While some families can document the arrival of fall without the aid of a calendar because certain members of the family disappear into man caves to binge-watch football and hockey, there’s still one seasonal sport that seems to invite participation from all ages and genders.
Simply stepping inside a local curling rink can be enough to understand the magnetic attraction of an activity that, originating in medieval Scotland, is often described as a form of shuffleboard on ice. When curlers gather, it feels more like a community dinner than a brewing adversarial battle. Even during times of intense competition, everyone from the thrower (who delivers rocks down the ice) to the skip (team captain) and sweepers (who feverishly push little brooms to encourage the rock to find a home within a series of concentric circles) tend to wear grins of satisfaction and enjoyment.
While curling offers a non-contact sport that is accessible to an older demographic, it also generates remarkable community health benefits, especially for rural women. A 2013 academic study led by Western University’s Dr. Beverly Leipert found that curling fosters “a sense of family inclusion and community,” while contributing to the pride, self-esteem and self-confidence of women aged 12 to 75.
Those findings were certainly confirmed as local curling clubs opened their doors this fall. It was not uncommon to see women taking the lead in providing instruction on the sport’s finer points, as veteran players came together with newcomers to begin a new season of an ancient sport.
At the Smiths Falls curling club’s open house, held just after Thanksgiving, Agnes McVeety was one of the first on the ice, helping a new group find their feet while learning how best to maneuver their brooms.
“I love the people here, they’re lifelong friends,” said McVeety, a retired teacher who moved to the area with her husband and fellow curler, Jim, in 1980. “You learn the basic skills, you learn more about the strategy, and pretty soon you’re out there enjoying the competition with something that’s a real team sport.”
Her husband Jim agrees, declaring that “you can make it whatever you want, from just for fun to competitive. It’s a sport where you get really focused, and if you just moved to town, it’s also a great chance to meet a lot of folks. We were new in town when we started, and we’ve met hundreds of people from here.”
Curling clubs tend to enjoy an uptick in membership during national competitions for men (the Brier) and women (Scotties Tournament of Hearts), as well as during the Olympics. The Smiths Falls club is always prepared for newcomers with its “learn to curl” program, a series of 10 skills-building lessons that prepares participants for competition with men’s women’s, mixed, and junior leagues. Perth also offers learn to curl sessions.
Donna Hurtubise is a Perth curler who played while growing up on the prairies, returning to the ice (also known as the sheet) six years ago at the invitation of a friend. Hurtubise agreed to play as long as her friend would try golf, and the two now play both sports together.
“It’s a sport of finesse, and while the ladies don’t make the monster take-out shots some men can, ladies can still compete fairly evenly, especially at the club level,” says Hurtubise, who prefers to play in mixed groups.
“I was drawn by the social aspect,” she adds. “It’s one of the few sports that starts and ends with a handshake, followed by drinks. What’s not to like?”
Those interested in trying their hand at curling, as well as those returning to the sport after a hiatus, can visit www.trycurlingnow.ca, enter their location, and find the nearest club.