Glenboro starts ’em young in the back-yard bonspiels and the kids go on to be champs
Glenboro starts ’em young in the back-yard bonspiels and the kids go on to be champs
WE WERE lined up, brooms over our shoulders. This was a very important part of curling, deciding who was going to be who in the back-yard bonspiel.
“I’m Dud Cline,” one kid said. It was his back yard and his rink, so we let him call out first.
“I’m Alf Doig,” I said, fast. Somebody else said he was Bill Thompson, and the grain-elevatorman’s son stood and thought a minute. Then, “I’m Ab Gowanlock,” he said bravely.
Some of the kids laughed. Ab Gowanlock was only about twenty-five or twenty-six then. He was a good curler, sure; but nothing like Dud Cline or Bert flames or the Doig boys, Alf and Reg. Most curlers, we knew, neared their peak around forty. In the curling game Ab Gowanlock was just a youngster. The elevatorman’s son couldn’t have been very sharp that morning. He certainly couldn’t have known that Ab Gowanlock one day would win the Canadian curling championship.
It was Saturday morning in Glenboro, a small town nestling in the then-lush wheatlands along a branch railway line in southwestern Manitoba. A few miles north sprawled the famed Manitoba sandhill belt, a desert in the midst of fertility, threaded by the Assiniboine River and dotted with evergreens.
The town of Glenboro, population between five and six hundred, had then and still has an assortmentof general stores, hardwares, garages, churches, homes, a bank and a rink. Glenboro’s national fame stems from that rink. For through its narrow portals each winter pass the best curlers in the world.
A strong statement? Sure, but there’s plenty of proof in legend, current news and official records. Part of that proof was in Doc Huston’s back yard that Saturday morning, for Glenboro kids have a proud tradition to uphold in curling, and the backyard rinks are where they make their start.
In the Maritimes in winter, men and boys play hockey and skate and snowshoe. In Montreal they ski and play street hockey, and in Toronto they ski and skate and play hockey. The same in Winnipeg, and Regina, and Edmonton. Vancouver skis. But Glenboro? Glenboro curls.
Any winter Saturday morning along Glenboro’s eight streets and two avenues, deserted except for a farmer’s sleigh or two and the odd fast, flashing cutter, you’ll see the strange procession. Boys singly or in groups kick along through the snow and cold with pairs of wooden rocks under their arms— rounds cut from cordwood, up to a foot in diameter and six inches thick. Their bottoms are rounded slightly and driven into their tops are long spikes, bent to form handles.
Crude curling rocks, to be sure, for lads who one day will own the finest granite rocks hard-earned money can buy, the hair-balanced weapons with which they will win the highest curling honors this country can offer. But they don’t mind, knowing from the glowing examples of their fathers and grandfathers that decades, not days, build curlers.
To Glenboro men and women, boys and girls, curling is the greatest game in the world. Like other villages, Glenboro has its prominent citizens. Ministers, doctors, the school principal—all respected men. But in winter the most important man in town, and the most respected by youngsters, is Geordie McConnell, the rink man. Keeping a small-town rink mightn’t look like a full-time job. In that town it is.
Geordie, a small, bustling man, always has another source of livelihood. He may visit his business premises in summer, but certainly never in winter. The rink is practically an empire to him. There he rules, a law unto himself.
Through the years Geordie McConnell has had the honor of putting the run on some great curlers, in embryo, when as small boys will they infringed upon the rights of the seniors. Even Dominionchampionship stalwarts like Ab Gowanlock,Tommy and Bill McKnight, and Bung Cartmell were chased by Geordie with reasonable regularity. Later they became his heroes, returning from far-off curling wars laden with trophies, their wives with clippings from city papers.
^ REATEST moment for Glenboro — and T Geordie—was when Gowanlock and his rink, the McKnights and Bung Cartmell, won the Macdonald Brier tankard and national curling crown in Toronto in 1938.
Glenboro folks knew they would go all the way when they won the tough Manitoba bonspiel in Winnipeg, and started East. Many Glenboro rinks in the past had been as good as the Gowanlock four—rinks skipped by the Doigs, Clines, Bert Harnes and others of that mighty curling generation. But Ab was the only one to go all the way, although as a curler he was a comparative youth.
And curling town came within a couple of dead draws to the button of repeating the next year when a rink skipped by Ross Kennedy—a Glenboro back-yards graduate-skipped a Winnipeg rink through the Manitoba bonspiel and represented the provincein the Dominion final. Kennedy was beaten only in a play-off after a tie in the regular ninegame, round-robin series. But of Canada’s 150,000 curlers, Glenboro had provided the champion and the runner-up in two consecutive years !
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The first great war gave the future Canadian champion, lanky Ab Gowanlock, his first big curling break. For when Ab was thirteen, a kid still on the back-yard rinks, his brother Gordon joined the Army. There had been two great needs for Gordon Gowanlock that winter. His country needed him to fight and Bert Harnes needed him to curl. There was no question of the decision, of course. But the Gowanlocks couldn’t leave Harnes short a curler. So Mrs. Gowanlock decided that if the war had taken Gordon, curling could have Albert. And it did.
She took Ab to see Bert Harnes, then a general store merchant and church official, and Harnes accepted the offer and took little Albert into his rink because there wasn’t anyone else. The curlers allowed the youngster to use both hacks—toeholds cut in the ice used as a brace when delivering a rock—because he couldn’t get enough “git” into his shots by using only one. They also allowed him to project himself flat out on the ice with every shot, because that’s the only way little Ab Gowanlock could get one of those big forty-fivepounders moving. The thrill to Ab, being allowed to play with the men, would be comparable roughly to that of a seventeen-year-old junior hockey player being dropped into a National Hockey league line with Syl Apps and Gordie Drillon. It was big time.
