy, tactics, skill and talent combined with the odd piece of good or bad fortune contribute to the final outcome and most importantly to the enjoyment of those who play. I am certain that those of you who curl can add one or to additional features of the game to round out your list of things that define curling. Still it is my contention that the number of items in curling is of no consequence; the “stuff” of curling is virtually indescribable and is more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, we have not yet developed the necessary capacity to prove its existence. The “stuff” of curling exists now only in theory and not as observable data proving its existence.
Toward a theory of “stuff”
Please bear with me as I am going to venture into some perilous territory of theory here but it is essential to understanding “stuff.” I can’t really bring myself to call it “stuff theory” and I know that many will just say “stuff theory!”
As I write this, the scientific world is abuzz with formal announcements of the observable detection of “gravitational waves” (for the first time ever) confirming the existence of “black holes” and Einstein’s theory of General Relativity postulated almost exactly one hundred years ago. Gravitational waves are ripples that squeeze and stretch the fabric of space and time. Their detection makes it possible to observe cataclysmic events in the universe e.g., the merger of black holes or the formation of neutron stars or “zombie stars,”a massive star that runs out of fuel and explodes in a supernova but hasn’t yet collapsed sufficiently to form a black hole.” This news is being hailed as a new way of seeing the universe.
It may seem ridiculous to some, but my hypothesis is that there is a social gravitational field around curling that equates to the “stuff” of curling we are seeking. This ”stuff” is a cumulative product of events and social interaction going back to the early to mid-16th century at least. The “Stirling stone,” dated 1511 and found in Scotland, is believed to be the oldest known hard evidence of curling as a sport. By the mid-16th century Flemish artists e.g., Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow and Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, began to depict curling on frozen ponds. Around the same time, John McQuhin, a notary in Paisley, Scotland, recorded a curling challenge between John Sclater, a monk in Paisley Abbey, and Gavin Hamilton, a representative of the Abbot. We can think of these events as the equivalent of the “big bang” but for curling – the birth of a game that humans would take intimately into their Souls. The importance of the Sclater “challenge” and its proximity to the centre of this “big bang” of curling will become evident later, but I am getting a little ahead of myself. For now, just be content to know that the gravitational waves from these events will enlighten us as to what the “stuff” of curling really is.
For those of you who want to engage in a more abstract theoretical discussion on the “stuff” of curling, please see Appendix A: Towards a theory of the “Stuff” of Curling.
For those whose time is more valuable, consider this: Much like gravity, curling is not evident until it gives us a reason to be aware of its presence. The popular story is that Sir Isaac Newton “discovered” gravity when an apple fell on his head. We know that this story is not entirely true and it is a good thing too because we now know that we don’t have to wait until a curling rock falls on someone’s head to know about curling. Just walk the streets of any city, town, village or hamlet in Canada after September 1st and before May 1st, and listen to people – you will discover that curling is Canadian cultural and social gravitational glue.
Okay, to be honest we still have not nailed down, in a precise manner, the “stuff” of curling. So we must forge ahead by observing people and human behaviour in events that make the curling world spin on its axis, keeping our “stuff” together, and in orbit.
Bonspiels and other “stuff”
We had a quick look at bonspiels in an earlier section but let’s return to them again as a great place to identify “stuff.”
When I was a young lad “bonspiel week” in Altamont was possibly the most exciting week of the year, rivaling Christmas in fact. The skating ice was converted into three additional sheets of glossy curling surfaces to augment the one permanent sheet on the other side of the boards and a walkway. The Altamont Bonspiel lured a variety of curlers to spend a large part of the week in Altamont. I believe they were guaranteed four games for their entry fee so it was a bit of a commitment but one the curlers happily accepted. Rinks from Altamont and environs entered of course as well as family and friends from across the province. There are always several rinks from other communities mostly made up of grain farmers who had flexible schedules and few work commitments in the winter. There were also several rinks, smitten in previous years by the hospitality, ambiance and atmosphere of the whole community, and the ‘competitive non-competitive’ duality of the bonspiel itself who returned to re-create the experience. I am not sure if they were captivated by its charm or captured by an invisible yet palpable quantity that is the “stuff” of curling. The “stuff” of curling was, for some reason, more evident, more salient, and more undeniable at the Altamont Bonspiel than it was in other places.
