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A History of Hosting Womenís Curling

The 2015 Northern Ontario Scotties is very fortunate to have Heather Houston serving as the Chairperson of the organizing committee.  Apart from being a record setting curler in her own right, Heather is very passionate about the history of womenís curling and very respectful of the women of the past who were true trailblazers for the sport. In addition to her many other duties, Heather has also worked hard at gathering and putting together some display boards of photos and newspaper articles celebrating the builders, champions and characters of the game that will be on display at the FWCC during the championship.
While Heather was at the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame working on the display we came across some great items.  One of them was a copy of the Official Programme from the 1969 Canadian Ladiesí Curling Championship that was held at the FWCC forty-five years ago. Reading through the list of names and the schedule of events truly provided a window on the past not only in the world of sports, but on our community in general with many of the facilities, sponsors and traditions no longer a part of our cultural fabric.


Sitting on the Steering Committee, along with the President and Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Ladiesí Curling Association were Eleanor Barbini who served as the eventís General Chairman, Irene Elvish who was the President of the FWLCC and Lila Gray of Port Arthur who served as the General Convener.  The various chairpersons included a venerable whoís who of womenís curling in Fort William, namely Penny Phillips, Muriel Nesbitt, Joyce Bonnett, Jean Cassidy, Vi Kennedy, Bessie Gerry, Marybelle Childs, Mary Anderson, Nancy Coutts, Lillian Childs, Pearl Cadieu and Helen Reith.


The Royal Edward Hotel was the host facility for the event with the team briefing and draw taking place in the Balmoral Room on the Saturday night, followed by a wine and cheese party for the ten competing teams.   Although there has long been a separate Northern Ontario entry in the national menís curling championship, in order for our local women curlers to advance to the national level they have had to beat out teams from all across the province.  The first skip from northern Ontario to win the provincial crown and compete in a national womenís curling championship was June Shaw who led her Kenora Curling Club rinks to the 1966, 1967 and 1969 Ontario titles.  Joining Shaw in Fort William in 1969 as Team Ontario were Shirley Wiebe, Faye Devins and Dorothy (Dot) Holmgren.


Sunday morning began with practice games at the Port Arthur Curling Club and the Port Arthur Golf and Country Club followed by lunches hosted by each club.  Sunday evening the teams all assembled at Wesley United Church for a church service followed by a reception in the church hall hosted by Chapples.


On Monday afternoon the delegates, officials and curlers were paraded from the Royal Edward Hotel to the FWCC as a kick off to the four day competition.  Various lunches and receptions were held throughout the week at such places as the Prince Arthur Hotel and the Holiday Inn and hosted by the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur and the Province of Ontario along with sponsors such as Eatons and Hiram Walker Distillers.


All of the games of the 10 rink round-robin tournament were held at the FWCC and the crowd was provided with some great matches.  In the eighth round the Ontario rink put in a great showing by defeating Alberta 6-5 in an extra end nail-biter that came down to a draw by Shaw for the win.


Heading into the ninth and final round with a 7-1 record the Kenora crew were tied for first place with Saskatchewan. Taking to the ice later that evening the fan favourites faced Joyce McKee and her Saskatoon rink.  After four ends of play Shaw was up 4-1 with McKee answering with single points in the next four ends and Shaw taking a single in the ninth to set up a 5-5 tenth end showdown.  With the advantage of having hammer in the last end Saskatchewan was able to earn a single point resulting in a 6-5 final, with McKee earning her second national title, having skipped Saskatchewan to the inaugural crown back in 1961.  


The fact that the Kenora crew did not claim the national title did not seem to lessen the pride that their hometown felt for what they had accomplished.  The newspaper description of their return home noted that a championís welcome awaited the ladies as they disembarked from the train at the CPR station with the Town Band on hand along with a group of well wishers who all escorted them to the Kenora Curling Club for a reception.


Over the years Northwestern Ontario has produced a number of outstanding female curlers who have represented us with distinction in all levels of play. The 2015 Tbaytel Northern Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts marks a new beginning in the history of womenís curling in Canada.   If you get the chance head down to the Fort William Curling Club to take in some of the action as the newest generation of young female curlers carries on that tradition of excellence.  Good luck and good curling ladies and we look forward to seeing the green and gold of Northern Ontario in Moose Jaw next month.


Until next time keep that sports heritage pride alive.