Manitoba History: An Interview with C. H. Scrymgeour
by Morris Mott and John Allardyce
In 1988 the Manitoba Curling Association will be one hundred years old, and it will sponsor its one hundredth annual Bonspiel. Curling has long been one of the most popular activities in Manitoba, and Manitobans have excelled in this sport more than in any other.
C. H. “Charlie” Scrymgeour has been involved in curling for more than fifty years. He was a member of the St. John’s Curling Club in the 1930s, before moving to the Strathcona Club. In the ‘30s and ‘40s the Strathcona Club was known as the “Home of Champions,” because between 1928 and 1942 the Club produced six Brier winners. Scrymgeour curled on the Ken Watson team in the early and mid-1940s. During those years he was part of five Grand Aggregate winners at the M. C.A. Bonspiel. He was also part of the 1942 Brier winner, as well as the 1943 rink that would have represented Manitoba at the Brier had wartime travel restrictions not forced cancellation of the event. In the 1950s and 1960s he became a prominent curling administrator. He helped promote and oversee high school curling, and was for many years Secretary of the Canadian Curling Association.
Mr. Scrymgeour lives now in Fort Garry. He was interviewed on June 23, 1987, by Morris Mott, Editor of Manitoba History, and John Allardyce, a graduate student in history at the University of Manitoba who has been both a player and a coach in competitive curling.
M.M. In your time in curling what have been some of the major changes at the club levels in Manitoba, and at the Manitoba Curling Association level?
C.S. Alright. When I first started curling, it was in the St. John’s Curling Club down at the north end of Winnipeg. At that time I was at St. John’s High School. It had a very good school for junior curlers, in that 10 or 12 of the teachers were in themselves fine curlerssomething that you don’t find nowadays. Kelvin had a lot of good curlers in their school and they did the same thing. The school curling in those days was much better organized than it is today, although it was much smaller in size. Another aspect that I am sorry to see over the past few years is the effect that the super leagues are having on club curling. You know what I mean, John. The better rinks may take a membership at a club out of town, some place twenty, thirty, forty miles away, only because they feel it’s an easier club to get a place in the Zones [to qualify for the Consols]. Often they don’t show up for their club games. Well, this is unfortunate but it happens. Of course competitive curlers sometimes get bored with club games in any case. Barry Fry of Deer Lodge in the past has had maybe seven men on his rink to try to avoid this, so that somebody would come out and play the club games, because the opponent wants to play. You’ve still got a game and if you win you beat Barry Fry. But to go out and the “name” rink doesn’t show up, that’s not right.
M.M. O.K. What about the Association itself, the Manitoba Curling Association? What’s your impression, for example, of the relationship within the Association between the rural rinks and the urban rinks at this point in time, and how it compares to what it has been over the years?
C.S. I think that right now there is a good Association. I know I’ve been out the last few years to semi-annual meetings in the country and there was quite a good representation from the surrounding towns at these meetings. However, there wasn’t quite the representation from the Winnipeg clubs going out [as they would like].
M.M. What about the annual MCA Bonspiel? In the earlier Bonspiels, when you first started in the 30s or 40s, was there a higher percentage of serious rinks than is the case now, or am I just reading something into this? In other words is there more of a recreational or party aspect to it now?
C.S. Well I don’t know if I’d call it a party aspect or not. I do know that back in those days we never had a club snake room but we really never needed one.
M.M. Snake room?
C.S. You know a reception room. Quite a few clubs have a suite in a hotel and in between games you go and have a little refresher. Not a bad idea and it gets the members together.
J.A. Even watch a little movie or whatever happens to be shown.
C.S. Back in the old days, we never had anything like that. There weren’t many cars, for one thing. Most people travelled back and forth on street cars in those days. My father never owned a car unti11940, and he was in the Bonspiel for fifteen years before that and I’m sure he wasn’t always getting a ride with the neighbour. And, remember, we played twelve end games in those days. And you could be drawn four or five times a day. Just ask Jimmy Welsh [see below]. Lots of times he was drawn for more than twenty-five games in a Bonspiel. In fact, one year I think he won about 30 games [it was 1937]. You could go four or five days in a row, four games a day, easily. That’s a lot of curling. You didn’t feel much like partying after that.
