Manitoba History: Review: Morris Mott and John Allardyce, Curling Capital: Winnipeg and the Roarin’ Game 1876 to 1988

by Rodger Guinn

Number 21, Spring 1991

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Morris Mott and John Allardyce, Curling Capital: Winnipeg and the Roarin’ Game 1876 to 1988, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1989. 171 pp., xiii. ISBN 0-88755-145-9.

As I pen this review, Winnipeg is preparing to host the 1991 Men’s and Women’s World Curling Championship. All indications point to the fact that it will be a world class athletic and social occasion. The selection of Winnipeg as host of the World Championship for the second time in thirteen years reflects the prominence that Winnipeg holds as a curling centre. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Canada’s Women’s and Men’s teams in 1991 are not from Winnipeg.

Mott’s and Allardyce’s Curling Capital details through four chronologically based chapters of approximately thirty years each, the emergence and evolution of curling in Winnipeg from its beginnings through to 1988. Their work confirms and documents what most Winnipeg curlers already knew—that Winnipeggers invented, developed, and were the first to excel at the game of curling as we know it today. Competitive curlers across Canada certainly recognize the developmental contributions of Winnipeggers, but they also know that many centres of curling excellence have arisen outside Winnipeg. Increasing evidence suggests that Southern Ontario and Alberta are the hotbeds of competitive curling in Canada today. Winnipeg has not produced a world men’s Curling Champion since Orest Meleschuk eked out a controversial victory in 1972. Mott and Allardyce have documented this rather dramatic decline in Winnipeg’s prominence, but they have not provided any explanation or reasoning for it.

The focus of this somewhat popular history, and the most interesting and valuable portions of it, centre on that period (approximately 1903-1957) when Winnipeggers were the undisputed champions of the game. From a curler’s perspective, I found the references to the various developments in curling technology, equipment, strategy, and mechanics particularly enlightening. The game today is certainly not what it was originally. At the turn of the century, and much later, curlers would be expected to show up at the rink with their own curling rocks, not necessarily the same dimension and weight as those of their team mates. They would have to dress for the elements as artificial ice and heated rinks were a long way off, and they had to be prepared for a long stay as the game could go the regulation 16 or sometimes 21 ends. Most of the significant changes to the game including the sliding delivery, permanent hacks, the 12 foot curling house, painted rings, pebbled ice, “the take out game,” “blank ends” and bonspiels were all introduced and developed by Winnipeg curlers.

The relative prominence of curling in the social fabric of early Winnipeg is also highlighted. Mott and Allardyce draw a convincing thesis surrounding British protestant attitudes, “manly sports” and curling. Curling apparently fit the mold as a manly sport and this, along with Winnipeg’s notoriously long winter, gave rise to the game’s popularity. It was championed early by many influential Winnipeggers including A. G. B. Bannatyne, David Young, Alex Brown of Brown and Rutherford, Colonel W. N. Kennedy, S. L. Bedson, J. P. Robertson and Isaac Pitblado. The annual bonspiel sermons of Rev. Hugh Pedley drew some creative analogies between the game of curling and the “game” of life. Although somewhat humorous today, they reflect the seriousness that curling took on in its glory years in Winnipeg.

The early chapters succeed in capturing the colour and appeal of curling as well as the characters and folklore that make up the game. The references to Dunbar, Cassidy and Gordon Hudson certainly bring out their love for curling. Some of our more contemporary curlers are equally as colourful, but this does not emerge in the later sections of this history. The continuing popularity and attraction of curling is rooted in the game itself and the people who play it. Competition, drama, frustration, victory, flukes, unpredictable and unplayable ice, exhaustion and post game camaraderie are just some of its attributes. I would have liked to see more of this flavour captured throughout their story.

Mott and Allardyce have also carefully documented the individual accomplishments and feats of Winnipeg’s curlers including Brady, Dunbar, Cassidy, Hudson, Pappy Wood, Watson, Welsh, Walsh, Duguid, Meleschuk, Casselman, Pidzarko and Laliberte. For the real stickler for detail, they have also chronicled the development and changing locations of Winnipeg’s numerous curling clubs including incorporation dates, building locations, sheet numbers, affiliations, etc. This increasing pre-occupation with detail and quantification continues in their analysis of MCA Membership patterns, and bonspiel entries. This additional information, although thorough, probably provides little insight for the general reader.

Mott’s and Allardyce’s Curling Capital helps to fill the void in Winnipeg’s social historiography. Curling was undoubtedly a Winnipeg game and it was a pursuit that many Winnipeggers shared, excelled in, and were extremely proud of. Curling enthusiasts will certainly find many parts of the book of great interest, and for social historians not familiar with curling, this history will give them an adequate if not overwhelming introduction. The authors, it appears, have tried to produce a popular yet scholarly history—not an easy combination. The numerous photographs and two column page format produce a journalistic, albeit cumbersome, quality while the fourteen pages of endnotes signify some very thorough research. The sermon extracts of Rev. Hedley, the lyrics of curling songs, and the photos bring a certain life to the book. On the other hand, the restrictive chronological approach, the apparent necessity to capture everything and everyone, especially in the later chapters, detracts from its readability.

All in all, many subscribers to Manitoba History will find Curling Capital an interesting read, particularly the first three chapters that describe the beginning and development of curling in Winnipeg. The later chapters will be of less interest to general readers but will satisfy those individuals genuinely interested in the detailed evolution and organizational development of curling in Winnipeg.

Page revised: 11 April 2010