Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Aberdeen and curling

The forthcoming European Curling Championships at Aberdeen are my excuse for passing on some facts about the early history of the game in Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland.

The first interesting fact is that there is no early history of the game there. Although golf is well documented from the end of the sixteenth century we have to wait until the middle of the nineteenth for the first reference to a game of curling played in the city. In fact, when The Aberdeen Magazine of March 1831 reviewed Sir Richard Broun’s Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia it is clear that the game was unknown.

“Curling is a game, of which, even in name, many of our readers are ignorant. The enthusiasm with which it is followed in the south of Scotland passes belief. It is not many years since the Magistrates of Edinburgh were wont to proceed to Duddingston, in all their official robes and insignia, with Town-drummers before and Town-serjeants behind, attended by the Highland bodies of the Town Guard, with Lochaber-axes, to witness the games. Some parts of the Inverury canal would do as well for a rink …

If they [the readers] have never seen a curling stone, we may tell them it is, for all the world, just like the Mechanics’ Institution in King Street, supposing it a little rounded off at the base and flattened at the top, and with the chimney bent at right-angles for a handle. Those used at Dumfries are like a sugar-loaf or a glass-house; some are of the shape of Dutch cheeses; and others of a sort of cheese, of which we do not know the name, oblong and higher than they are broad.

If it should ever be the intention of the gentlemen of Aberdeen to attempt this manly exercise, we recommend the book before us as containing all that need be known on the subject; it is full of animation, and being, as we believe, the work of one of the first curlers in Scotland, if nothing more, it must afford an interesting picture of a game practised in a remote district of the country, and quite unknown in England or Aberdeen.”

The Aberdeen Journal of 28 January 1878 prefaced a report of some district medal matches at Aboyne with these words: “Within the last few years this excellent winter game, which at one time was only heard of in the south, has become a very popular game in the north of Scotland, and almost every year a new club is being added to the list of those already in connection with the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, which has for its patron His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, its president the Earl of Breadalbane, and its vice-president the Earl of Glasgow. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club was established in the year 1838, the name of the founder being unknown. Since then there have been no fewer than 495 local clubs initiated into the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (three of which only are in the county of Aberdeen), and it still goes on increasing. The game is generally known as 'roaring game', a name derived from the amount of 'roaring' necessary on the part of the skips in giving directions to the players. It is the national game of Scotland, and one better adapted to the country could not have been devised. It is an excellent game in every respect. It is the best combination of sport, health-giving exercise, pleasurable excitement, and scientific play that has yet engaged the attention of the robust inhabitants of North Britain. Its popularity is then well-deserved.”

The writer quite clearly betrays his unfamiliarity with the game in attributing the 'roaring' of fits popular name to the shouts of the skips: we southerners know that it echoes the rumbling noise of a curling stone as it runs over water-borne ice.

The article then goes on to describe the matches played at Aboyne for four Royal Caledonian Curling Club district medals among the curling clubs of Fettercairn, instituted in 1852, Braemar in 1854, Aboyne in 1867, and Aberdeen in 1874. "All the games were well contested, and yielded a great amount of enjoyment and pleasurable excitement."

It may be of interest to see how the curlers travelled to their goal, Aboyne.

“The Braemar men arrived by first train for Aberdeen at eight o’clock. The Fettercairn were next to arrive, about nine o’clock, in an open brake, in which they had driven about 4 ½ hours from home; and the Aberdeen players arrived by the 9.30 train. All then proceeded to the ice, about half-a-mile from the station, with brooms in hand, each to put forth his skill in attempting to gain the medals.”

The writer of this piece was in error in so far as he seemed to suggest that curling was unknown in Aberdeen until the founding of the club in 1874, for The Aberdeen Journal of 10 January 1849 reported: “The frost which has prevailed during the week, more or less intense, has been taken advantage of by those of our citizens who can enjoy the healthful and exhilarating amusements of the ice. On a small sheet of water in the Old-town Links, the Curling Club have met on several days, - and some excellent and keenly contested ‘bonspiels’ have been played; while around them, bands of skaters, of all sizes, kept skimming along in every direction, with amazing dexterity and beauty of locomotion, and vieing with the wind in speed - the whole presenting a pleasing and animating scene. On Friday, a number of the Curlers, after a keen afternoon’s sport wound up, in characteristic manner, by partaking of ‘curlers’ fare’, in St Nicholas Hotel – among the first occasions of the kind on record in the annals of ‘our northern city cold’. This fine national game, hitherto little known here, is at present quite the rage in the south; it is enjoyed by all classes, and friendly contests of opposition Clubs are going on with great spirit.”