M.M. One of the things that fascinates me about Manitoba curling is that, after the Brier started in ‘27, for the next thirty years Manitoba rinks won over half the Briers. Why do you think the Manitoba rinks dominated so much in those years as opposed to the prairie rinks? I could understand the prairie rinks over the Eastern rinks, but why the Manitobans in particular as opposed to those from Alberta or Saskatchewan?
C.S. One of the things might be that back in the early days there was more curling here in Manitoba before it grew in the west. They had a strong league at Strathcona, the Granite and Thistle were strong clubs. Manitoba just had more curlers, they played more seriously, they had the Bonspiel, and they had a lot of inter-club curling so they were getting a lot of competition here. I know even in my day in the early ‘40s we used to consider the A group in Strathcona tougher than the Bonspiel. Because we had [Ken] Watson, we had [Ross] Kennedy, we had [R.J.] Gourley, we had [Al] Wakefield, we had the Wise brothers and Leo Johnson, and of course not only Gordon Hudson, but Cliff Hudson. The competition was tough! Also, I think the style of curling had quite a lot to do with Manitoba’s prominence, or the West’s prominence, compared to the East. In the East they didn’t believe in taking out rocks, it was just draw, draw, draw. To provide an example, we took some kids down East for one of the first school competitions we had, and on the way back we stopped in at Montreal and the kids were invited over to the Royal Montreal Curling Club, which was an irons club. Their rocks were irons. They had these kids from Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan there and they said, “well, try the irons.” Sure, they went out there and threw a few irons, everything went along very nicely until suddenly some kid from the West decided he better clean out some rocks. He didn’t crack the ice or anything but he fired that rock, and boom, boom. There were rocks all over the place and the manager came walking out and said “Maybe you boys have had enough. You go inside and have something to eat now.” They [Easterners] weren’t used to it. You know, draw, draw. They played it to perfection. Like the way the French and the Italians and some of those teams even play right now in the Silver Broom.
M.M. What about those top curlers from 40 or 50 years ago, the people who made Manitoba the most renowned curling province of all, could you identify something that strikes you about their personality or their style of play? Gordon Hudson, is there anything that really comes to mind about him?
C.S. Yes, Gordon Hudson was probably one of the finest men that ever set foot on the ice. I used to, even in Strathcona when I was playing with Ken, on a few occasions, talk to Gordon, and say “if your lead or second can’t play some night I don’t mind subbing. I’d like to play.” I did, I played a few games with Gordon. He was the easiest skip to play for. He was one of those men that, I don’t know, I think that he could get the very best out of anybody. In hockey, there are some coaches that know how to get the best out of you. Gordon had that knack. I enjoyed playing with him, it was a pleasure. Quiet, soft spoken and he spent time with you.
M.M. What about R.J. Gourley?
C.S. I didn’t know Gourley too well, he was a bit older. What comes to mind for me about Gourley is that he represented Manitoba in the Brier and won it in the same year  as he was President of the Manitoba Curling Association, which I think is the only time that has happened.
M.M. What about Ab Gowanlock, what strikes you about him? And the whole Gowanlock rink, well there were two Brier championship rinks?
C.S. There were two different rinks, yes. There was one, the second one he went with from Dauphin, to the 1953 Brier, it had [Jim] Williams on it and Art Pollon and I forget who the fourth member of the rink was. [It was Russ Jackman]. Williams on this second rink was a very quiet fellow, a very fine shot maker as a third, quite different to Bung Cartmell [from the Glenboro rinks]. Bung was right in the middle of the party all the time and of course threw the high hard ones which everybody knew about. The two McKnight boys [on the Glenboro teams] were very consistent. You wouldn’t be able to find a more solid front end. Both rinks were effective but I guess I enjoyed Glenboro more because I knew the rink.
