Some historians have suggested, without documentation, that curling began on the North American continent among Scottish soldiers during the Seven Years' War of 1756-63. Curling certainly occurred informally before 1800, until a group of Scots who were identified chiefly with the fur trade formed the Montréal Curling Club in 1807, described as the first sports club in Canada. Other Scots formed clubs in Kingston (1820), Québec (1821) and Halifax (1824-25). These pioneering enthusiasts experimented with local "stones" made of iron or maple, as well as imported stones from Scotland.
By 1839, when more clubs had been formed, locally made granite curling stones were being advertised in Toronto at $8 a pair. A year later the first book on curling in Canada was published - James Bicket's The Canadian Curler's Manual. Intercity matches began in 1835, interprovincial ones in 1858, and in 1865 the first international bonspiel was held between American and Canadian clubs at Buffalo, New York. Much of this progress was aided by the long, cold winters and the availability of innumerable lakes and rivers, ensuring abundant and safe ice on which to enjoy curling. Indeed, these conditions surpassed even those in Scotland, an unusual occurrence for a transplanted sport. In fact, it was often too cold to participate outdoors, and curling fanatics took their sport indoors; members of the Montréal Curling Club were likely the first to do this in 1837. The neighbouring Thistle Club constructed an enclosed rink 7 years later. By 1859 Toronto had its first indoor facility, and soon indoor curling rinks became common across Canada. During the 1880s and 1890s, until ice HOCKEY arenas were created, these rinks were being used by many fledgling ice-hockey teams. By 1910 almost every town in the West had an arena, and Winnipeg was the acknowledged curling centre of Canada. In 1950 it had more curling clubs than Montréal and Toronto combined; and Manitoba had more clubs than Ontario and Québec. The Flin Flon club was the largest in the world, with more than 50 rinks.
Despite the dominating Scottish influence, other nationalities participated from an early date. Because a Canadian-born curler, William Reynolds, had won the Denham Medal in 1843, a Toronto newspaper claimed: "Curling may now be considered in this Province a Canadian rather than a Scottish game." Similar sentiments were expressed in Québec in 1861 when a French Canadian (Benjamin Rousseau) won a gold medal in curling competition. And the progress of non-Scottish teams (often called "barbarians") against Scottish-born teams was keenly reported. Perhaps on occasion the native-born were motivated toward success against the socially superior and influential Scots. But sporting rivalries were usually well controlled by the etiquette and code of conduct expected of curlers and the democratic traditions associated with the sport.
Since the earl of DALHOUSIE was reported as a member of the Québec City Curling Club in 1828, the sport has never lacked for famous figures within its ranks. Naturally, many of these powerful men - such as Sir John A. Macdonald, Lord Aberdeen and Lord Strathcona - were Scots pursuing an ethnic interest. The vice-regal support of the governors general was especially significant. Lord DUFFERIN (1872-78) was an ardent proponent and had a rink built at his own expense at his official residence, Rideau Hall. In 1875 he instituted the Governor General's Prize, one of Canada's coveted curling trophies. His successors also sponsored the sport, adding to its prestige. Another stimulus to the sport was provided when at last a Scottish curling team toured Canada (1902-03), captained by the Reverend John Kerr. The team played matches in 11 cities from Halifax to Winnipeg, then visited 6 American cities. The Scots lost more matches than they won and returned home tremendously impressed with the status and progress of curling in the Dominion. When a Canadian team first toured Scotland in 1908, it won 23 of 26 matches, including 3 international contests for the Strathcona Cup.
The copious quantities of whisky said to be consumed at bonspiels apparently delayed the participation of women in curling, but in 1894 the first ladies' curling club was formed in Montréal. Before 1900 there were several women's clubs in eastern and western Canada, and curling was soon established as a sport for both sexes and almost all ages.
A Dominion championship competition was inaugurated in 1927, sponsored by the W.D. Macdonald Co, for a trophy known as the BRIER. This annual event gave curling a significant impetus and became one of the most prestigious trophies in Canadian sport. The Dominion Curling Association (renamed the Canadian Curling Association in 1968) was formed in 1935. During the 1940s, outdoor curling with cement-filled jam tins became a craze across the Prairie provinces; the first "Carspiel" was held at Nipawin, Saskatchewan, in 1947, with 4 Hudson sedans valued at $2200 each as prizes; and in 1949, Ken WATSON of Manitoba became the first curler to win the Brier 3 times. Ten years later Ernie RICHARDSON from Stoughton, Saskatchewan, formed the famous Richardson Rink in Regina, Saskatchewan, which went on to win 4 Briers in 5 years, together with many other titles, trophies and "cash bonspiels." Two other curlers, both from Alberta, also were 3-time Brier winners: Matt Baldwin (1954, 1957 and 1958) and Ron NORTHCOTT (1966, 1968 and 1969). In 1980, under the new sponsorship of Labatts, the format of Brier competition was changed to include semifinals and a final after the round robin.
Other curling competitions held in Canada include championships for Canadian Schoolboys (first held in 1950); Canadian Ladies (first Nationals in 1961, after formation of the Canadian Ladies' Curling Association in 1960); National Mixed (2 men and 2 women, established 1964); National Seniors (1965); Canadian Junior Girls (1971); and the Canadian Senior Ladies (55 and over, in 1973).
