Hammertime: Enjoying curling, to play and watch

This week’s Ponoka News Hammertime celebrates the sport of curling

Mike Rainone


Did you know that the grand old game of curling is one of the oldest team sports in the world, originating in Scotland in the 16th century?

Cool outside matches were played during the winter on frozen ponds and lochs, and what has always been described as ‘the roaring game’ likely came from the loud noise created by the flat bottomed granite stones as they travelled across the ice.

Most of us over the years have surely had the most invigorating if not occasionally frustrating joy of curling with family and friends on our Ponoka town and county and Alberta Hospital rinks. Many of us were patiently taught this slippery game by our parents or our school phys-ed teachers, then along the way chose up teams to play in mens, women’s, mixed, and high school leagues, all of which were always a ‘social rush’, especially when it came to the bonspiels. I so fondly recall that when I and my buddies first started curling way back in the sixties, we usually had to sneak our mother’s old broom out of the house so that we could join in on all the joys of sweeping our hearts out.

Learning how to throw those heavy rocks was a real adventure, usually ending up sliding out of the hacks on our knees, elbows, or back-sides while the rock went hurdling toward the bull’s-eye target at the other end. But in the end, win or lose, all of us hardy curlers will have to admit that it was great fun, getting to meet friends and foes out on those keen sheets of ice, while working up a sweat. Then it was time to enjoy the great camaraderie of each other, including curlers, spectators, family, and friends, who all head upstairs to the warm upstairs lounge, where everyone is a winner and all the ‘shots’ come out perfect. Who will ever forget those grand old ‘two sheeter’ country rinks, where the ice would swing from morning to night, the pigeons were living in the attic, and the coffee or chilli pot was always on?

For countless decades millions of people of all ages have spent their winters in the community rinks enjoying curling at all levels of competition, as well as encouraging new members with annual events such as the ‘Little Rock’ training for youngsters, seniors/cash/family and fun leagues, the new and very popular ‘Stick Curling’ where each stone is delivered with a curling or delivery stick from a standing or sitting (in a wheelchair position) for those who are physically unable to attain the sliding position but still love to curl, and so much more. Curling has also become an overwhelmingly popular game for an avid fraternity of spectators, who love to visit the rink, as well as those who spend countless winter hours in their living rooms or other locations watching our Canadian and world elite curlers competing in the Brier, the Scotties, the Olympics and many other exciting showdowns.

Curling in the 1940s in Ponoka

While browsing through my memory archives I found this delightful explanation of the game of curling, written for the 1944-45 The Quill and Shield Ponoka High School yearbook by Dorothy Reid, and entitled ‘Rinks, Rocks, and Wrecks.’

Curling in high school bonspiels a sport which students really enjoy because it makes them so stiff and sore that for a while they forget to worry about homework.

The game is played on our local ice rink and your team (if you are lucky) is a nice bunch, which is led by, not a lead, but a skip. I am not really sure what he skips, but let’s skip that. The skip stands at one end of the rink and I at the other. Whatever gave him the false impression that I intend to be a doctor I do not know, but he insists on hollering ‘Interne’ when speaking to me. However, after I let my rock go, he calls me other names, and then when I have my second turn he shouts, ‘now hit the broom.’ This makes me boil because the moment I heave the rock he moves the broom.

The object of the game is to get your rocks into the house at the opposite end of the rink. This is not really a house, it’s more like a pig-pen, because the rocks must get over the hog line of you want to keep them left lying around with all the rest. When a rock is coming along the ice the skip yells “Sweep it. Sweep it.’ He means the ice of course, and I have often wondered whether it would not be easier if everyone pitched in and gave the ice one good sweeping before the game instead of separately sweeping the path of each rock? The Skips would probably forbid this to make sure that they will not be roped into any of the work.

After everyone has two turns, usually in turn and outturn, the first end ends. The second end starts from the other end of the rink. Eight ends are played before the game ends, and at the end of the end you end up at the starting end of the rink. Has it really changed that much since way back then?

Always play and cheer for your game to the fullest, share your exuberance with others, and have a great week, all of you.

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