As you can see from the photo above the Altamont Rink is a small (if you were inclined to be charitable, you would say “intimate”) venue. The smallness does not detract from the charm or from the game itself. In some ways it amplifies it. In the days (mid-1950s to 1980s) before brushes became the predominant tool for sweeping [damn those Scots and Canadian Junior Champion Paul Gowsell,] and after the days (ending in late 1940s and early 1950s) when curling brooms looked like old kitchen brooms wielded by housewives Hell bent on saving their pies cooling on window ledges from scheming children like Huck Finn, the corn broom ruled the day. It’s distinctive slap, slap, slap could be heard outside almost a block away from the rink, as young strong arms and legs put every ounce of muscle into coaxing the rock into the correct spot. The low ceiling in a small rink, 32 curlers on the ice with 8 – 10 of them sweeping at any given time, and 4 – 6 others shouting instructions to sweep harder (HAAAARRRRDDDD!) or not at all (RIGHT OFF!) made for bedlam except … except when the sweepers developed rhythms intensifying loudness but softening discordance, lulling the observer into a short lived reverie of drumming and drill sergeants. It is in these moments where you begin to glimpse the “stuff” of curling.
In April 1991 the CBC, accurately in my view, captured the centrality of curling and the Altamont Rink to the collective Soul of this small community. Indeed, I doubt if anyone who has ever spent an hour in the Rink has not been touched by the “stuff” (material and spiritual) that resides there. Have a look at this footage from the CBC Archives:
These images triggered many memories for me and I shall return to the Altamont Rink on several occasions in Parts II and III of this series. Suffice to say that there is more to this “stuff” than meets the eye, as the old saw goes.
Most of us (young or old) could not afford fancy curling brooms. I retrieved my own prized corn broom from the garbage can where it had been deposited unceremoniously by an unknown curler. To some it was a broken down castoff but to me it was as close as I would get to the real deal – and it was free! The corn straw still had enough structural integrity and I had enough upper body, arm and leg power to make it slap so that I was not embarrassed. Older boys often had the trademark Blackjack broom made with inverted corn straw in the centre or the Rink Rat made from artificial fabrics. They could wield these brooms with the best of them, their slapping almost defying the sound barrier.
One of the less endearing qualities of the corn broom is that it left a lot of “trash” (broken straws) on the ice. If you weren’t diligent about keeping the ice clean, a rock could pick up a small piece of straw under the running surface causing it to lose speed or curl more dramatically than expected. Of course, after the brush became popular some rinks took advantage of the ability to use either broom and switched back and forth depending on the outcome they sought. I recall that my ‘reclaimed’ broom left a lot of trash whether I wanted it to or not. I am not convinced that the corn broom helped me much as a curler but that is likely more a comment on my ability than anything else. These observations are not simply idle musings but serve as a good reminder that some “stuff” in curling is unintentional and perhaps even accidental.
Traditionally, the weather during bonspiel week was extremely cold except, of course, for those years which had the equally traditional “January thaw.” Most people don’t like it when traditions change like that, but as a raconteur, I can tell you that it comes in handy to have it any way you like. I can remember as many years when it was bone-chillingly cold as years that were ice melting warm. In the cold years, the sales of soup and coffee from the kitchen were up and the sales of cold non-alcoholic drinks were down with the reverse being true in the warm years. Sales of hot dogs, hamburgers, fries (chips to us), and hot turkey sandwiches remained steady irrespective of weather.
The “informal” consumption of alcoholic beverages remained stable and occurred mostly at the far end of the curling sheet, dispensed orally, directly from bottles hidden in any convenient hole or crack in the end wall, and shielded from public view by any number of complicit curlers huddling together. The raison d’etre of a huddle in curling is very different from that in Canadian and American football. Most bonspiels have formal and/or informal locations where one can seek out an appropriate libation at any time of the day or night. They may have names such as The Brier Patch, The Curler’s Rest, the Lizard Lounge, Three Sheets to the Wind, Shot in the Dark, Draw One, Extra End, or The Hog Line.
Bonspiels in my day were week long ‘spiels with 64 rinks in the draw. Gordon Lowry and his son Ron (called “Ronnie” by many back then and 55 years later probably still is by some) were most often the draw masters and each of them was beyond reproach in their setting of the draw. In any case, I choose to believe that there were no “seeded” rinks in those days and it was left to chance as to whether top rinks might meet each other in the early draws. Still the final draw for the championship title was always thrilling and featured excellent curling.
At some point in my early adult life, the weekend bonspiel with draws starting Friday evening and continuing around the clock until a winner was declared on Sunday afternoon became wildly popular. They did not require taking time off work during weekdays. And some baby boomers were prepared to curl and party all weekend long. I speak from experience when I say that strategic thinking and the execution of delicate curling shots takes on an entirely different dimension at 3 or 4 a.m. after a few hours of “discussing” the intricacies of the “roaring game” with your own team and/or with many friends (new and old) in the comfort of the Altamont Hotel or another cozy abode near the curling rink. Let’s just say that, under certain conditions, the capacity of the human mind to be deluded into thinking that the body can perform feats beyond that intended by the Supreme Being’s blueprint, is infinite. And, even if infinity cannot be multiplied, it is multiplied exponentially by the sum of the quantity of spirits consumed and the hours of sleep deprivation suffered. The probabilities of predicting the winners of a weekend ‘spiel increased significantly if you had observable empirical data on a) skill level, b) degree of tiredness at 3 a.m. and c) number of “huddles” conducted at the far end of the rink.