The Old-town Links, or King’s Links, lie between Old Aberdeen and the sea, and have provided ground for golf for the citizens of Aberdeen for more than five centuries.

David B Smith.

The illustration at the top of the page is a late seventeenth century view of Old Aberdeen, looking north. A small portion of the Old-town Links can be seen on the right edge of the woodcut. It is from Slezer's Theatrum Scotiae.

I am indebted to John Burnett for assistance in the preparation of this article. DBS

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Curling's High Flyers

Last August I posted a piece about a game held high in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland but also deep within a glacier (see here). It was, of course, the famous game in the ice palace at the Jungfraujoch above Grindelwald, and it took place at 11,333 feet above sea level.

I suppose that these curlers, like the first conquerors of Mount Everest, did what they did 'because it was there'. When I proposed climbing yet another peak my children when they were little used to chant the song, “Daddy climbed over the mountain, daddy climbed over the mountain, daddy climbed over the mountain - to see what he could see. And what do you think he saw? And what do you think he saw? The other side of the mountain; the other side of the mountain; the other side of the mountain - was all that he could see.”

Mountains do seem to present a challenge to the human race and as curlers are part of the human race they sometimes accept the challenge.

The royal burgh of Stirling lies at the foot of that fine and picturesque but comparatively low range of mountains, the Ochil Hills. They seem to have offered a challenge to a 'knight of the broom', for on February 9, 1866, in the Stirling Journal there appeared this advertisement:

“Wanted seven swells who are game for a day’s curling on Demyat. Apply to Mr Moss, office of this paper. NB Donkeys can be got to carry up the stones.”

Demyat, or Dumyat, to use the modern spelling, is the highest point of the range, but it is only 1373ft or 418m in height above sea level. Sadly, neither history nor the Stirling Journal tells us whether the challenge was accepted. If it was, the curlers would have been able to enjoy one of the finest views in Lowland Scotland over the meanderings of the River Forth to far away Edinburgh.

About twenty years later some curlers in Lochaber at the foot of Ben Nevis, than which there is no higher point in these islands, again felt the challenge of the mountain. Their excuse was the lack of ice at sea level. This time, however, their exploits were fully recorded, and here is the report from the Glasgow Herald of, January 5, 1885.

“FORT-WILLIAM. –The Lochaber Curling Club had an excellent game on Saturday. The knights of the broom, getting impatient that there was no ice to play on the low ground, resolved to ascend to Lochan Meall-an-t-Suidhe 1850ft. above sea level. Accordingly, three horses were laden with curling stones and brooms. These were despatched at 8 A.M., and the curlers left at 9 A.M., arrived at the lake 10.30A.M., and found the ice excellent, of unknown thickness, and any strength. There was no snow on it, but slight snow fell during the game. Play was continued for four hours. The following were the rinks: - Married – D.Macniven (skip), D.Sinclair, T.A.Ainslie, John McCallum, 26; Single – C.Livingstone, (skip), E.Cameron, John Young, A.S. Macintyre, 22. A number of skaters followed the curlers. The whole party arrived at Fort-William at 6 P.M.”

Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe is well up the Ben Nevis massif. This must be the highest match ever played in Scotland.

Top photo shows Dumyat and the Ochil Hills viewed northeast from the Wallace Monument. Photo © Copyright Chuck Schubert and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This is Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, viewed from the path to Ben Nevis. Photo © Copyright Stephen Sweeney and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Ben Nevis seen from the south. The tourist path can be seen, and Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe is in the notch on the left. Photo © Copyright Graham Scott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Partick Curling Club

Partick Curling Club's new two-rink pond was opened at the beginning of the 1900-01 season. More than one hundred years later, the tarmac is no longer in pristine condition. The fact that it still exists at all is quite amazing!

This plaque records the generosity of two of the Kennedy brothers.

The club house stands next to the pond on the north east corner of Victoria Park.

There's a plaque on the wall in the house which states, "This Clubhouse House was presented to Partick Curling Club by Provost William Kennedy 1902." William was the third of the Kennedy brothers.

