Pictou Advocate sports

A new elevation for local curling

Sports

When The Chronicle Herald assigned me to open a Pictou County bureau in New Glasgow 60 years ago, my primary mandate was to cover everything newsworthy in the region.

That meant reporting political happenings, police and fire stories, accidents of many types, murders and other crimes, local and Supreme Court trials, car orders for the Trenton plants, as well as increasing efforts to bring a pulp mill to the county.

My instructions were straightforward: Be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and get my stories to Halifax as quickly as possible on that modern but noisy apparatus called a teletype that was set up in my home office.

Simpler put, cover everything.

Funny, though, there was little mention of sports. Yet even before I began school, my biggest interests in life outside the family were hockey, baseball, softball and boxing.

On my own, I made sure those matters got lots of coverage. There was always time to work in anything and everything related to leagues, teams, athletes and people involved in sports activities.

Sports never took a back seat. The rinks in New Glasgow, Stellarton and Pictou; the ball fields in every community, the boxing locations and bowling alleys were my second homes.

But you know what? Until I began my new job in 1959, I had never been inside a curling rink.

Oh, in my growing-up years, I saw the Bluenose Curling Club from the outside almost every day. It was on North Provost Street, right next to my father’s automobile dealership.

It was even part of a scary Sunday afternoon when I was just seven years old — the day a huge fire destroyed the garage and partly damaged one end of the Bluenose building.

It was one of those childhood occasions you remember for a lifetime — the thick black clouds of smoke that I watched from our dining room window, the black ashes that covered Dad from head to foot when he got home many hours later.

You don’t forget those things.

Anyway, a dozen years later, just weeks after I started my 48-year career with the Halifax paper, I learned about curling quickly.

The Nova Scotia Branch Junior curling championship was being held at Bluenose and I managed to be there for hours each day of the event. The Bluenose, Westville and Pictou clubs were among 27 entries that year.

One of my published photos showed the championship silverware being admired by two well-known New Glasgow curlers — Gerry Bauld, president of the Nova Scotia Branch of the Royal Caledonia Curling Club, and R.B. Stewart, Nova Scotia representative to the Dominion Curling Association.

The rink from Sydney, with three brothers in the foursome, went unbeaten through the matches to capture the big prize. Skip Herbie MacNeil, mate Eddie MacNeil and second stone Rod MacNeil, along with lead Joe McVicar, had never curled together before setting their sights on the New Glasgow event.

Myself? I came out of the week with a whole new curling vocabulary — ends, biters and hog lines, blank ends, in-turns and out-turns, drawing weight, guards and hacks, hammers and shot rocks.

I was suddenly keeping watch on the sport, at least locally.

A dominant curler in New Glasgow during my early years with the Herald was Lorne Harris. He had landed in town with the Bank of Commerce in 1950.

Manager of the local branch, Bryce Love, was a very sports-minded man who, among other responsibilities, was president of the Bluenose Curling Club. Soon he recruited Harris to the ice. Lorne caught on rapidly. When I met him, he was already skipping his own rink.

Forty years later, in 1999, I had an afternoon-long interview with Harris, by then a 70-year-old still active in the sport. He wasn’t just another curler. He was arguably the best curler ever at the Bluenose facility.

One of the things that stood out during that lengthy conversation was that Lorne Harris knew how to take the sport seriously, but not at the expense of fun and friends. I wrote two columns from our chat, one entitled, “Gentleman curler.” That’s what he was.

I never curled. I was too busy getting strikes, spares and 100-plus scores at the local bowling alleys.

Nonetheless, I followed Pictou County curling even after I left the area.

The sport remained big on Trenton Road. Then it shifted to Abercrombie, setting up shop with the golfers. After a fire, curling went back to the east side of town.

Next week, the biggest curling spectacle ever in the county will be staged at the Wellness Centre, the first time the sport has been put on display at the seven-year-old facility.

It’s a big event. A very big event.

That’s clearly noted on the Wellness Centre website: “The best curlers in the world are coming to Pictou County.”

Officially it’s Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge, featuring 60 participating teams — 30 men’s, 30 women’s — vying for $300,000 in prize money.

There weren’t rewards like that when Lorne Harris was tossing rocks on Trenton Road.

It’s an event that takes curling to a new elevation in the local region. It’s quite obvious, too, that it’s bringing the sport’s highest quality of competition to Pictou County.

And it’s more than that.

Consider another comment in the press release: “You get to see the sport’s biggest stars, as well as the future stars of the sport.”

That’s quite an achievement for a sport that first came to Pictou County with the Scottish immigrants back as 1830 – almost two centuries ago.

History buffs have told us that the New Glasgow Curling Club was formed way back in 1853. Its name was changed to Bluenose Curling Club in 1869. That’s exactly 150 years ago, making this perfect timing for the Grand Slam headliner.

It’s definitely something that should ignite the interest of all sports-loving Pictonians.