Is it all about the soup?
It is the week long bonspiels that I remember most fondly. My sisters and I were allowed at least once during that week to have supper at the rink. This meal was a major treat for us as we rarely went to restaurants or had meals away from home outside of those at the homes of our grandparents, uncles and aunts. I can’t speak for my sisters but I loved the homemade soup that the ladies made at the rink – lots of meat, veggies, and flavour.
At home I would only eat our mother’s soup under great howling protest. It used to drive mother crazy. I don’t know what it was about her soup but it didn’t pass the bonspiel test. I know it bothered her all her life as not that many years ago, I mentioned it to her and she knew exactly what I was saying. Well, you know what mom, your passing hasn’t changed my mind, and your soup still doesn’t make the grade. Wherever you are, I hope that you are not making soup. I also happen to know that mom hated making soup so if she has a choice; she isn’t making any right now. If she had only done that when she was alive, it would have been a win-win situation for the both of us.
As the week wore on and the bonspiel came to a close, we kids looked forward to that moment when we would flood onto the hard, glassy smooth curling ice, reclaiming it for skaters and hockey players. It was the true test of whether your skates were sharp enough. When I was very young, they seldom were sharp and I recall the roundness of my blades slipping and sliding without ever getting the true feel of the “edge” that I would grow to love as a hockey player.
My final thought on bonspiel week is that soup has to be an essential ingredient in the”stuff of curling.” However, soup alone cannot be the sole ingredient because if it was, then it would be called the “soup of curling.”
What do you do when you can’t watch the grass grow?
Late winter or early spring, depending on how you measure it, always brought the Manitoba men’s curling finals, played at some esteemed establishment as the Granite Curling Club in Winnipeg. Then, as it is now, it was a very big deal to make the finals, “The British Consuls,” so named after a brand of cigarette made by the Macdonald Tobacco Company, the original sponsor of “The Brier,” the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship. When you won the Brier, you were it; the best; the absolute undisputed best curling team in Canada. There were no other contenders. Unlike today where there is a professional tour, a series of cash bonspiels and skins games, the Olympic trials where a team wins the right to represent Canada at the Olympics, and a Team Canada that gets to play in The Brier, without winning a spot through the provincial play downs, by virtue of having won the previous year’s Brier.
Sometimes when I am asked how important curling was (and is) in the culture of Manitoba, I just tell them that the problem with Manitoba in the winter is that you can’t watch the grass grow. So what do you do? Listen to curling on the radio, of course! When I was a kid they did broadcast important curling games on the radio. This always prompts some quizzical looks and I then explain that it has a long history and tell them how that is done.
The early broadcast history is a bit unclear, but I believe that the CBC National Radio Network’s Bill Good did the play by play of the final game of the Brier nationally for the first time in 1946. In Winnipeg, “Cactus” Jack Wells of CJRC broadcast curling in the late 1950s and early 1960s and sports caster Bob Picken (who was an elite curler in his own right) would pick up those duties with CJOB beginning in the mid-1960s. The history is long and deep even without going into the television broadcasts.
I recall going to the drug store in Swan Lake with my dad to pick up some antibiotics as my sister Geraldine had an ear infection. It was in early spring 1958 I believe, and we had the radio tuned to CJRC Winnipeg. We were just on the far edges of the radio signal in Swan Lake and it faded in and out depending on where we were in the dips and rises on Highway 23. Amazingly though, the reception was quite good in front of the Swan Lake garage where the car ended up sitting, not because it was close to the drug store (few people called them pharmacies then), but because our car had a flat tire and our spare was not really functional. In fact, it too was flat. It seems that we were perpetually on the edge of mishap both where the rubber hits the road and where the power train engages for propulsion.
I don’t recall how long it took for the tire repair but I do recall it was a beautiful sunny, relatively warm day and I sat in the car listening to a radio broadcast of a game in the men’s curling championship of Manitoba. So what if my sister was screaming, driving my mother to distraction because the antibiotics had not yet arrived.
