My wife Fay stated the above as we sat watching the Scotties. The finest of curling was on display. You could not deny that the curlers were determined. After that particular game, the winning skip, Krista McCarville, stated, “I have never worked so hard in my life as I have this year.”
But, it was not what was on televison that caused my wife to comment. No. It was some Prince Albert curling trivia I read her, as we watched the game, that caused her reaction. In 1890 two curling teams from Prince Albert headed to Winnipeg for a bonspiel. One travelled by stagecoach to Qu’Appelle, then on to Regina, and finally by train to Winnipeg, arriving 13 days after departing our fair city. However, that team had it relatively easy. The other team walked from Prince Albert to Qu’Appelle, some 350 kms., with their personal curling rocks pulled on a sleigh. They waited at Qu’Appelle for the Winnipeg train, a wild prairie blizzard blowing all around them. Believe it or not, they did make it to the Winnipeg Bonspiel. They were determined curlers!
Determination runs deep in the history of Prince Albert curling. As John Hemstad, a past president of the Prince Albert Club, tells us, “ Curling was first played on the North Saskatchewan River ice, and in one of the first games a draw to the button was demanded to win. Hard enough for anyone, but this time it was compounded by a 25 mph (40 kph) cross wind which caused snow to drift across the ice, with the sweepers full of schnapps to stay warm.” It must have been a wonder to behold.
(Bob From tells me some of my stories may contain a bit of malarkey, maybe, maybe not.)
Curling is a Scottish game, dating back to the late 1700’s. It is little wonder, then, that Prince Albert has historic connections to curling. Prince Albert enjoys deep Scottish heritage derived from James Nisbet in 1866, and Scottish voyagers who worked in the fur trade in the Prince Albert area. Records show that there was curling on Prince Albert’s river as early as 1879, and that the settlement formed the FIRST ORGANIZED CURLING CLUB (1882) in the Northwest Territories.
River ice made curling demanding, but it was not the only obstacle. ‘Rocks’ carved from Tamarack trees, were used, wobbling constantly as they travelled. One pioneer stated, “We all shouted ‘well played’ when by some fluke a player managed to get within a few feet of house.”
In 1885 the Prince Albert curlers were able to avoid the adverse weather on the river when a rink was flooded on the shore with an eight foot high fence around it to block the wind. Curlers only had to shovel off the snow prior to each game.
In 1889, a roof over the ice was built, only to have it collapse in the midst of a 1892 windstorm. It was back to the river. Shortly, other shore-based rinks appeared. However, they were forced to give way to expanding businesses, and in one case when railway tracks were planned, the route passed right through a rink’s right of way. Hard to concentrate on a shot over the train whistle.
Finally, in 1905, a fully enclosed rink was completed. Prince Albert curling had a real home. It remained until 1929 when a new rink was built between Central Avenue and 1st Avenue East facing 15th Street. A far different site from the open ice of the river. It had eight sheets, seven more were added in 1949. Curlers went there with pride. Thirty feet high, the building provided walkways above the ice surface where the roar of the crowd matched the roar of the rocks during many a well attended bonspiel. Spacious clubrooms and a marvelous dining lounge capped it off.
However, this was not the end to the challenges Prince Albert curlers were to face. Many more were to come. Much more determination was to be demanded.
Fortunately, there were women and men who stepped up to the plate - er into the hack. Their story next column.
Sources: 1.“Saskatchewan Curling.” Saskatchewan Curling Association.
2. John Hemstad.