Thursday, January 21, 2016

Curling Clubs in Detroit & Vicinity 1840 - 1911

The Switch to Granite

The Orchard Lake Curling Club in the 1830s used wooden curling stones for lack of granite.  The Detroit City; The Granite and The Thistle Curling Clubs in Detroit during the same time-frame used iron stones.  The iron stones were at least 15 pounds heavier than the wooden blocks.  Below is a picture of an iron stone once used in Detroit.  It is currently in storage at The Detroit Historical Society.  (Just a tad rusty).

The switch to granite stones began in 1868 when members of the Detroit Thistle Club began to “rapidly substitute their barbarous cast-iron decoy-duck, teapot looking amazements with real stones, polished out of the hardest granite, obtained from experienced makers in Gault County, Waterloo, Ontario.” 

Today curlers around the world cherish the granite from Ailsa Craig.  But, in 1868 one author wrote:  “A few specimens of Ailsa Craig stones have recently been introduced to the ice.  They are tolerably keen runners, but light in proportion to their bulk”. 

The concave bottom or running surface of the stone was not proposed until the 1870s.  So, the first stones (iron and granite) in Detroit were the flat bottom variety. 

My, oh my.  How times have changed.

Good Curling, Angus.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Honey! I shrunk the House.

Since the mid 1800’s the rules of curling, as written by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, described the house as a circle with a seven foot radius - or a diameter of 14 feet.  These rules were reiterated by the Grand National Curling Club in the USA. 
During the Scots Tour to Canada and The USA in 1937-38 nearly all USA and Canadian curling clubs were playing on ice where the house had a diameter 12 feet.  A clear violation of the Rules of the game.  How, why and exactly when this evolved is unclear.  At the 1938 annual meeting of the Royal Club, the Scots that had curled on the smaller ice proposed that the rules be modified to stipulate that the scoring area be not less than 12 feet in diameter and not more than 14 feet in diameter.  This was approved and the rules published in 1938 stated this changed.

Though a member of The Grand National Curling Club, The Detroit Curling Club was more aligned with the Ontario Curling Association.  Perhaps the OCA modified the rules earlier.  Newspaper articles we have uncovered about The Club state that the house was a 14 foot circle from 1886 to 1903.  We have not found any photos to verify this fact.

In 1906 when the building and clubhouse were rebuilt the ice contained six sheets and the size of the house shrank to 12 feet in diameter, which remains the size of the house we use today.

Pictures of The Club in 1935 show unpainted ice and only black lines outlining the house, button, tee line and the line from tee to hack (no center line from tee to tee existed).  Painting the rings did not start until 1936.  These pictures are B&W so we are not positive what colors were used.  The main sheet of ice remained unpainted so that you could see the concrete floor below the ice.

Lang may ur lum reek, Angus.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bonspiel Rap

First – The Meeting

Filled with admiration
For this great occasion,
Calls for explanation
And illumination
In elegant narration,
Men of every nation,
Every age and station,
Wild with fascination
Or hallucination
Met to play the game of curling
                        On the slippery ice,
Polished granites deftly hurling,
                        By the skip’s advice.

Second – The Playing

Some with animation,
Some with perturbation,
Some with exultation,
Others with vexation,
With good calculation
And determination
To make a great sensation
And raise their estimation,
And all with inclination
To duly play the game of curling,
                        On the slippery ice,
Polished granites deftly hurling,
                        By the skip’s advice.


Euphemistically yours, Angus.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Two, Four, Six - maybe Three but never Eight

The Detroit Curling Club is alive and well.  We have a strong active membership and four sheets of great ice.  Ice that is busy every day and nearly full for every draw throughout the season.

This was not always the case.

Everyone knows that when we were located in West Bloomfield we had six sheets of ice.  But, for some of those years the membership activity could not support six sheets and we often felt that a four sheet club would be better.  Throughout history the number of sheets at The Club has varied.

From 1885 through 1888 The Club members curled on the grounds of the Detroit Athletic Club.  They had two covered rinks – this “building” had no side walls.

In October 1888, at Forest & Fourth in Detroit, we built an enclosure that could house a sheet of ice that was 165 feet by 85 feet.  Skating occupied 165 feet by 45 feet in the center leaving two curling sheets 20 feet wide on either side for curling.  Remember:  The Club was originally called The Detroit Skating and Curling Club.

By 1896 skating participation was on the decrease, so the club brought in hockey.  Two teams were formed and they played by Canadian rules at least twice a week.  Skating was only an occasional pastime of the center area.  Curling continued to be restricted to the two outside rinks.

In January 1897 The Club hosted the first International Bonspiel.  Many newspaper articles between 1897 and 1903 imply that there were only three sheets of ice.  Many of these articles discuss only three games being played concurrently.  Draw sheets show only six teams per time-slot.  No photographs can be found, but a few artist sketches seem to verify this fact.