Braunstein shocks curling establishment
I don’t really remember which game of the Manitoba Men’s Championship it was, but let’s assume it was the final game and veteran broadcaster and member of the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame, Cactus Jack Wells, was calling the play-by-play solo. It would sound something like this:
“Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it? [This was Cactus Jack’s signature opening line for any broadcast] …
“… And Stan Topalloffski’s [It was really Topolniski but Cactus Jack was infamous for mispronouncing names] rock stops fully buried just biting the back 8-foot behind Brownsteen’s [really Braunstein’s] rock, at ten o’clock. Tallaopski [Topolniski] also has a long guard just inside the hog line but not really in play. We are in an extra end folks with the score tied 11 -11. If Brownstem [Braunstein] can draw the 8-foot with this last rock, he and his rink will become the youngest ever to capture the Consols, the championship of Manitoba. These youngsters certainly have set the curling establishment on its ear. Skip Terry is just 16, his brother Ray at third is 17, second man Ray Turnbull is the old man at 18, and lead Jack Van de Mond [Van Hellemond] is 16. Their average age doesn’t add up to a 2 – 4 of beer.”
“Braunstern [Braunstein] settles into the hack to deliver the final stone. It’s on its way with Turnbull and Van Mond [Van Hellemond] sweeping gently as it crosses the mid-way point.”
[You can hear the sound of brooms slapping lightly]
“The weight looks good as it crosses the hog line and Ray Braunstern [Braunstein] calls the sweepers off. […Pause…] Braunstem [Braunstein] has done it! His rock stops fully in the 8 foot. We have just witnessed history in the making folks! The young lads defeat a veteran, the curling plumber, Stan Topolinski [Topolniski] of Transcona 12 – 11 in an extra end.” [It was the 13th end as all games were played as regulation 12 end games in those days.]
Cactus Jack Continues: “The youngster, Brownstein [Braunstein], has accomplished what seemed unthinkable – a junior rink capturing the Manitoba British Consols emblematic of the men’s curling championship of Manitoba. “
Cactus Jack pauses briefly, either for effect or to take a drink, and continues: “And now the 64 dollar question is whether this young rink will be allowed to represent Manitoba at the Macdonald’s Brier in Victoria, B.C.? The lads [at this point Cactus Jack has seemingly given up on pronunciation] are junior members at the Granite Curling Club and the regulations stipulate that only senior members can represent the province at the Brier.”
Cactus Jack’s question was a real one – and the answer had implications far beyond just finding a quick fix for the age and senior membership requirement.
Braunstein: “The Jackie Robinson of Jewish Curling”
Well, it turns out that Terry Braunstein’s victory in 1958 was more than a triumph of youth over experienced veterans; it was more than just solidifying Manitoba’s place as a “hot bed of curling;” it was a triumph that helped pave the way for Jews in previously forbidden territory. This little talked about side bar on the Terry Braunstein story stems from the fact that until the late 1950s, Jews weren’t allowed memberships in the curling establishment’s most prestigious clubs. In response to this deep-seated anti-Semitism, Jews followed the established pattern set in other cases of segregation. Many of those groups formed their own clubs, organizations, and even entire leagues if you think about the Negro League in baseball. In curling, Jews formed the Maple Leaf Curling Club (1933) in Winnipeg and the Menorah Curling Club (1947) in Edmonton.
Elie Dolgin in Tablet (February 10, 2014) writes about the role Terry Braunstein’s heroics had in smashing through anti-Semitic barriers in curling in the 1950s and 1960s.
If there was ever a Jackie Robinson of Jewish curling, it was Terry Braunstein. Braunstein started curling at the Maple Leaf. But as a teenager, he also played at the Granite Curling Club, the oldest and most established club in Manitoba—which at the time had no Jewish members. In March 1958, Braunstein and his younger brother Ron—both still junior competitors—beat out adult teams to win the Manitoba provincial title, with Terry playing skip. The next fall, the Braunsteins were granted full adult membership at the Granite. Other Jews soon followed.
The official granting of full adult membership of the Braunstein’s may have happened the next fall but young Terry and Ray Braunstein, Ray Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond had to become adult members of the Granite Club in order to compete at the Brier so immediate action was necessary. In Ray Turnbull’s words, “So overnight, they kind of made us senior members. They had an emergency meeting of the club people and made us full members and away we went to the brier.”
Ken Neuman, 75, a dentist in Vancouver who curled with the Braunsteins in the early 1960s confirms the anti-Semitic nature of the curling establishment at that time. “When we went to curl there (at the Granite Club) we were made to feel a little uncomfortable … but after a couple of years, there wasn’t any of that [anti-Semitism] visible.”
We are left wondering what might have been the case if a) Terry Braunstein had not upset the apple cart by winning the men’s curling championship in Manitoba as a Junior member of one of the most prestigious clubs in Winnipeg; b) the entire Braunstein rink had not needed to be senior members in the Granite Club to participate in the Macdonald’s Brier in Victoria, B.C.; c) Ray Turnball had not been a member of Braunstein’s rink; d) Ray Turnball’s father had not been a member of the Granite Curling Club; and e) if the Granite Curling Club had not held the emergency overnight meeting [I would wager that Turnball’s father was instrumental in this effort] to make Braunstein and his rink senior members in good standing to meet the requirements for the young foursome to go to the Brier. Without the convergence of these facts, it is quite likely that anti-Semitism would have continued for a longer period than it did in Winnipeg curling circles.
