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Thursday, March 24, 1988

Curling in Detroit and vicinty

(Originally published in 1988 in The North American Curling News)

The Detroit Curling Club will host the 1989 USCA National Men's Championship and the National Ladies’ Championship concurrently, March 5th through 11th.

The Detroit Curling Club is no stranger to hosting national events. The DCC has hosted two Men's (1962, 1975); one Ladies (1957); two Senior's (1983, 1988); one Mixed (1985) and one Junior's (1977). Mr. Jim Oliver is the General Chairman of next year's event.  More information concerning these championships will appear in future issues of the North American Curling News.

Any authentic record of the introduction of the grand old Scottish game of curling in Detroit and its vicinity must start with the activities of the Orchard Lake Curling Club. This club was organized in the winter of 1881-32 by a group of loyal-hearted, sport-loving Scotsmen from Fyfe and Ayrshire Scotland, who had located on the banks of the beautiful lakes adjacent to the present city of West Bloomfield. To these hearty and robust pioneers belongs the credit of introducing, and for many years maintaining enthusiastic interest in the game in this locality. It has been often asserted, on good authority, that these same men were the first to introduce the game of curling to the United States.

For several years they curled with wooden blocks sawed from hickory trees and shaped with ax and chisel to resemble a curling stone. The handles were made from small limbs of the same material. 

The earliest record of curling in Detroit dates back to the winter of 1836-37 when a number of enthusiastic Scottish lovers of the game' began friendly contests among themselves, and later in the season journeyed to Orchard Lake. They were warmly received and though defeated in the contest, they returned home with an experience that contributed largely to their success in later years.  In the early forties the first Detroit Curling Club was organized, when the city contained about 35,000 inhabitants. Later, a club was formed by the employees of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway Co. and still later the Thistle Curling Club was formed. These three clubs either disbanded or merged into the Granite Club which was organized in 1867.  Prior to the Granite Club, all the curling of the older clubs was done on the Detroit River or elsewhere on outdoor rinks.

The present Detroit Curling Club originated with a handful of enthusiasts in the winter of 1885. They did most of their curling at night, by the light of four or five big lanterns and a large arc electric light, at the southwest corner of the grounds occupied by the Detroit Athletic Club. After three winters in the open, it was decided to build a covered rink and combine skating with curling, to help defray the expenses. The financing of this project was made possible through love of the game and the desire to encourage and perpetuate it. The contributions assisted in the erection of a building at the corner of Fourth and Gold during the summer of 1888. This building was thrown open to its members in December of that year and proved a source of great enjoyment to them, while it materially assisted in popularizing these winter sports.

In those days friendly competitions were had with the clubs of London, Sarnia, Chatham and Thamesville, all in Ontario, Canada. In 1895 the Club had grown and prospered sufficiently to permit the purchase of enough land on Forest Avenue at Fourth Street to provide six sheets of ice. This land was bought and the club building was removed to and rebuilt on this new property. In 1906 this old building was replaced by a substantially larger building, It required several seasons of experimenting with different materials to demonstrate that a cement floor was necessary to ensure proper ice facilities. This floor was laid in 1908 and besides providing a proper foundation for ice; the investment had annually benefited the Club by renting the building for storage purposes during the summer months.

The Club joined the Ontario Curling Association in 1889 and has continued its membership up to the present time. The Club had annually participated in the Tankard and other competitions of this Association. While the Club failed to win any of these events, its hospitality and good fellowship had been acknowledged by winning the Russell Cup (a trophy given to the club entertaining the largest number of curlers annually) for a period of three years. In 1897 the club inaugurated an annual International Bonspiel. The first year saw twelve clubs from Canada and the United States participate in the games, which took two days to determine the winners. Detroit succeeded in winning the first prize, the Hiram Walker Cup, one of the oldest International trophies still in use today.

The uncertainty of winter weather conditions brought forward the proposition of installing an artificial ice plant. The results of this installation had been most gratifying. The success enabled the members to curl at any time they may desire from early November until the middle of March. 

In 1945 a meeting at the Detroit Club, chaired by Detroiter Ewart Watson, led to the formation of the Mid-West Curling Association. This Association originally had 36 clubs from the states of Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. In 1957 another Detroiter, Paul Moreland chaired a meeting in Chicago that led to the formation of the United States Curling Association. Detroit curlers have represented their region many years at the US Nationals, winning twice and going to the Scotch Cup once.

Ladies started curling in Detroit in February 1943. Prior to this time the women had been restricted to card playing and viewing the games (on specified nights). Membership was down during the war and Women were demonstrating daily their physical strength and abilities by building tanks, planes and ships. Thus "mixed" curling started and the drawmasters were careful to keep married couples on different sheets of ice. By 1952 the ladies had formed their own division within the Club called the Rockettes.

In 1971 the City of Detroit purchased the Club's property and buildings, though curling would continue there until the spring of 1979. In 1978 the Club discovered the West Bloomfield facility in receivership and for sale. A monumental task faced the Club in the summer of 1979, that of getting the facilities ready, after a long period of disuse. Throughout the summer of 1979 volunteer members worked long and hard, putting in thousands of hours of labor. By November 25 the Club was ready for full operation. During the summer of 1986 the members once again dedicated hundreds of hours to rebuild and expand the clubhouse
Today, The Detroit Curling Club has a strong, active membership keeping a six sheet facility quite busy. During the week, there exist two daytime ladies leagues, one seniors' league. The evenings consist of two nights of men's curling, two nights of mixed and one night ladies' league. Saturdays vary throughout the season with many special and open curling nights.  Sunday mornings the Club is taken over by the famous Detroit Sinners and Sunday afternoons the juniors nearly fill the ice every week. Two years ago the Club acquired a set of "Tot-Rocks" (17 lbs.) and we now have curlers as young as four and five.

Bonspiels flourish at Detroit. There exists annually: The Men's International, The Rockettes Bonspiel, The Mixed International,  Bed 'n Board, Cherry Spiel, Senior Mixed, Senior Men's, Business Ladies, Family Spiel, Battle of the Sexes, Champagne Spiel and others. Annual curling exchanges have long been established with other clubs, notably: Kitchener-Waterloo, Sarnia and Roseland (all in Ontario).

The current interest in curling, a spin-off of the Olympics, and our strong and dedicated membership will insure that the Grand Old Scottish Game will continue in Detroit for generations to come.

(Sources for this article: Wm. MacLachlan, D.M. Sgriccia, J. Taylor, T. Williamson, National Curling News, USMCA Annuals)

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