Here, Peter Shill describes the famous Partick Bell trophy, on Doors Open Day in 2009.

The scrapbook records club activities in the latter years of the twentieth century, with photos of members on the ice at Crossmyloof, Aviemore, the Summit Centre and Letham Grange, all rinks that are no more! And of course there are many photos of curling on their own Victoria Park pond.

This is a photographic record of the Grand Match on the Lake of Menteith in 1979.

These stones, of an unusual red-brown metal, still bear red stickers indicating they were used at the 1979 Grand Match.

Rare examples of carrying cases of leather and canvas construction. Note the colourful pom poms used to identify stones when playing outside.

The second room of the club house is lined with wooden lockers for members' stones.

Crampets, or foot irons, sit above the lockers.

'Long John' Anderson was the club's president in 1843. It is recorded that he once curled for 36 hours non stop. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1899 has a different photo but the same stones at his feet, and says, "Mr Anderson relates to the writer the most eventful occasion in his curling career. This was when he spent, on one occasion, thirty six sonsecutive hours on the ice. He started at six o'clock in the morning with a few friends just to give them a game before they went to business at ten o'clock. When these departed a fresh lot turned out, who occupied the day until well on in the afternoon; and when darkness set in, and the players were about to depart, a contingent turned up from Govan (their pond having been leaking), and with the aid of a plentiful supply of candles, etc., they curled all through the night and all the following day till six at night, but added Mr Anderson, 'I was a young man then, being a bit under sixty'."

The club house had all modern conveniences!

And the pond had lighting to allow play in the evenings.

Photos are by Bob. We wish the Partick Curling Club every success in their efforts to secure the future of the pond and club house.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Curling's history celebrated in restored Thomson's Tower

Thomson's Tower, here seen from across Duddingston Loch, was built by the Duddingston Curling Society whose members first penned the rules of curling. It was their 'curling house' where they met and kept their stones. It was constructed in 1825.

The Tower is an octagonal building designed by William Henry Playfair (1789-1857), a famous Edinburgh architect. Duddingston Curling Society was one of the foremost societies of its time, having a membership of eminent men of the day including peers, baronets, judges, and lawyers. In 1804 the society drew up a Code of Laws by which play was to be regulated. These eventually formed the basis for the rules of curling.

The Tower is within Dr Neil's Garden. More on the history of the club and of the curling house is on the the website of Dr Neil's Garden Trust here.

The Tower was completely derelict until 1978 when it was re-roofed by the Duddingston Village Conservation Society, thanks to donations received from various sources, including Rotarian curlers from Canada.

Over the last two years, Dr Neil's Garden Trust has completely restored the Tower with grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland. Ian Seath, pictured above, has been instrumental in making the project happen.

The restored building was officially opened on Friday, July 31, 2009. That story is here.

The walls of the curling room have colourful, accurate and informative story boards, such as this one. (Click to view larger size)

The centre of the room has a display case with a variety of treasures!

A number of stones are on display and can be examined closely.

Archive video footage can be watched, bringing curling's history to life. Of particular note, is a film of the 1935 Grand Match on Carsebreck.

Ian Seath with curling historian David B Smith at the official opening of the restored Thomson's Tower.

For details of when Thomson's Tower with the curling exhibit is open, see here. And there's a related history blog post about the Rev John Ramsay, a member of the Duddingston Curling Society, here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Curling at Campsie Junction

David Smith offers the results of some recent research. He writes:

It is often of extreme interest to see how differently observers of the same event experience that event.

I have recently been working through online nineteenth century newspapers with a view to noting any articles about curling, of which there are some which interest me a little.

I was amused and intrigued to read the following account of the consequence of the cancellation on 13 January 1871 of a much-postponed Grand Match at Carsebreck.

1871, 14 Jan., Glasgow Herald.

“Glasgow Lilybank v. Cadder (Bishopbriggs) and Kingston (Glasgow) clubs.

The above clubs having met, along with many others, at Dundas Street Station, yesterday, with the intention of proceeding to the Grand Caledonian Match at Carsebreck, on finding that it had again been postponed, went to Campsie Junction and enjoyed a friendly game. There were seven rinks of the Lilybank, five of the Cadder, and two of the Kingston clubs engaged. At the close, the game was in favour of the first-named club…”

I quickly discovered that Campsie Junction was the then name of Lenzie, which was on the main line out of Glasgow, and only a couple of stations beyond Bishopbriggs; and so I presume the curlers all went to the Gadloch near Lenzie for their game.