Elie Dolgin’s comparison of Terry Braunstein to Jackie Robinson, however much of a stretch it may seem at first, is indeed a good one. Robinson always wanted his talent and skill as a baseball player to be recognized equally along side the talents and skills of others in a world where these abilities are valued. It was a different kind of politics. In Braunstein’s case, the skill and talent of these young players carried them into the winner’s circle such that their achievement and therefor entitlement could not be denied by anti-Semitic practices or politics within the curling club establishment. As with Robinson, it was not just good fortune and a matter of the right people being in the right place at the right time, the Braunstein rink had to prove they were worthy by establishing their place among the very best in their sport. And that they did!
But we are left with an interesting question: did the Braunstein rink have the right “stuff” or was it the “stuff” of curling itself that made the difference, or even more daringly, did the Braunstein “stuff” merely add its weight to the ever growing “stuff” of Curling to carry curling forward?
Manitoba is a hot bed of curling
Altamont was (and probably still is) a microcosm of a broader phenomenon in Manitoba and that is the creation and perpetuation of Manitoba as a hot bed of curling for both men and women. Hmm … that sounds fun! Anyway, it is fun but it is also highly competitive. The sport at the elite level is not for the feint of heart. Outwardly, it is a game of gentlemen and gentlewomen but in its belly, the fires of competition rage keeping the “stuff” of curling alive.
Men’s Canadian champions
The Brier is the most sought after championship for men in curling in large part because it is so very difficult to get into the provincial playoffs, never mind win that playoff giving you the privilege to face the incredibly strong rinks from the provinces and territories in the struggle for the Brier trophy. A Brier victory propels you to the World Championships. In men’s curling, Manitoba has won 27 Briers and finished as in the top 3 teams 55 times, the most of any province since its inception in 1927. Alberta is only one victory behind with 26 wins and has finished in the top 3 places, 52 times. As if to punctuate the pervasiveness of curling in Canada, the Brier has been staged in 31 different cities and at least once in every province. Only Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the three Territories have yet to win a Brier. The 2016 Brier is in Ottawa, March 5 – 13 and we have tickets to the last five draws!
Since 1927 the Brier has had only four major sponsors: Macdonald Tobacco Co., Labatt’s Breweries, Nokia, and Tim Horton’s.
1927 – 1979 Macdonald’s Brier
1980 – 2000 Labatt Brier
2001 – 2004 Nokia Brier
2005 – present Tim Horton’s Brier
So sponsorship of the men’s championship of the “Roaring Game” has rested with the major producers/sellers of tobacco, alcohol, cellphones, and coffee with donuts. This lineage may help explain the addictive quality of the “stuff” of curling.
Men’s world champions
Canadian men’s teams have dominated the world championships with 50 finishes in the top three and winning 34 of those times. Sweden is far behind with seven wins and 21 top three finishes. Alberta has by far led the way with 11 victorious teams representing Canada. Ontario is next with 7 and Manitoba has 6 victories which is still enviable.
Women’s Canadian champions
Women have contributed greatly to Manitoba’s claim to be the hottest hot bed of curling, finishing in the top 3 teams in 29 national championships and winning it 9 times. Saskatchewan has more victories with 11 but have fewer top three finishes with 24. As I write this post, Alberta is the current champion (2016.) Nevertheless, as if to underscore the discounted nature of women’s curling in general, the Canadian Ladies’ Curling Championship has had more difficulty finding a committed major sponsor. Both the name and sponsorship has changed several times since 1961 and for six of those years the Canadian Ladies’ Curling Association assumed the sponsorship itself, as outlined below:
1961 – 67 Diamond D Championship (Dominion Stores)
1968 – 71 Canadian Ladies’ Curling Assoc. Championship
1972 – 79 Macdonald Lassies Championship (Macdonald Tobacco)
1980 – 81 Canadian Ladies’ Curling Assoc. Championship
1982 – 2006 Scott Tournament of Hearts (Scott Paper)
2007 – 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Scott Paper)
Women’s world champions
Canada has dominated women’s curling at the world level winning the championship 15 times and finishing in the top three 32 times. Sweden is a distant second with 8 wins and 23 top three finishes. Rinks from Saskatchewan and BC have won the women’s world championships four times each. Ontario has won it three times while Manitoba and Nova Scotia have each won it twice. Manitoba’s performance here is but a small chink in Manitoba’s claim to “hot bed of curling” status.
Rich tradition of curling in Altamont
Altamont has a rich tradition of curling with both men’s and ladies’ teams distinguishing themselves over the years. I have already noted that Olive Stockford and her rink won the Birks Dingwall Trophy at the MCA Bonspiel in 1944 and Mrs. F. E. Milligan won the Hudson Bay Company Trophy in 1945. I don’t have a complete record of all accomplishments for the ladies, far from it.
