Thursday, December 4, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Official Battle Cry of The Detroit Curling Club is...

..."Scots Wha Hae" and it is the name of The Club's newsletter.

Scots Wha Hae (English: Scots, Who Have) is a patriotic song of Scotland which served for centuries as an unofficial national anthem of the country.  The lyrics were written by Robert Burns in 1793, in the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Scotland maintained its sovereignty from the Kingdom of England.   (Think of Mel Gibson in Braveheart).

English translation
'Scots, who have with Wallace bled,
Scots, whom Bruce has often led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victory.

'Now is the day, and now is the hour:
See the front of battle lower (threaten),
See approach proud Edward's power -
Chains and slavery…. 

(Ed Note:  you can find the rest of the lyrics on-line)…  
You can also listen and read along on YouTube. 

The oldest issue of The Club’s newsletter (December 1934) in our records does not use this quote.  The second oldest issue in our archives is dated January 14, 1936, Vol. 3, No. 3.  The masthead reads:

Official Battle Cry of
The Detroit Curling Club

The font size and style changed a few times over the years, but this remained the masthead on the newsletter until January 1963.  We have never found a reference as to why it was used.  But we assume that with so many ‘Scotchmen’ in The Club in the early years that something that was considered a patriotic song of Scotland would be adopted by The Club’s membership.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Some Old Stones

This week’s article has nothing to do with curling in The Motor City.  I would like to share the story of a couple of curling stones in my collection.

Weight 39 pounds, 10 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall.  They are single soled with a flat running surface.  The drawer-pull or looped handles are brass, as is the identification tag under the handle.  The tags read: 

Presented to James Boyd Esq.  Dunblane Feb 3rd 1845”.

Years ago I contacted the Dunblane CC in Scotland.  They confirmed that James Boyd had been a member in the 1840’s and that he had served has their representative to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.  This year I contacted Bob Cowan (co-author of:  The Curling History Blog – click here).  He supplied the newspaper article shown below.

I found them in an old barn of an antique dealer south of Indianapolis.  I paid $100 for the pair in about 1985.  1854 to 1985 – 131 years!  I wondered where else they stopped along their journey.   

Good curling, Angus

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We Got Mail

Dear editor,

Since I enjoy reading the articles about curling history, I read the article "Curling in the USA before 1832" with great interest. The article mentioned that "... the Orchard Lake Curling Club was declared the first in the USA." And later, "Sorry, Orchard Lake CC, you lose your title." The documentation presented indicated that curling took place in New York before 1832, but it did not indicate that there was an organized curling club before the Orchard Lake club. This could explain the apparent contradiction in Mr. David Foulis declaring the Orchard Lake Curling Club the first club while still mentioning that curling took place earlier elsewhere.  

Thank you for the note, Joel.  We are very happy that people
 are reading these little articles. 

You raise a good question about our conclusion that the Orchard Lake Club is not the "Mither Club" of organized curling clubs in the USA. You're right in that there's no definitive proof of an earlier curling club.   It is all but certain, however, there was curling in New York before 1832.  Furthermore, it's likely that the Dutch were curling in New Amsterdam, even before the Scots arrived.

As to whether any of this curling was under the auspices of an organized club, the St. Andrews Society of New York (founded in 1756) would assuredly qualify. There's reasonable evidence that curling was a regular, if infrequent, part of the club's offerings and its members' lives.

Lang may yir lum reek,

Angus MacTavish
Peter Dow curling on Orchard Lake.  Circa 1915.  Note the small stones.  Perhaps they are "irons. 

Detroit Curling Club members demonstrate curling on Orchard Lake in 1975.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Curling in the USA before 1832

Last week we established who, how and when the Orchard Lake Curling Club was declared the first in the USA.  This week we will discuss curling in the USA before 1832.

1892  New York Times article on January 25, 1892:  “Away back in the colonial days one reads of curling as being quite a popular sport during the Winter, and history states that about a century ago some Scotsmen of New York used to curl on “rinks” on the two ponds near the city in what is now known as “the swamp”, or leather region, and between the rope walk and the Boston highway (ed. Note:  now called Broadway), or in the centre of the present Sixth Ward (ed. note:  Five Points).”

1895 New York Times article on November 17, 1895:  “Curling used to be played in this city, seventy-five years ago, where the busy thoroughfare of Canal Street now is, by members of the St. Andrews Society, when they could get so far uptown for an afternoon’s pastime.”

The main source to the 1895 article was Mr. David Foulis, secretary of the Grand National CC.  The same man who had declared the OLCC as first.  Huh?  He changed his mind?  He discovered new information?

1904  In the book ‘Curling in Canada and the United States’ by John Kerr, the author offers a story where and when curling began without mentioning the discrepancy with his previous book written in 1890.  His source is the same Mr. David Foulis who had written another article for an American magazine in 1899.  Mr. Kerr wrote:  “The game used to be played some eighty years ago in New York City, where the busy thoroughfare of Canal Street is now.  It was there the members of the St. Andrew Society would go for an afternoon’s pastime, when they could get so far up town.”