Lilybank, which was formed in 1865, but had only just joined the Royal Club in 1870, had a pond close to Crossmyloof, but it may have been as easy to take all the curlers and their stones to Lenzie as to take them anywhere else.

Kingston was instituted in 1862. I have never yet found the Kingston club’s pond but I presume it was in that part of Glasgow near to where the Kingston Bridge now crosses the river.

Cadder was formed in 1862, and is the only one to have survived to the present.

All the clubs were new members of the Royal Club and their fresh enthusiasm seems to be displayed in their decision to have a friendly game somewhere if they couldn’t have a Grand Match at Carsebreck.

It was with some anticipation, therefore, that I looked into the Lilybankers’ minute book, of which I have had custody for a number of years. What a disappointment.

The clerk, stolid soul, records merely the results of each game as 'Friendly match with Cadder at Lenzie and Friendly match Kingston at Lenzie', without a word of explanation how these matches came about.

For the record Cadder were beaten by 95 shots to 86; and Kingston by 65 to 20.

David B Smith

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Museum plea

At the Royal Club's AGM last Saturday, David Smith spoke about the proposed curling museum in the Kinross National Curling Academy development at Kinross. He said:

"Sister and Brother Curlers and NAEBODIES, of whom I am certain there are some present! You've heard from Matt Murdoch, Bob Tait and Colin Grahamslaw about the progress so far made in relation to the National Curling Academy at Kinross.

Provision has been made in the plans for a museum - not a huge museum but an adequate museum, and among the trustees we have a professional museum man. We must remember, however, that the stage we're at just now is only an application for outline planning permission.

Although curling is 'Scotland's ain Game' its history has not been very well served by museums in Scotland. There are a few stones here and a few stones there; a picture here, some photographs there, some paraphernalia thonder, a medal or two there, but no museum attempts to tell anything like the whole story of our great national game, the love of which brings here today from all quarters of the country, 'united in a game the darling of our forefathers', as the secretary of Peebles Curling Club put it in 1821.

What the trustees of the RCCC Charitable Trust wish earnestly to do is to fill that void and proclaim to our fellow Scots and the whole world what a glorious history curling has had and what an amazing part of Scotland's culture it has been over the centuries. We are trying to formulate plans as to how the story should be told, and we would very much welcome ideas from fellow curlers.

What we will need more than anything is money. We hope that curlers throughout Scotland and beyond will recognise the importance of such a museum and dig deep into their pockets so that what we create is a 'world-class' institution which will delight us and our overseas friends, and be something of which we as a nation can be proud.

When the appeal for money comes please give generously!"

Perhaps prompted by this speech WCF Vice-President Kate Caithness has already made a donation to the RCCC Charitable Trust. It consists of a GB curling kit for the 1998 Olympics. The trustees are very grateful.

Please contact the Trust via the Royal Caledonian Curling Club here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Curling under difficulties

My recent journey across Rannoch Moor and its bleak, inhospitable landscape, reminded me of a story from the Scotsman of February 13, 1895, which I had unearthed before going to speak at the 130th anniversary dinner of Lochaber Curling Club in 2000.

The story is best told as it appeared in the newspaper, for the writer of the article has succeeded in portraying the tremendous enthusiasm of the curlers for the game and their resilience in coping with the 'difficulties' they encountered on the Moor of Rannoch.

Curling under difficulties

"The adventures of a party of curlers on Rannoch Moor last week are probably unprecedented in curling annals, and perhaps not unworthy of record in the Scotsman.