There were many good men’s curlers over the years as well and I know that many rinks made trips (some annually) to participate in the MCA Bonspiel in Winnipeg. My father went once or twice but it was difficult for him to get away from Post Office duties and quite frankly our family could not afford the cost. I do not have any record of Altamont men’s rinks being as successful as the women at the MCA ‘spiel but the men certainly did have some success in challenge trophy competitions.
The O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”)
Colonel J. W. deCourcey O’Grady, then President of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA), established a trophy in 1908 “to encourage good will and promote curling matches between affiliated clubs in the Association.” Officially named the O’Grady Challenge Trophy, it is most often called “The Old Buffalo” derived from the figure that stands in defiant attitude on the trophy. As it turns out this nickname is incorrect for those who care because the figure on the trophy is of a bison rather than a buffalo but this is a common mistake. The trophy has been open to challenge continuously since the Granite Curling Club won the inaugural challenge match against the Kenora, Ontario Curling Club (some Ontario and Saskatchewan clubs have been affiliated to Manitoba over the years) at the Annual MCA Bonspiel, March 2, 1908.
The thing about the O’Grady Trophy is that any club affiliated to the MCA is eligible to enter two teams in the competition with the winner having the most total points in a round robin competition. The winner can hold the Trophy for seven days but it is open to challenge after that time.
For about a decade (1961 – 1971) the small community of Altamont was in the thick of the O’Grady Trophy challenges. January 28, 1961 marks the first time Altamont won “The Old Buffalo.” They defeated two teams from Wawanesa, Manitoba in the aggregate points round robin match. March 4, 1971 marks the last time Altamont played for the trophy and they lost the round robin to Roland, Manitoba. In all, they won “The Old Buffalo” four out of the six times they challenged but they were never successful in defending the trophy against a challenger so the trophy only ever rested briefly in the hands of one of the smallest curling clubs within the MCA. Altamont’s overall record was four wins and seven losses. Not the best, but still, it is a very good record for a ”hamlet” generously estimated to have a population of 120 in the 1960s and today is considerably below 75. The Altamont Curling Club has been a faithful and continuous MCA member since 1929.
It all began just before midnight ….
What I recount for you from here on may seem fantastical but I have been assured that ceteris paribus it is an authentic story.
It was mere minutes before midnight on January 28, 1961 and the Altamont Curling Club had just successfully wrested the O’Grady Challenge Cup from Wawanesa by an aggregate score of 31 -10. Most of the members of the two winning Altamont rinks, and a few other folks who always hang out at the Rink, were at the Altamont Rink (yeah, I know… a “rink” is an arena and in curling it is also a “team”) for a small informal “after hours” celebration, admiring “The Old Buffalo.”
[In fact, any drinking of spirits or beer at any time in the Altamont Rink was “after hours” because there was no liquor license – no need for one – as there was no bar. Is this ‘circular reasoning?’]
The members of the winning Altamont rinks were Lynwood Graham, Murray Stockford, Percy Simpson, Jim Simpson, Charlie McDonald, Gordon Holliston, Herbie Rackham and Charlie Taylor.
Please see Appendix B for a complete list of O’Grady Challenge Trophy games played by the Altamont Curling Club including the names of the Altamont curlers.
What in the Devil ….?
Now, I believe we all know that the Devil loves to curl. He especially loves challenge matches like His infamous showdown with Willie MacCrimmon in Shelby, Alberta in 1939, so aptly chronicled by W. O. Mitchell in The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon. Well, to tell the truth, the Devil is not keen on having that story broadcast too widely as Willie MacCrimmon and three guys named Charlie Brown outsmarted ol’Cloutie. Ever since then though, the Devil had been keeping a low profile in the curling community, partly because He was still furious about the outcome with Willie and partly because He was biding His time, waiting for the right opportunity to extract revenge.
[For a note on grammar in relation to the Devil, please see Appendix C]
When “The Old Buffalo” arrived in Altamont with its single sheet of curling ice exuding the very “stuff” of curling, the Devil’s old-fashioned radar and his new – fangled GPS (He was testing a very early prototype of Global Positioning of Satan) both pinged very loudly. In fact, the pinging was so irritatingly loud and insistent that the Devil could suppress neither the headache it was giving Him nor the impulse to show Himself.
So it was that just before midnight on January 28, 1961, the Devil burst through the door of the Altamont Rink, a cloud of steam hissing around Him as the North Wind’s cold snowy breath melted in the wake of His advance. The waiting room and its jubilant occupants were illuminated by a pulsing red-hot glow. Scanning the room the Devil’s laser red eyes narrowly missed cutting through the bottle of Crown Royal in the centre of the card table, instead burning a hole in the velvet bag and, regrettably, slicing some of the filled paper cups lined up alongside.