M.M. It strikes me that Gowanlock had about as popular a rink in Winnipeg as anybody did. In other words people were very happy to see him win, not that they were cheering against others, but the city people were glad to see Gowanlock do well. I don’t know if that strikes you as valid.
C.S. It does. I’ll tell you there was a bit of a reason for this. Of course, everybody liked Ab, and when he won the first time [in 1938] part of the reason people were so happy was because about three years previously he had lost the Consols final to Roy Pritchard of Killarney. And, nothing against Roy Pritchard, but it was a case of last rock coming home and there was very little chance, and it was a kind of a Hail Mary shot and just throw it and pray for the best. My God, he ended up shot, you know. It was a bit of a surprise, and Pritchard and George Ellis [Pritchard’s third] were very fine chaps but it was just that the outcome was so surprising that when Gowanlock’s turn did come three years later it was well deserved.
M.M. Leo Johnson?
C.S. Again a club mate of ours, we played against him lots of times. When you played Leo Johnson, if his hitting was on, you got cleaned. If his hitting was off, and our drawing was on, we had the edge.
M.M. So he relied on hitting?
C.S. Yes. He played a very confident type of game. Very, very confident type of game. And when he did win it was usually when he was playing the knock-outs. And it is unfortunate that a couple of times, on one occasion in a Brier in 1946 in Saskatoon, Leo gave the impression to some people that he was kind of an arrogant type of fellow, which he wasn’t. He was a good clubmate and a good friend.
M.M. What about Jimmy Welsh?
C.S. Jimmy and Alex [his brother, who played third], they grew up in Deer Lodge, they played there. They had a very fine fellow playing with them earlier, a tall skinny guyHughie MacDonald I think the name was. And they played for a guy called Mac Douglas and went to the Brier once in 1933]. And then they formed their own rink and they got Harry Monk and Jock Reid and of course they stayed together for years. Jimmy was very quiet. He and Alex, they understood each other beautifully, and when Alex was going to throw, he’d be down at the other end, he didn’t talk it over with Jimmy. Jimmy and Alex might pass on the ice, they didn’t speak. And sometimes, Jimmy didn’t even bother coming back, [to the house] you know [to talk things over]. They just understood each other and they were great. Jimmy had a unique delivery. He kind of flicked the rock and you couldn’t take the same ice as he did.
M.M. Is that right?
C.S. You couldn’t take the same ice as Jimmy, he had a little flick when he threw it. His rock acted differently.
M.M. What about Howard Wood?
Could you say about him that he was a player who got better as he got older?
C.S. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I know in years when we played, at least in the ‘40s, he had his sons with him. And he played his own game. He didn’t seem to care where the broom was held, he just knew where he was going to throw it and he didn’t really see the broom. I’m quite sure he didn’t rely on the broom.
M.M. Was his a quiet style of play?
C.S. Yes. He was a beautiful curler. You never realized how nice his game was, until you realized you were in a hell of a hole! Oh yes. He would be playing shots and you’d wonder “why is he playing this, why is he playing that, why isn’t he taking out my shot rock,” and then suddenly you missed a shot and he’s picking up four.
M.M. Then, what about the two Watson brothers. What should Manitobans know about Ken and Grant Watson?
C.S. Two very fine curlers. Both partially deaf, both had been school teachers, neither could get a permanent certificate because of their deafness and that’s why Ken went into insurance and Grant went into Investor’s Syndicate. Ken was a fine skip. He had the knack of being able to throw the last rock. There’s something extra needed when you throw that last rock. You suddenly realize that if I blow it the other guy gets four. And Ken was very, very unique that way. Grant was maybe a better strategist than Ken. And Grant had the knack of being able, later on in the game to remember what had happened to a shot in a part of the ice where no one had played for awhile. But he was a strong believer that when you’re out playing a game of curling, the world is one foot outside the rings, and the front’s a whole sheet long and you don’t know what’s going on that way or this way or up in the crowd. Maybe that was the advantage of being deaf. He paid no attention to anything but the game. He was in a little world of his own. The more difficult the shot the better he liked it. A real money player.