At the initiative of the Dall Club, Rannoch, a friendly match was arranged with the Lochaber Club, Fort-William, to be played on Rannoch Moor on Wednesday last, three rinks a side. Dall is one of the foremost clubs in the Highlands. Instituted in 1850, it has shown its prowess at Southport in Lancashire, against the foremost clubs of the North and South, as well as in play with the neighbouring clubs, and has won no small renown. The Lochaber Club was formed in 1870, and during the twenty five years of its existence has not had a period of frost of so long duration as the present, or of anything like the severity which has been experienced during the last six weeks. The club pond is only a few feet above sea level, and whole winters pass without its having bearing ice. The facilities for play possessed by the club are therefore among the most limited of any in Scotland. It has a considerable membership, however, and among its members are some enthusiastic curlers, who (as events prove) can hold their own with clubs which are able to play from November till April. In its young enthusiasm three rinks of the club on one occasion chartered a steamer to convey them to Oban in order to be able to take part in a grand match at Carsebreck. On that, and on a subsequent occasion when they took part in the grand match, had all the northern clubs done as well as they, the victory had not, as it did, gone to the south. Their Oban neighbours credit them with having, on the evening before the last grand match, telegraphed to stop the match because, having entered three rinks, they could not take part in it owing to a block on the West Highland Railway. The Lochaber men say this is a mere canard got up by the Obanites out of spite to the West Highland Railway, of whose success they are supposed to be extremely jealous. They further retort that in the grand match the Oban Club had need of their help, for the three rinks entered by that club were each and all beaten. And so the chaff goes on to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

If the Lochaber Club failed to get forward to the grand match, they have not been idle at home. In addition to their play among themselves, in which the president’s rink won the late president’s medal, a young curler carried off the points medal, four rinks of the bachelor members of the club beat an equal number of rinks composed of the married men, and the vice-president’s team beat the president’s. They won the Royal Club medal from Invergarry, and defeated in succession Spean Bridge, Ardgour, Ballachullish, and Oban.

On Wednesday morning of last week, at 7.30, three rinks started by train for Rannoch Station to meet the like number from Dall. The morning promised an altogether favourable day, a promise which was not fulfilled. By the time the teams met, the ice had been cleared of snow, on a small lake about half a mile from the station. But those who were employed in clearing it evidently knew nothing of curling, for when the players reached the ice it was found to be altogether unsuitable for their purpose. As often happens in elevated positions, when the ice is soft, or showers of sleet fall instead of snow, the surface was rendered rough and ridgy with the wind, and instead of being true ice, was merely hardened snow and slush. They had therefore to betake themselves to Loch Laidon, fully a mile from the railway station. Here they had to clear rinks for themselves, and the match commenced somewhat later in the day than was intended. This was unfortunate; for before play had long proceeded, snow began to fall heavily. Loch Laidon is 924 feet above sea-level, and a snowstorm upon it, with a strong wind sweeping over its shelterless surface, is, as the curlers found to their cost, something to try the strongest frame. For a time they persevered, hoping the storm would abate. The stones lying at the one end of the rink could not be seen from the other. The direction of the skips could not be heard. The player could merely see a dim outline of a man, seemingly at a great distance, waving a broom and wildly gesticulating, as if he were the very spirit of the storm. In the direction of this shadowy figure the curling stone was hurled. If it did what was wished, well; if not, the other side thought it better.

In this way play continued for some time. At length a consultation was held, and the game brought by mutual consent to a close. When the totals were summed up, Lochaber was found to have won with the narrowest possible majority. How the game would have ended had it been possible to continue it till the appointed close, no one, of course, can tell. On some future day the two clubs may be able to meet under more favourable circumstances.

The hardships of the curlers were only commencing at the close of their play. They had not only to take themselves, but also their curling-stones, back to the railway station. There were no idlers at hand who could be hired to do this work for those who were the less able to do it for themselves, and there will always be among curlers men whose skill as players is greater than their physical strength. For the strongest even to struggle through the deep snow and the blinding drift was no easy undertaking. The very direction in which they ought to go was more or less uncertain. In one place they had to climb a knoll, which might have been avoided. They would next plunge into a hollow filled with snow, where they sank to the waist. The distance seemed interminable, and the struggle almost too much for human strength. But shelter was reached in safety by all at last.

The place thus reached was a wooden hut used as a licensed store for supplying the wants of the workmen while the line was being constructed, and still occupied. Here, fortunately, there was a considerable supply of food, with an abundance of fuel; and it was well for the curlers that such was the case, for they had to make it their home for the next forty eight hours. The supply of water was scanty, but of strong water, in the form of whisky, there was an abundance, and there was a considerable quantity of beer. The usual teetotal drinks were not awanting, but they showed their unsuitability for the climate by getting frozen and having to be thawed, after which they were not found very palatable.

