Reflections of Ponoka: Most everyone curled at the old hospital rink

For most of us the winter favourite was hanging out but when we got cold or tired we headed over to the grand old curling rink

The first curling rink at the Provincial Mental Hospital was built in 1944 through the amazing volunteer efforts and generosity of the staff

The first curling rink at the Provincial Mental Hospital was built in 1944 through the amazing volunteer efforts and generosity of the staff

By Mike Rainone for the News

There are some things about our childhood that we will never forget, and among my all-time favourite memories is of growing up in our little house along Riverside Drive, then later on the hospital grounds, while getting to mingle with a whole bunch of great little hooligans just like me.

We moved up to the vast grounds of the Provincial Mental Hospital in the mid-1950s, and quickly made lots of friends with all the other staff families who lived in those neat and comfortable brick cottages.

As kids we got to ride the bus downtown to school and always found or created lots of adventures together year-round. For most of us the winter favourite was hanging out for hours at the outdoor skating rink and skating or playing hockey all day or under the lights but when we got cold or tired we headed over to the grand old curling rink next door to watch the adults play and buy a treat.

That big wooden structure had its humble beginnings way back in 1944 through the amazing volunteer efforts and generosity of a large group of staff and patients and their families and friends. A great number of logs were cut and fashioned into lumber at a nearby mill and then the hardy volunteers hauled them up to the hospital grounds to complete the construction in the fall of a building that would house two sheets of ice and a small waiting room.

The grand opening was hosted with great celebration in December and the first official season was in full swing. The first curling stones for the Provincial Mental Hospital Curling rink were acquired from various sources, some loaned by staff, or kindly donated by the families of the patients.

It didn’t take long before dozens of staff members picked up a broom and were taught the great game along with their families and a goodly number of patients.

This friendly rink became a very popular and bustling social meeting place seven days a week throughout the long winter, with many teams curling and others sitting back and enjoying the action behind the glass.

In 1950 one of the first set of matched rocks in the area was purchased for the PMH Curling Club, then after seven busy and flourishing seasons, a homemade artificial ice plant (built by Art Barnes and friends) went into service, and worked well until the purchase of a modern ice-making plant in 1965.

The magnificent Beare Trophy for inter-hospital competition was donated to the hospital curling club in the 1940s and these keen and friendly games and social events would carry on for many decades.

How great it was to see friendly teams from the busy hospital’s supervisory, medical, nursing, maintenance, laundry, gardening and other support staff joining together for a friendly game of curling, followed by delightful social events with participants, fans and families.

In later years, school children would rush to the rink on Saturday mornings to learn to sweep and curl under the supervision of countless volunteers.

Members of the Alberta Hospital staff and their families also became active in Civil Service Association. Most everyone curled at the old hospital rink and other annual curling events and also competed in countless bonspiels throughout central Alberta, always winning their fair share of trophies and prizes. Back in the days when Ponoka and area bonspiels attracted more than 100 rinks for their popular week-long competitions, many of the curlers really enjoyed playing some of their games at the Alberta Hospital Curling Rink, where the ice was widely considered as some of the straightest and fastest in the province.

After nearly four decades of extreme success and pleasure for hundreds of ardent curlers and spectators, the Alberta Hospital Curling Club ceased to function in the early 1980s. Many of the artifacts, pictures, and memories of that colorful curling era are now on display at the Fort Ostell Museum for everyone to browse and enjoy as a proud and active part of our history.