M.M. The other thing about Ken Watson that strikes me as interesting is his book, Ken Watson on Curling. Evidently it sold 150,000 copies. What did serious curlers think about it?
C.S. We looked upon it as a real good book. It just took the basics of the game and interpreted them on how to throw a rock, some of the strategies, some of the sweeping. Unfortunately when people are writing books on some of the sports now, they’re getting into the very fine, fine points of the game. The same thing is happening now in golf. Back in the old days there wasn’t as much to delve into, it seemed, so you could be very basic and uncomplicated.
M.M. I’m a little surprised at the way people referred to his delivery. Was it that distinct a delivery at the time, did he have really a much different delivery, a much longer slide than other people had in the 40s?
C.S. Well yes, we did have. [Watson’s whole rink]. As a matter of fact when we went to a Brier in Quebec City [in 1942], they had, at one of the banquets, a French Senator speaking. He was a very, very nice gentleman. We went down there as the “sliding Watsons.” We just wore toe rubbers and slipped off one of them. And it was nothing to go out to the hog line, especially for Grant because he had such a high back swing. So we were called the “sliding Watsons.” Except to this dear old Senator we were the “slippery Watsons.”
M.M. What are some of the positive developments in the national scene that you’ve seen and then what are some of the problems that you think have to be overcome?
C.S. One of the more positive things, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, is that, whereas in its infancy they ran into a lot of problems in this coaching business, through it they have developed a system that teaches kids to curl correctly. I was fortunate, in that my father was a nice curler and I curled with him. But I’ve seen people from the old days trying to start curling and somebody says, “You sit here and you take this and you throw towards that broom, and if he holds this hand out you throw this way and if he holds that hand out you throw that way. Then, to learn how to sweep, just watch the other guys.” The young curlers have become very, very strong now. Whether they enjoy it as much as we did, I don’t know. Maybe they are trying to be too perfect.
M.M. Maybe the players are too good for the game? There is so much good coaching out there, that a much larger percentage of people are good at it now and the players in a way have passed the game by. You watch it on televisionthe Brier or the British Consols, it’s pretty hard to find a blown shot.
C.S. I’ve been to a fair amount of playdowns, especially the Consol playdowns or even the zone playdowns here and I’m amazed at some of the nice shots that I see. I saw Jeff Stoughton play Vic Peters last year. I felt sorry for Stoughton because he played a real nice game and he lost the game by just the barest of rubs. I saw a PWA game [Pacific Western Airlines tournament] a few years ago, Mark Olson against Johnny Bubbs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mark play a better game. He was deadly. But Bubbs was just a little better. We never had that good shot making in our games, partly because we weren’t playing with as perfect ice and those perfect rocks.
J.A. Why did Manitobans lose their early dominance in the game? I was wondering if that would have anything to do with a lot more artificial ice, better sliding materials, systematic teaching, so that younger curlers could now learn the game quickly and become efficient, whereas perhaps before you had to be more of a veteran to understand it and to play it well. Do you think the rest of the country caught up to us because of this?
C.S. I don’t know if they caught up to us because of that or whether they just decided they had to do something about their game to catch up to us and started putting more effort into it.
M.M. What do you think the state of the game is here in Manitoba in the mid 1980s? What do you feel are some of the strengths and weaknesses of it, and what do you feel the future holds for it?