In this refuge in the wilderness the two curling clubs enjoyed themselves for an hour or two together, and fared not badly all things considered. After sufficient rest and refreshment the Dall men set their faces homewards. Seven miles of difficulty and danger lay between them and the head of Loch Rannoch, where they would find rest and food and shelter; and about seven more had to be struggled through before they could reach their homes. The first part of the journey would have to be accomplished through the storm. Of how they fared there is no record yet available, but it is known that all got back in safety.

The Lochaber men were eighteen or twenty miles from the point at which a train could at first reach from the north, and walking that distance on Wednesday afternoon was out of the question. Thursday was a day of fierce, cold wind, which made walking equally impossible, and they had to wait with patience to be relieved. The only consolation they had was that they could communicate by telephone with their friends and relieve their anxiety on their account. On Thursday, engine after engine arrived with snow-ploughs from the south, attempting to clear the line without success. They remained embedded in the snow until at last there were five of them. The last was accompanied with a squad of some 150 men, and effected a clearance. Each successive arrival brought to the curlers’ shelter an additional number of guests in the form of railway officials of one grade or another. For two nights from thirty to forty men were thus crowded together in a limited space, with little in the way of comfort. A good breakfast each morning they were able to obtain, but for the rest of the day they had to fare as best they could. Biscuit, beer, and whisky were the chief means of keeping off hunger. One young man who apparently did not consider his head strong enough to stand drinking undiluted whisky – water was scarce – and did not care to regale himself on thawed lemonade, got possession of a dozen bottles of beer, placed them in a corner, and lay down on the boards beside them to sleep. When he awoke, the bottles were there, but the beer had found other quarters.

There was only one bed in the place, and sleep could be obtained only by snatches. The wakeful ones found a wicked pleasure in disturbing the sleepers’ repose. The principal amusement during the day was watching the engines panting in the snow, and having their work undone before it was well finished. At night some amused themselves playing whist; those who could sing, sang song after song until they were hoarse; those who could not joined in the chorus. Their spirits were not allowed to flag.

On leaving home on their curling tour, the Lochaber men had before them a three days’ programme. On Thursday they were to meet the Cardross Club; on Friday one or two other clubs in the valley of the Clyde; and on Saturday forenoon they undertook to meet the Helensburgh Club. On Thursday a temporary clearing had been effected, and they started on one of the engines to keep their appointment with Cardross, but a short five minutes brought them to the end of their journey. The engine became embedded in the snow.

Friday morning came clear and calm. It was known by telephone that a working train was able to reach Loch Treig side, to a point some fourteen miles distant. Provisions had become reduced to half a loaf of bread and half an ounce of tea. There were still some biscuit and whisky; but, not choosing to subsist longer on such fare, a few of the more venturesome resolved to walk the fourteen miles that separated them from the cleared part of the railway. They set off after breakfast, and reached the workmens’ train without mishap. This brought them safely home. For those who would not undertake to walk, relief came from the other end of the line. The hundred and fifty squad opened the way, and the wearied curlers that night found beds and comfort at Tyndrum.

As proof that their energies had not been exhausted, they agreed to meet two rinks of the Oban Club on Saturday, and they beat them to their hearts’ content. Two of the men who had walked to Loch Treig joined some others of the club next morning, and went by steamer to Corran, where they helped to beat two rinks of the Ardgour Club; and thus the excursion to Rannoch Moor was brought to a triumphant close, leaving none the worse for the adventure.”

The railway line across Rannoch Moor had just been opened. The line was built in two phases; the section from Fort William to Craigendoran was begun in 1889 and completed in 1894 and the extension to Mallaig, begun in 1897 and opened in 1901.

Above: Dall CC medal, from the author's collection.

Top: Rannoch Station, one of the remotest stations in Britain, on a gloomy winter's day in 1981. This photo is © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The RCCC Charitable Trust

One of the purposes of the RCCC Charitable Trust is to participate in the establishment of a museum of curling. It was expressly to that end that the late Bob Gardner of Falkirk made his very generous donation not long before he died. That gift enabled the Trustees to make a start and buy and save for the curling world the very important collection of prize medals won over the years by WK Jackson and his son Lawrence, including their gold medals won at curling at the first Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix in 1924.

The trustees have been collaborating with the RCCC and the Kinross Curling Trust with a view to the provision of sufficient space for a museum in the proposed Curling Academy at Kinross.

