The snow has flown, the ice is frozen. Time for curling! Here in the Peace Country, where ice and cold are free and plentiful for almost half of every year, curling has always been a major attraction. Any little hamlet on the prairie with enough community spirit could come up with a rink: an uninsulated, wood frame building with room for two sheets.
Curling was different in many ways back in the 20s and 30s. Towns like Spirit River were small, isolated, and close, especially in winter. The curling rink offered friendly competition, a place to socialize, show off and talk over problems with the farm or the school. Well, maybe that much hasn’t changed, but the venue certainly has.
The ice was made by hard labour. Teams of horses hauled water from the river. Tanks were filled and the water was heated over an open flame. Meanwhile the sheets were shored up with snow to hold the water in. Water was slowly released to form the sheets in layers. It was painstaking work. All could be lost if the banks broke and the water leaked away.
Once finished, however, the curling rink was the centre of social life in the winter, especially among the men. It cost five dollars to curl all season. Curlers usually owned their own rocks, often a jam can filled with a mixture of frozen water and sand and featuring a handle made of some unused tool. Since rocks were homemade, they varied in weight by as much as six pounds. How can you take out a heavy rock with a light one? That was just one of the skills an early curler had to develop.
It also took a skillful player to make a shot through the debris on the ice. Just as nobody had a team sweater, no one had dedicated footwear for curling. They came straight from working in the farmyard, often arriving by horse, so of course plenty of manure made its way onto the ice.
Through it all, curling was the friendly sport, open to all and not averse to a bit of fun in the midst of some serious sportsmanship.
Do you have memories of the early days in the Peace Country? We would love to help you help everyone remember the good old days! Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.