In 1906 the building was upgraded and the two story clubhouse was added.  This is the point in time when The Detroit Skating and Curling Club could boast six sheets of curling ice.  This also marked the end of hockey because the arena contained pillars running down the center.

Arena ice can easily accommodate six sheets of curling ice with plenty of space to spare behind the hacks.  Most of you have seen this layout at arena curling clubs around the country.  When The Club moved to West Bloomfield we laid plywood over this excess area and we did not flood here.  In about 1995 someone thought to flood that area making a mini-sheet of curling ice horizontal to the main sheets.  This was used for lessons and tiny-tots.  Thus, The Detroit Curling, once upon a time, had seven sheets of ice.

Until next time - Good Curling, Angus MacTavish

Thursday, February 26, 2015

This and That

In 1876 Queen Victoria banned curling from the royal Estates, for she was afraid it tended to encourage a love of malt likker. 

Quebec “iron play” was given its start by Scotch Highlanders, brought to Canada for Indian fighting.  They used iron artillery wheels hubs in the absence of stones (There is no evidence that they melted down cannon balls as some would have you believe).

In February of 1945 one of the Detroit rinks composed of Dr. Stanley MacKensie, Ward Peck, A.J. Dalton and Fred Ferrari journeyed east playing games in Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.  Somewhere in their travels they picked up the name of the Polecats.  (Now we have the answer to a question posed in a previous article – click here.

The first of many articles by Angus MacTavish in the National Curling News (original name of the North American Curling News) appeared in Vol. 1 No. 6 dated March 15, 1945.  It read:  “Angus McTavish”, editor of the Detroit Curling Club’s official publication, in urging that all curlers take full advantage of the remaining weeks of the curling season, suggest that “the healthful exercise gained from curling will put you in good shape for an early start on your Victory Garden, and a bigger and better garden this year should be on everyone’s Must Have list”. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What? More Curling Stones Lost in WWII

We published an article in March 2013 about the apparent loss of curling stones destined for The Detroit Curling Club.  We tried to prove that this old story at The Club was more fiction than truth.  You can read that story by ClickingHere.

On December 20, 2014 a member of the Wausau Curling Club posted a comment to the above article:  “Interesting, a similar story has floated around the Wausau Curling Club only that we lost stones destined for Wausau... maybe somebody lost some somewhere... but who?”   This person suggested that we read the History of the Wausau Curling Club House, Hack and Hog Line published in 1986, page 19: 

…”Some stories claim that America’s entry into the war was hastened by the sinking of an English freighter carrying a full load of Scotch whiskey and a set of matched curling stones destined for Wausau.  Unfortunately, we cannot verify this because the minutes of the years when this alleged to have happened are missing.  It makes a nice story, however, and we will do nothing to debunk it.”

On page 20 a story about a new facility continues: …”With 4 sheets of ice available…something had to be done about stones.  Thirty-two pairs were ordered at the end of 1946, and the club started a “stone fund”.   … The new stones arrived in time to start play in 1948.”

Seems strange that the club lost stones before the war and then raised money and ordered a new set long after the war.  So, we did a little investigating in old issues of The North American Curling News.  The February 1, 1947 issue contained a very detailed article New Quarters of Wausau Curling Club by Lee Duncan, Secy.  We will reprint some of the article below.
“The club’s new quarters are in Marathon Park.  The building was designed by Ing Horgen city park supervisor, and Charles Symmons, president of Marathon county agricultural society.  Both men are directors of the curling club. 

“In 1946 President Plier and others began to mull over the problem of what to do with an increasing membership particularly when the supply of available curling stones was diminishing rapidly.  Individual members had seen the alleged advantage of owning their own stones and had bought up all unclaimed stones and were purchasing new stones as rapidly as they were received.  Members began removing the handles from the stones and locked them in boxes, thus denying new members the privilege of playing the game.

“President Plier conceived a plan whereby the individuals owning stones would lend them to the curling club until such a time as 32 matched sets could be obtained… The membership voted to purchase all available stones.  As a result the club now has 32 pairs of stones allocated to the four sheets of ice, matched as well as possible…the stones are numbered as to position…”

A second article from the January 1, 1949 issue declares:  Jealous?  Wausau Curlers Inspect Matched Stones.  “…members are shown inspecting their 32 new sets of matched stones – ordered two years ago.  The club, boasting 160 curlers and four sheets of natural ice is pointing to record year.”
We apologize to those who would prefer to believe the old stories, but this myth-buster feels that the Scotch stone sinking sub never existed…though we would really like to find out if there is another club out there with a similar story.

Best of curling to all,
Angus MacTavish