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The Fort William Curling Club - 100+ years and going strong

Heather Houston - 1988/89For many, the Fort William Curling Club is a symbol for curling in Thunder Bay. Curlers from eight to eighty compete in a variety of leagues on a daily basis, ranging from friendly competition to the highly competitive.  The rich tradition of curling can be seen easily as one observes the banners hanging from the walls, or the trophies proudly displayed in the clubroom and Bar lounge.
However, the Fort William Curling Club existed in several incarnations before finally becoming what is today.  The very first effort to establish a curling club in Fort William dates back to 1891, when a group of local businessmen established the Fort William Curling Company.  They built a two sheet rink that would hold carnivals and other events to generate revenue. This club was snake bit from the outset, suffering a collapsed roof in 1892, eventually burning down as a result of fire from a defective chimney.

On that same day, plans were drawn for a new and improved club, which would open in 1895 with four sheets of ice, expanded clubrooms, and quarters for the club caretaker. Ironically it was in those quarters that another fire started in 1908 again leaving the club in ruins.

Undaunted another rink was built on Leith Street, eventually becoming an impressive seven sheet facility which would often be converted to a hockey rink.  However the ice melted during hockey and the club again met with fire in 1919. Thankfully a new rink was built later that year.

Eventually it was decided that a new arena was to be built, and plans called for the curling clubís property.  A compromise was reached: the curling club would exist in the same building as the Fort William Gardens, paying rent on a yearly basis.  

Curling Rock Float - 1960The new six sheet facility thrived, eventually adding two sheets to make the eight we see today.  Over the years renovations have included a new floor laid over the old ice surface, improvements in the club rooms, moving the offices and modernizing the washrooms. In 2009, an elevator was added to make FWCC the only wheelchair accessible curling Club in Thunder Bay.

The Fort William Curling Club gained national exposure when the Brier came to town in 1960. Although the Brier, which has turned into a cultural phenomenon, has never made its way back, the Curling Club continued to attract large events to Thunder Bay by joining forces with the Fort William Gardens.  Major events included the 1991 National Mixed championship and the 1996 Scott Tournament of Hearts.  The Club again took centre stage when it co-hosted the 2006 Canadian Junior Championships.

Team ScharfThe club also gained notoriety thanks to the success of two of its most famous rinks. The Al Hackner and Heather Houston foursomes won two national titles each in the 1980ís.   Hackner won his first title in 1982, his third consecutive trip to the Brier final, and continued with a win at the Silver Broom (world championship).  Three years later Hackner duplicated those feats defeating Albertaís Pat Ryan in the Brier final with a shot that will surely go down in history as one of the best ever.  Houstonís rink won back to back Scott titles in 1988 & 1989, culminating with a world championship in 1989.  The Jason Repay rink continued the winning tradition in 1991, winning the Canadian Junior Championship.

The Fort William Curling Club continues to produce numerous champions. Krista McCarville's foursome has won Ontario titles in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and represented Ontario at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The team has also qualified for the Olympic Trials. Al Hacknerís team won the 2006 Canadian Senior Menís Championship and went on to win a silver medal at the World Senior Men's Championships. In 2009, Dylan Johnston's team played in the Championship game at the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors.
Black & white Photos courtesy of Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame Archives