The winner of the Brier traditionally represents Canada in international competition for the World Curling Championship. The Scotch Cup competition began in 1959 between Canada and Scotland, sponsored by the Scotch Whiskey Association, and grew to a world championship among 10 nations. In 1968, Air Canada took over this sponsorship for a trophy known as the Silver Broom, and the first new world curling championship took place that year in Montréal. This was won by the Ron Northcott Rink from Canada, which won it again the following year at Perth, Scotland. In fact, Canada was victorious at the first 5 Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championships: the Don Duguid Rink won in 1970 at Utica, NY, and repeated its success at Megève, France, in 1971; the Orest Meleschuk Rink came first at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany, in 1972.
Canada did not win again for 7 years. The US won 3 times in this period, Sweden twice, and other victories were gained by Switzerland and Norway. However, Canadian dominance was restored in the 1980s with 6 victories: Rick Folk at Moncton, NB, in 1980; Al Hackner in 1982 and 1985 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany, and Glasgow, Scotland, respectively; Ed Werenich in 1983 and 1990; Russ Howard in 1987; and Pat Ryan in 1989. In 1991 Safeway took over as sponsor of the world championships.
Another important national curling competition, the Canadian Mixed Curling Championship, was won by Sean Grassie's rink from Manitoba in 2009, but no one province has dominated the competition since its inception in 1964. Several Canadians have also won the World Junior Curling Championship, including 2-time winner Paul Gowsell of Alberta, who was the first Canadian to use the push broom (instead of the traditional "corn" broom) in international competition. Two other major innovations in the sport occurred during the 1980s. Time limits of one hour per team to throw all their rocks and a "free guard zone" or the "Moncton Rule" were introduced to the game to put more rocks in play and eliminate the visually boring but technically difficult peel game. The first major international tournament that used this rule was the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, where curling was a demonstration sport. Linda Moore and her rink won the women's gold medal and Ed Lukowich the men's bronze. Julie Sutton won the bronze in the 1992 Olympics and Kevin Martin finished fourth. In 1998 at Nagano, Japan, the sport was for the first time an official Olympic event. Though the Canadian men's team led by Mike Harris settled for silver, Sandra SCHMIRLER's team from Regina captured the first women's Olympic gold medal in curling.
There has been some debate about when curling became an Olympic sport. In 2006, the International Olympic Committee determined that curling debuted at the first winter Olympic Games in 1924. Thus, the British are now considered the first Olympic curling champions because of their 1924 win. After the 1924 Games curling was a demonstration sport at the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, and then returned as a demonstration sport to the 1988 games.
The men's competition at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City was a battle between Canada, Norway and Switzerland. These well-matched teams played intense and close games, resulting in Norway taking the gold medal after a hard-fought game against Canada. The Canadians won the silver medal and the Swiss the bronze. The Canadian women won the bronze medal. At the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy the Canadian men's curling team won the gold and the women's team again won the bronze.
Canadian curlers enjoyed success once again at the 2010 Vancouver Games, rarely losing round-robin competition leading up to the gold medal matches. The Canadian men, led by Kevin Martin and consisting of John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, won a second consecutive Olympic gold. The team, undefeated in round-robin play, proceeded to the final match where they defeated Norway 6-3. The women's team, led by Cheryl Bernard and consisting of Susan O'Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire, Cori Bartel and Kristie Moore, were edged out by Sweden (6-7) and won silver.
Although Canadian successes in world competition have been harder won in recent years owing to the improvement in the calibre of curling in other nations, Canada still remains the major home of the sport. The Scottish bagpipes always heard at the hundreds of curling bonspiels held across the country are the most obvious symbolic reminder of its illustrious heritage.
Author GERALD REDMOND Revised: PATRICIA G. BAILEY
W.A. Creelman, Curling: Past and Present (1950); Perry Lefko, Shannon England, The Queen of Curling: The Sandra Schmirler Story (2000); Gerald Redmond, The Sporting Scots of Nineteenth-Century Canada (1982); D.B. Smith, Curling: An Illustrated History (1981).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Curling Association
See the latest news about this popular sport from the website for the Canadian Curling Association. Click on "History" for a historical overview and archived results of past championships.
Women in Canadian Sport
This series of biographies of outstanding Canadian women athletes is part of the Celebrating Women’s Achievements series from Library and Archives Canada. Also includes teaching guides and references.
Canadian Olympic Team
See profiles of your favourite Canadian Olympic athletes as well as results and reports from previous Olympic Games. Click on "About" for details on the Canadian Olympic School Program and Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame. From the Canadian Olympic Committee.
The "Canadian Olympians" website offers a searchable images database of Canadian athletes at the Olympics, from the early 1900s through 2002. From Library and Archives Canada.
Internet Curling Club
Learn about the sport of curling and play virtual curling games at this Internet Curling Club website. Also, check out the current events listing.
Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada
Bonspiel! explores the history and cultural impact of curling from the sport's mysterious 16th-century origins to the present day. From Library and Archives Canada.
Check out the sportsnet.ca website for the latest sports news and videos.
Sheet Music From Canada's Past: Winter
Scroll down the page to view a selection of finely illustrated covers of sheet music published in Canada prior to 1921 (click on the images for larger views). Check the menu on the left for links to audio clips and additional information about this Library and Archives Canada collection.
A listing of previous Canadian curling champions from Curl Manitoba.
A history of the Canadian junior men’s curling championship, which started out as the Dominion Curling Association's national schoolboys championship. See the "History of the Juniors" links on the right side of the page for archived results of past competitions.