Of those present, a voice carrying the authority of heritage and lineage, a descendant of one the first settlers to migrate (1884) from Merrickville, Ontario to Mussellboro (later renamed Altamont,) was the first to respond to the intrusion. That voice belonged to none other than Gordon Holliston, speaking as clearly and firmly as he could, “Nnnow … now… now…. see here … see here … dddon’t… don’t you… don’t you …”
To be Continued….
NEXT POST: Part II of THE “STUFF” OF CURLING, “The Devil’s Challenge: “The Old Goat””
Learn more about: The Devil’s challenge and how the Altamont team responds; Who the good guys are and who the bad guys are (Does the Devil have friends?;) What a “Dunbar” is; Where the Devil hangs out when He is in town; Meet a Parkinson’s hero (or a hero who has Parkinson’s) with an unlikely name; and much more…. (yes, it is still about curling….)
Appendix A: Towards a theory of the “stuff” of curling
Below you will find the early musings of one individual on a theory, or parts of a theory, about the “stuff of curling.” In it, curling is analogous to a star around which a community or (communities) orbit. Much like the Sun and the planets, curling has a gravitational field holding key elements in check yet allowing other minor players occasionally to enter into, and sometimes escape, its gravitational pull.
The “stuff” of curling is the sum of Good Gravitational forces at the Societal (capital C – Curling), the club (capital C – Curling level,) the informal recreational and pick up (small c – curling) level and Beneficial Innovation minus the sum of Evil Gravitational Forces at these same levels and Disruptive Innovation, expressed mathematically as follows:
∑ (GGFC+ GGFCn + GGFcn + BIn) – ∑ (EGFC + EGFCn + EGFcn + DIn) = 0
GGFC is Good Gravitational Forces in Curling (Societal Culture level)
GGFC is Good Gravitational Forces Curling (Club and formal recreational level)
GGFc is Good Gravitational Forces curling (pick up and informal recreational level)
EGFC is Evil Gravitational Forces in Curling at Societal Culture level
EGFCn is Evil Gravitational Force Curling (Club and formal recreational level)
EGFcn is Evil Gravitational Force curling (pick up and informal recreational level)
DI is Disruptive Innovation
BI is Beneficial Innovation
[You always knew that curling was going to end up as a case of “Good vs Evil” didn’t you? The author toyed with the idea of identifying “Good” as “Positive” and “Evil” as “Negative” but rejected those assignations as too unwieldy in a world where everyone knows the difference between “Good” and “Evil.” It will be interesting to see how the Trump for President campaign plays out on this score … but that is not my primary (pun intended) purpose here -although Curling trumps Trump.]
Back to our summation equation; If the resulting number is zero, it signifies that Good and Evil in the game are in balance. If the result is positive, good is triumphing over evil and if negative, evil is winning out.
The “stuff” of Curling is actually everything that is contained in each bracketed term. I can hear your bleats of derision now: “You idiot,” you say, “that just means that “stuff” is everything and everything is “stuff.”” My response is a somewhat sheepish, “You are sort of correct, but the important part is that the equation is in balance if Good and Evil are in dynamic harmony.” If the sum is not zero indicating an imbalance then something is truly wrong with your “stuff” and measures should be taken to deal with it.
The sociologists and political scientists among you will shoot me down by saying that this is a structural functionalist theory as espoused by Talcott Parsons and other apologists for the status quo in social and political behaviour. In other words, change is not possible unless conflict occurs and the equation on the “stuff of curling” does not allow for conflict or change.
Again, my response is that you are sort of correct but I must point out that this equation is not an equation that generates change or conflict, nor is it intended to be. It is merely an equation which monitors those features in Curling, Curling and curling and assesses the relative strengths of each and possible responses to avoid an obvious damaging out – of – balance situation.
As a case in point, consider the use of directional brooms and directional sweeping. New fabrics and new techniques in applying the fabrics to brooms are making it possible for sweepers to direct, or lead, the rock in ways that have been unthinkable until now. In the short term, these brooms have been banned from most elite level competitions. As such, they are a disruptive innovation which tips the competitive component of curling away from fairness. Something must happen on the other side of the equation if competitiveness is to remain as a central component of the sport. In fact, banning the brooms serves that purpose in the short term. But what about the long term? The long term is the vision for the sport. Does the current “stuff” of curling (including beneficial and disruptive innovations) keep Curling, Curling and curling at the centre of the gravitational field ensuring its survival?