C.S. I think that the game is in very good shape right now because we’ve got good competition, good curlers and the Bonspiel is still the Bonspiel. I think you may have 20% competitive curlers in it [the Bonspiel] that are really hoping to do something and, you know, the other 80% aren’t just in for a party but they’re in for the sake of enjoying the game. I followed a rink this past year that came from Minneapolis because I know one of the boys. They got into Springfield one game and West Kildonan another. They had a wonderful time. Sure they belong to a big fancy pretentious club in Minneapolis-St. Paul, it’s quite a club, I think it’s the only club. But the point is they enjoyed coming up here for the sake of playing on a different kind of ice and under different conditions, not playing the same people every day in their own Club, but meeting strangers. They very seldom ran into a rink where they knew anybody, and that’s what the Bonspiel is, it brings curlers together. There are a lot of people I know that are going in next year, just for the sake of saying they’ve been in it. And just for the people they meet.
M.M. About 1200 rinks, they’re talking about.
C.S. Well sure, they want it to be over the thousand and I know that the people working on the draw are trying to have all the curlers enjoy themselves. The party type and the serious curlers.
M.M. Is there any reason to think that curling will be a major television sport in the future?
C.S. I enjoy some of the curling that’s on television. Unfortunately what I do, and I’m sorry to say that I do, is often turn off the sound. I’m sorry but I just can’t take a commentator telling me that the guy throwing the rock is going to do this, he’s going to do that, he’s going to play this, and then suddenly, when the rock goes somewhere else, “Oh, I guess he played another shot.” I like to just watch the game. Leave it alone. But unfortunately that just doesn’t apply to curling. If you watch baseball there’s always some-one telling you how the pitcher is going to throw or what the batter is looking for.
M.M. To me, one of the great innovations in sport in recent years has been to put live microphones on athletes while they’re competing. How do the curlers react to microphones on the ice?
C.S. I’m afraid I wouldn’t wear a microphone on the ice. To be fair to the person wearing it, because you can’t help but know it’s there. Maybe what they should be doing is like they do on some of these talk shows where there’s a three second delay so they can wipe out any swearing. In all fairness. And I think people have refused to wear them.
J.A. Yes, but there is definitely pressure to wear it. You’re really letting the television people down if you don’t wear it. That’s what Garry DeBlonde says.
C.S. I don’t really care what Garry says in this respect, I don’t think you’re letting anybody down.
M.M. What’s Garry DeBlonde’s role in this?
J.A. Well, Garry is often the chief umpire, he oversees the whole game. And to promote the games he wants the mikes. He can’t make you wear them, but probably you’re not, as a first time curler at a championship, going to buck the system.
C.S. The first I ever heard of anybody with a mike on was [Orest] Meleschuk, and this was back a long time when CBC, every Saturday, used to have that weekly game on. And they came up with this challenge game and Vera Pezer from Saskatoon was to play Meleschuk. Sort of a Battle of the Sexes. Meleschuk won this CBC event on Friday night. He and his boys kind of partied up later that night, and in the meantime he is scheduled for the challenge game against Pezer at 9 o’clock the next morning. It wasn’t really fair to him. He put this mike on and she called a shot where she had to wind around a guard, and he said “she can’t make that God damn shot.” Well, she made it. But the thing is the mike can embarrass people. Meleschuk wouldn’t mind, though.
M.M. What else should Manitobans know about their curlers?
C.S. Well, there have been in Manitoba a lot of fine men in the past that have contributed greatly to the Dominion Association and the national competitions. And they worked hard and they have taken a lot of abuse over it. Senator John T. Haig was one of the original trustees of the Brier. George Cameron of course was the founder of the Brier. Gordon Hudson, and John Dutton, brother of “Red” Dutton, the hockey player, worked hard and spent a lot of their own money and time on curling. Ken Watson worked with the Juniors and, I won’t go any further on this, but he really started the Scotch Cup. Bill Lumsden was a hard worker as President of the Manitoba Curling Association and then the Dominion Association. He travelled thousands of miles. He wasn’t just a figurehead. Cece Watt, also a Canadian Curling Association President, and Bob Picken. They’ve done a lot for curling. Manitobans have been very active in promoting curling across the country and around the world.
Page revised: 16 October 2016