Ab showed promise, yet in 1926 when he had been curling twelve years with the men and was recognized as one of the most brilliant of young curlers, he still wasn’t ranked with the greats of his day—the Doigs and Clines. That’s Glenboro curling.
In 1926 Dud Cline won the grand aggregate at the Winnipeg bonspiel, which made him champion of the biggest bonspiel in the world. As a small boy in that huge—I thought— and excited gathering waiting for the noon train to bring the victor home, it seemed that the ultimate thrill of the whole great world had arrived. There was a band, with storekeepers and farmers manning the instruments, for stores were closed and farms for miles around deserted. When the train pulled in for its oneminute stop on its way West and Dud Cline’s rink stepped down— luggage in one hand and brooms in the other—the biggest cheer the world will ever know rolled out over the snowy Prairie past red grain elevators and bounced back off the scrub poplars of Christie’s Bluff.
As a sports writer in later years I was to meet many city crowds, curling and otherwise, who thought they could cheer. There was the time in 1935 when Winnipeg won the Canadian junior hockey championship against Sudbury Wolves, or when Winnipeg Blue Bombers took Ottawa Rough Riders in the national football final last December in Toronto with twenty thousand people looking on.
Compared with Dud Cline’s homecoming to Glenboro in 1926 that later cheering was a mere murmur. And that same night, home in the Glenboro rink, Dud Cline was having just as strong competition as during his ten days in Winnipeg while he was winning the biggest curling competition in the world against about a thousand curlers. For the little Glenboro rink, with its two stoveheated dressing rooms, its two regular curling sheets—the skating ice converted when necessary into two more —has always been where Glenboro skips meet their toughest opponents.
A LIST of Glenboro wins in only the more important competitions in the Winnipeg ’spiel alone—a ’spiel attended by crack rinks from all the Prairie provinces, the Northern States, and other points as far east as Toronto—offers a fair idea of the town’s curling prowess:
Grand Aggregate (bonspiel championship): Glenboro, five times. Dingwall trophy: Glenboro, four times.
British Consols: Glenboro, once. Sir John C. Eaton: Glenboro, five times.
That list is only of the major wins. In addition, scores of times curlers from this little town edging the sandhills have reached the finals of events won by others. Even Glenboro curlers cannot win all the time— although plenty of curlers have found that hard to prove.
Bonspiel prizes, even aside from those received by the winners of an event, usually are valuable ones— expensive sterling silver, luggage, jewellery. Glenboro homes bristle with trophies and prizes. Housewives in modest circumstances use sterling services which any woman in the country would envy. Glenboro men seldom buy watches—they have a better way. They win them. Anda farmer travelling from the Glenboro district into a nearby city may not wear clothes tailored to a fare-theewell, but his luggage probably will be the finest on the train.
In curling lore, talk-worn histories of games won or lost, anecdotes are legion. But what is perhaps the most unusual curling episode ever encountered by followers of the “besom and stane” anywhere, happened in Glenboro’s little leaky-roofed rink, with its low rafters and standing room only for spectators.
It was during a warm spell, and midway in a club competition. Melting snow and frost dripping daytimes from the roof to the ice had Geordie McConnell in a state of near-desperation. There were bumps on his ice from the dripping, and a big game was in progress. In spite of all his ice-making wizardry, the bumps were getting worse minute by minute and there wasnothingGeordie could do about it.
Billy Thompson, a veteran Glenboro skip, was in a tough spot. It was the last end, and Bill’s opponent had shot-rock behind an unbreakable line of guards. The counting rock was the winning point, because the game was tied on the last end. There was one rock left to be played, Bill Thompson’s last one. The crowd was tense. There was no way that anyone could see for Billy to get that rock out of there and lie to shot himself.
“No possible way, without dropping one from the rafters,” someone grunted.
Bill Thompson was sizing things up, talking it over with the other three members of his rink. Then he called for middle ice. He had decided on the standard desperation shot of curling. Curlers call it “pulling the trigger.” In the crowd there was sudden and complete silence as Bill shuffled along the ice to the other end, took aim at the centre of the guards —and let ’er fly!
The principle of pulling the trigger is that by some freak of fate the rock may blast out the guards and have enough power left to get the shotrock, too. But Bill’s shot didn’t work that way.
Down she came, flopping and hopping over the bumps in the ice. ] The spectators cleared hurriedly ¡ away from the end of the sheet. Over I the hog line careened the cannoning ! block of granite, still right down the middle. Then, a few inches before the key guard, it hit a bump !
The full power of Bill Thompson’s strongest shot was still behind the stone as it rose off that bump like a skier over a jump, cleared the guard, hit the shot-rock and stopped quiverI ing right on the button !
The silence was shattered by a mighty, wordless roar. At the rink’s other end Bill Thompson reached a trembling hand into the pocket of his coat-sweater, drew out a handkerchief, and wiped his brow. Then he started toward the dressing room, smiling shakily.
Planned, that shot? Probably not, although nobody ever was sure. But what did it matter? He had done the j impossible, and that’s what Glenboro j curlers are taught from childhood to do—taught in a hard school under the eyes of a town full of curling experts. Which is perhaps why, in spite of their many successes abroad in this land, Glenboro curlers remain humble.
For on their return from these excursions to national fame, there is always a great chance that some rickety old Glenboro foursome will challenge them to a game and curl them right into Geordie McConnell's nice smooth ice.
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