Let’s return to the gravitational force issue by thinking about social groupings such as community. Societies are made up of many different communities and these communities are held in orbits around the centre of society by an invisible yet palpable force analogous to a gravitational field. Each community in the orbit has its own gravitational pull as Earth does in our solar system. In fact, curling is a community and has this type of gravitational field, as do the curling clubs within curling’s orbit. Think of curling writ large as the Earth, the curling clubs as planets, and other recreational and informal curling events, happenings, etc. as moons, asteroids, etc. Just make sure you envision bodies orbiting around bodies orbiting around bodies. The number of orbits and bodies can be infinite but usually is self-limiting at some point. Each body has a social gravitational field, the strength of which may vary according to the relative proximity of events or the relative importance of the game(s) or activity at that specific point in time. Your own individual orbit or the orbit of any social grouping to which you belong may touch tangentially or may indeed coincide with the orbits of other social groupings, for periods of time. In either case, once you are subject to the social gravitational field of a social grouping, you are not master over it. Once you are within its field, it is extremely difficult to escape.
Consider curling. When you belong to a curling club you most definitely will feel curling’s social gravitational pull, especially the pull of the club to which you belong. But ironically you can be subject to the pull of curling’s gravitational field even though you are not a member of any curling club, as the gravitational pull of curling exists at more than one level.
Much like gravity, Curling is not evident until it gives us a reason to be aware of its presence. It is commonly said that Newton “discovered” gravity when an apple fell on his head. Fortunately we don’t have to wait until a curling rock falls on our head to know about Curling. Just walk the streets of any city, town, village or hamlet in Canada after September 1st and listen to people – you will discover that Curling is Canadian cultural and social gravitational glue.
Appendix B: O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”)
Game# Date Holder Challenger
500 01/28/61 Wawanesa 10 W- Altamont 31 Altamont curlers: Charlie Mcdonald, Percy Simpson, Gordon Holliston, Murray Stockford, Jim Simpson, Herb Rackham, Charlie Taylor, Lynwood Graham
501 02/04/61 Altamont 16 W- Glenboro 24
Altamont curlers: Percy Simpson, Murray Stockford, Jim Simpson, Herb Rackham, Charlie Taylor, Lynwood Graham, Eugene Kehler, Ron Lowry
520 03/23/62 Pembina 12 W – Altamont 23 Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, Charlie Taylor, Ron Lowry, John Rankin, Jim Scott, Cliff Holliston, Irwin Madill
521 01/02/63 Altamont 16 W – Mather 18 Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Charlie Taylor, Lynwood Graham, Ron Lowry, John Rankin, Jim Scott, Cliff Holliston, Irwin Madill
538 02/22/64 Sperling 8 W – Altamont 18 Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Herb Rackham, Ron Lowry, John Rankin, Irwin Madill, Howard Andrews, Frank Stockford, Vern Ticknor
539 02/29/64 Altamont 12 W – Glenboro 22
Altamont curlers: Herb Rackham, John Rankin, Irwin Madill, Howard Andrews, Vern Ticknor, Allan Ticknor, Arnie Zilkey, Dale Adams
559 01/21/67 W – Roland 22 Altamont 17 Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Irwin Madill, Norman King, Jim Wilson, Ed Picton, Real Labossiere
581 03/12/68 W – Gilbert Plains 17 Altamont 15
Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Norman King, Alan Crampton, Bert Marshall, Bud Grogan, Fred Bourrier
582 03/13/68 Altamont 15 W – Miami 21 Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Norman King, Alan Crampton, Bud Grogan, Fred Bourrier, Howard Andrews
631 02/27/71 Charleswood 11 W – Altamont 19
Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Alan Crampton, Bert Marshall, Bud Grogan, Howard Andrews, Alex Grenier
632 03/04/71 Altamont 17 W – Roland 21
Altamont curlers: Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Alan Crampton, Bert Marshall, Bud Grogan, Howard Andrews, Alex Grenier, George Friesen
Information provided courtesy of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA)
Appendix C: A note on grammar and the Devil
To satisfy the curious and to appease, at least partially, those who are offended by any perceived undue “respect” accorded to the Devil in the accounts recorded above, be advised that throughout this document, Devil has a capital “D” as does any pronoun attributable to the Devil e.g., He and His. The capitalization is not to denote spiritual equivalency with God but to denote that the Devil has power(s) not accorded to mere mortals. Further, it is assumed that the Devil is male unless someone cares to make the case otherwise.
REFERENCES AND SOURCES
Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/curling/
Curl Manitoba O’Grady Trophy History http://www.curlmanitoba.org/ogrady-history#.VrDXRCkof9M
Elie Dolgin, “What’s the Jewish Equivalent of a Jamaican Bobsledder? Maybe an Israeli Curler,” Tablet, February 10, 2014
W. O. Mitchell, The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon, McClelland and Stewart, 1993.
Bob Weekes, Curling Etcetera, Wiley, 2008
© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)