GENERAL ARTICLES

Baled Hay Rinks

He may use baled hay, straw, wire fence, grain car doors, but when a Saskatchewan curler wants a rink, by crackey, he gets a rink

FRED W. GRAHAM December 15 1938
GENERAL ARTICLES

Baled Hay Rinks

He may use baled hay, straw, wire fence, grain car doors, but when a Saskatchewan curler wants a rink, by crackey, he gets a rink

FRED W. GRAHAM December 15 1938

Baled Hay Rinks

He may use baled hay, straw, wire fence, grain car doors, but when a Saskatchewan curler wants a rink, by crackey, he gets a rink

FRED W. GRAHAM

EVERY curler is an enthusiast. Many are downright fanatics about the game; even so, there are degrees of curling enthusiasm. On the showing of the past half dozen winters, it is doubtful if there is any place in the wide world, including Scotland, so completely, utterly, absolutely possessed of curling enthusiasm as Saskatchewan, especially the sorely tried drought areas of Saskatchewan.

When 40.000 curlers want to curl in Saskatchewan, come drought, come grasshoppers, come bankruptcy, they curl. The temerature may be sub-zero, making outdoor curling impossible. The community and every individual in the community may lx* flat broke and hagridden by debt, making the dream of building any sort of an orthodox curling rink as fantastic as the notion of putting up a forty-story skyscraper —but they curl. Somehow, someway, they sling together something that will protect a sheet of natural ice, and call it a rink. Then they curl in it.

During these last few winters rinks have been built in Saskatchewan of baled hay; of straw tight packed between poplar poles laced with discarded wire fencing; of old planks and grain car doors. At least one rink was frozen over an alley, with the walls of the buildings on either side for protection and the sky for a roof. In these strange shanties they held club competitions and bonspiels—and laughed at the depression.

Probably no other single activity did more to sustain morale in rural and small urban communities during the depression than did curling. I have heard preachers thank God that there was a curling club in their community. 1 have listened to business and professional men say what a blessing it was that there was one place where men and women could spend a few hours away from their trials and tribulations.

There are 437 curling clubs in Saskatchewan scattered from end to end of the province. The farthest north club

is at Goldfields, on the shores of Lake Athabaska. There is a club at Island Falls on the Churchill River, where is located the large hydro plant that furnishes power to the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company’s mine and smelter at Elin Flon, Manitoba. There are at least four clubs located right out in the country, away from any railroad or village. The latter are numbered among our liveliest clubs.

The orthodox rink is a two-sheet affair, about 160 feet long by thirty feet wide. This allows for the proper length and width for each sheet of curling ice, along with a club or waiting room at one end. Usually there is a walk down the centre for spectators. These buildings are of frame construction, with shingle roofs. In some of the larger and older towns and villages, the curling rink is built as'an addition to the skating rink. This latter type of building is usually built by the municipality and conducted as a community activity.

Straw and Hay Rinks

THE depression has, however, brought into existence some strange buildings to house curling clubs. The first rink erected at Stoney Beach, a small hamlet between Regina and Moose Jaw, was built of straw. These enthusi-

astic Stoney Beach curlers, with cash as scarce as the proverbial hen’s teeth, first secured poplar poles from the near-by bluffs. Then they dug two rows of holes along what were to be the sides and ends of the building, planted the poles parallel to each other, and strung old wire fencing on the inside of one row and the outside of the other. They packed straw in between the two stretches of wire, leaving openings for doors and windows. The roof was constructed of poplar poles, laid close together, over which was placed a generous layer of straw. This made a snug, warm, onesheet curling rink. Gasoline lamps were placed at each end and in the centre. This served the community for several years, and was replaced by a modern two-sheet frame building last year. There is a similar rink in existence now in a rural community southwest of Humboldt.

The first famous “baled hay” rink, was erected in the fall of 1935 at Silton, Sask. Deciding that they wanted a curling rink and troubled with the usual shortage of cash, these enterprising curlers went to the hay marsh at the end of Long Lake, cut and baled over 600 bales of this old hay. The bales were transported to the site of the rink, and piled one on top of the other in layers, as bricks are laid. Openings were left for windows and doors, heavy poplar poles were placed down the centre, and a walk built between the two sheets. The roof was made of light poplar poles, over which was placed a layer of straw'. This rink was electrically lighted. No glass was used for windows. Homemade frames, the size and shape of a hay bale, were placed in the wall, and white cotton sheets were stretched over them. This allowed the light to come in, but kept out what is commonly called the weather. An old C. P. R. box car was purchased, taken off its trucks and placed at one end of the building, and used as a waiting room. This building was only used two seasons, because, as you might surmise, it was a poor fire risk. It went up in smoke during the summer of 1937. It has been replaced by an up-to-date, modern frame building.