The pond mentioned in the above articles was called The Collect Pond.  It was a body of fresh water used by the early inhabitants of the island of Manhattan.  In the 18th century, the pond was used as a picnic area during the summer and skating and, apparently, curling during the winter.  However as the city grew and expanded the pond was used by tanneries, breweries and slaughterhouses.  By the early 1800’s New York City had transformed the sparkling waters into a communal open sewer. Disgusted, local authorities initiated a project to fill the sewer with earth from an adjacent hill. In 1805, in order to drain the garbage-infested waters, designers opened a forty-foot wide canal that today is known as Canal Street.  By 1811, the City had completed the filling of Collect Pond; therefore any and all curling happened here before 1811.  Sorry Orchard Lake CC, you lose your title. 

The Collect Pond derived its name from seventeenth century Dutch settlers, who called it “kolch” meaning “small body of water”. Following the English capture of New Amsterdam (1664), the name was corrupted to “collect.” 

This raises a new question…Is it possible that the Dutch settlers and not the Scotch were the first men to curl on the Collect Pond?  Wow.  That would open up a whole new can of worms.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Orchard Lake Curling Club

If asked, every American curler and many Canadian curlers would name The Orchard Lake Curling Club as the first in The USA.  How did the OLCC get this distinction and was it rightfully obtained? 

1845  The oldest reference to these curlers that we have found was in the February 27, 1845 issue of the Detroit Democratic Free Press – they were referred to as The Curlers of Orchard and Pine Lakes.  Also called the Lakes Club.

1868  An article about the Dow family of West Bloomfield written in about 1985 states: “the Records of The Orchard Lake Curling Club, transcribed from the old book by John P. Wilson, December 1868.  The OLCC dates to January 2, 1832, where a few Scotchmen neighbors were invited to meet ‘to celebrate the advent of the New Year’.  Their thoughts naturally reverting to Scotland’s manly game.  In the absence of the ‘channel-stane’, they had recourse to hickory blocks.  The first game was played on Orchard Lake January 7, 1832.  The sides were:  William Gilmour, Skip, Dr. Robert Burns, and George Dow; the other team:  James Miller, Skip, William Dow, John Dow and Peter Dow.”  (Ed. Note:  This ‘old book’ is supposed to be at the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society in Pontiac, but they were unable to locate it on the day this author visited, nor have they found it since that visit).

Numerous discrepancies can be found within the article above and its references.  First, Dr. Wilson had apparently transcribed the club minutes 36 years after the fact; second,  Dr. Wilson was born in 1828 making him 4 years old during this first match; third, Peter Dow who apparently played was only 9 years old!!  Therefore, Dr. Wilson’s writings were only transcribed memories of other people.  I do not know about you, but, I have a difficult time remembering details back 30-40 years ago.

Sidebar:  William Gilmour, mentioned above, was very active in the Underground Railroad – helping people escape from slavery.  His house at 4121 Pontiac Trail Road contained secret chambers to hide people. 

1867  The Grand National Curling Club formed.  The OLCC joins the GNCC sometime before 1876.

1880  At the GNCC Annual Meeting, Mr. David Foulis (Secretary) submitted the following as part of his report:  “Gentlemen and Brother Curlers, … In searching for the “Mither Club” of the United States, I found it not in any of the centres of civilization, but away back in the wilds of Michigan, on the banks of Orchard Lake, where fifty years ago (ed. Note:  1830), eight hardy Scots organized the OLCC, using hickory blocks for want of their native whinestane.  This club has had an unbroken record ever since, two of the original eight being active members – a conclusive proof of the benefit to be derived from the practice and associations of the game of curling”.

How did he make this claim?  How did he do his research?  No internet.  No Google.  Well, I guess he could interview all the member clubs of the GNCC.  Rather limited research sample.  There were many curling clubs in the Midwest that never joined the GNCC.

1890  This claim becomes etched in history when the world renowned author on curling (John Kerr) published The History of Curling in 1890.  The author quotes past reports from the secretary of the GNCC (David Foulis) on curling in the United States:  “…The oldest club is the Orchard Lake Club organized about the year 1830 by eight hardy Scotsmen away in the wilds of Michigan, on the banks of the lake from which the club took its name.”

The story that the OLCC was first in the USA has been printed, quoted and misquoted over and over and over in books, news articles and across the Internet on curling club webpages around the world.  I think we are seeing an example of a legend becoming the fact.

The question remains:  Were the Scots of Orchard Lake the first to curl in the USA?  This author says:  ‘No’.  Next week we will unveil some recently discovered writings on curling in the USA long before 1832.  Stay tuned…