In another community in the southwest part of the province, the boys had neither hay nor straw with which to do their building. They were really in the dried-out area. Their first rink was built of grain doors and what have you. I won’t mention the village by name—the railroad company may still be looking for some of its missing grain doors. This rink was a one-sheet affair, but boasted over 100 members. They used to curl twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. The farmer members curled during the daytime, the village members at night. This club may well be called the mother club of that particular area, as, from the lead given by these enthusiasts, three other clubs came into existence in adjacent villages during the depression years. When I say they are really enthusiastic down there, I mean that they have hardly missed one year in ten in having their club represented by one or more rinks at the provincial bonspiel.

There are one or two clubs that have no building to curl in. One club I visited this year has its single sheet of ice laid out in a lane between two buildings. They placed a fence at one end, and drew up an old granary to the other end to act as a waiting room. They got the village council to move the street lights from the street corners to the ends of the lane, so do not have to pay for their electric light. The stars serve as their roof, but they have just as much fun as those who curl in buildings that cost real money.

All curling, however, is not done under circumstances as above described. Some fine buildings house curling clubs in Saskatchewan towns and cities. The Caledonian Club of Regina possesses one of the largest and most beautiful rinks in Canada. They are located in the east wing of what is known as the Grain Fair Building in the Exhibition Grounds. This building was erected in 1930 to house the World’s Grain Exhibition. After the Fair in 1932, the Caledonian Club leased part of it. They have fourteen sheets of ice, and last winter had seventy-six active rinks or 304 members. They also had about thirty associate and sixty lady members. Other city clubs have buildings with from six to ten sheets of ice.

Everybody Curls

IT IS estimated that each season more than 40,000 persons play the game regularly in Saskatchewan. In addition, at least 10,000 more participate in local bonspiels.

In Eastern Canada and in Scotland, curling is known as a “recreational” game. In Western Canada it is known as a “competitive” game. Out here, we are commonly called “pot hunters” because of a custom that has grown up of having club competitions and bonspiels where prizes are played for. Also, in the West curling is more actively taken up by younger men. This has developed a style of play, peculiar to Western Canada, that wins competitions but disregards many of the finer points of the game.

Most of the cities, towns and larger villages hold annual open bonspiels. At these congregate the elite of the curling fraternity. The bonspiels held in the cities draw entries numbering from fifty to 2(X) rinks. Prizes and trophies valued in the thousands of dollars are competed for, and play is usually carried on for a week or ten days. Practically every club, however, conducts what is known as a local bonspiel. In these, everybody in the community is asked to play. A club with a membership of forty active players may hold a bonspiel in which two or three times that number of persons take part. The procedure is as follows: The skips and leads form the

nucleus of one set of rinks, and the thirds and seconds another. They fill in their rinks by adding two nonmembers. An unwritten law in most clubs is that at least one lady shall be on each rink. Other complete rinks are formed by nonmembers who have curled in other years. Everybody is drafted into the ranks, then the fun starts.

Play commences at eight or nine o’clock in the morning, and continues until the wee small hours of the next. The ladies set up a refreshment stand to serve meals, for nobody goes home at mealtime. Everybody in town congregates at the rink, and this state of affairs continues for a week. The old saying. “When business interferes with pleasure, cut out the business,” is put into practical operation. Prayer meeting and choir practice are cancelled, the secretary-treasurer of the town is not in his office, and even the constable is so engrossed with either participating in or watching the games that he forgets to ring the town bell at either noon or six o’clock. The school children get out before four o’clock, for teacher is on a rink and she must powder her nose, get all dolled up in her ski suit and be at the rink on time. (Women wear some of the most outlandish costumes when they curl, although ski suits are the most popular.) If some misguided farmer comes to town with a load of wheat, chances are he will find the elevator doors open but no grain buyer in attendance. Commercial travellers come

to town, but do all their business at the curling rink. Mr. Merchant is sure to be in the thick of it. Little Johnnie, if he is going to be sick, waits until next week, because the doctor cannot curl and attend to many patients. People don’t get married and very few die, because the preacher is also busy at the rink. All in all, it’s a great week in the small towns. Everybody is happy, and everybody forgets the hard times..

Community Spirit

AND what do they play for? Not just the few prizes that are presented to the winners, although no ham tastes as good as one presented as a prize and no necktie looks so natty as the tie that is won by the last rock in the thirteenth end, even though it has been in the merchant’s stock for three years and is out of style. It’s the game itself, with its sociability and fraternalism, along with the community spirit, that brings these people together. It’s the throwing of “stanes” and the wielding of “besoms” mixed in with this sociability and fraternalism. At the curling rink everybody is on an equal footing. Jack is as good as his master and maybe a little better.

Also, in Western Canada, curling is helping to make 100 per cent Canadians out of a very cosmopolitan people. Practically every race and creed is included in our population, and you will find them all represented in the membership of the curling clubs. Did you ever see a Chinese curl? Out here, lots of them do. There used to be an Oriental rink at Wadena, Sask. Four Chinese, all on one rink. I saw them in action at the York ton Bonspiel a few years ago. They always had the opposing rink at a disadvantage, for they discussed all their shots in their own language.

People talk about the great melting pot. The curling game in Western Canada has a lot to do with keeping the mixture stirred up.