The plans for Kinross are presently being developed and the trustees have formed some preliminary ideas for the sort of displays the museum should hold.

At this stage they would like to hear from anyone who is interested in the museum project and who has ideas or expertise to share; and who would be willing to become involved as a volunteer.

The present trustees are:
Bob Tait, chairman of the RCCC Board.
Matt Murdoch, president, RCCC.
Colin Grahahamslaw, CEO, RCCC.
David B Smith, historian of curling.
John Burnett, curator, National Museums Scotland.

The ways to contact the RCCC are here.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Silver Broom update

We had a story on the blog recently (here) about the whereabouts of the Air Canada Silver Broom trophy. Here now is a small feature which I wrote for the May 2009 issue of the Scottish Curler magazine.

"The mystery of the whereabouts of the Silver Broom has been solved. The trophy that was awarded to the winners of the Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship, was last played for in 1985, in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall. On the final night of the event, my last sight of the iconic trophy was of it sitting in the empty arena, and I had often wondered what had happened to it.

The late Doug Maxwell, the Executive Director of the Silver Broom for many years, was trying to find out the answer to the question before his illness, with no success. I was thrilled to learn recently that the Broom had been tracked down by Canadian curler Jamie Hay who used to work for Air Canada. Apparently it had been in store in a Montreal warehouse. It now has pride of place at the Winnipeg Granite Club.

But there were actually two Silver Broom trophies. The first was awarded from 1968-76 and the second from 1977-85. Both had a silver broom that detached from its base, but the bases were different. The earlier one was a plaque, but the later one, designed by a Canadian artist, was a massive piece of carved walnut.

The earlier one trophy has now been found too. It had been in the care of Air Canada’s public relations director Tony Schoen, who had retired first to Switzerland where the trophy was displayed in his restaurant, and then to Victoria, Canada, where it was in his basement. Tony sadly died last year, but thanks to his family, the trophy has not been lost.

All the world championship trophies were on display at the 2009 Ford World Men’s Championship in Moncton: the Scotch Cup, both Silver Brooms, the Hexagon trophy and the current Ford trophy. Large photos of the winning teams were on the wall behind the trophies, and made a very impressive display.

What of the future? Warren Hansen, the Canadian Curling Association’s director of event operations, was quoted in the Eyeopener, the daily newsletter at the Moncton Worlds, “Ideally, they should be part of a permanent collection and on display every year at the world championship. They should really belong in the hands of the World Curling Federation.”

Top: The Silver Broom, presented 1968-1976. Below: The Silver Broom, presented 1977-1985.
The photos are by Maryel Fitzrandolph from the display in Moncton.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Curling references in old newspapers

Newspapers are a very important historical source. They include snippets of information about the doings and achievements of ordinary people in their day to day lives, and also the less characteristic and out of the ordinary doings of the great. One of the problems about newspapers has been that until the internet age it has been necessary to travel to the library or archive which houses the run of newspaper which you wish to search. The other is the sheer volume of newsprint.

When large libraries – either alone or in conjunction with other libraries – put entire newspaper collections online the burden is amazingly reduced, for one can use the appointed search engine and be almost certain to find all the references for which one is looking. The reduction in fatigue and eyestrain is immense.

I was therefore exceedingly pleased to discover that recently the British Library has put online its collection of nineteenth century newspapers. Among these are to be found The Caledonian Mercury, an Edinburgh paper, and the Glasgow Herald, both of which might be expected to contain material on curling. And so it proved to be.

I have selected a few of the 'hits' to illustrate the width of material that can be found.

The first report tells of an interesting game taken on by members of the Duddingston Curling Society, and the editor goes on to sing the praises of the National Game of Scotland.

1809, 21 Jan., Caledonian Mercury.
“CURLING.- Upon Thursday the 19th instant, a BONSPEL was played, on Duddingstone Loch, between eight officers of the Dumfries-shire Regiment of Militia, and eight members of the Duddingstone Curling Society. The players were divided into two RINKS, and, after a well-disputed contest, victory was declared in favour of the Gentlemen of the Society.

The game of Curling was first invented in Scotland, and has long been peculiar to that country, in many parts of which it is practised with the greatest ardour, nor is the partiality for this National Game without a reasonable foundation, for it believed, that there are few versant with it, and at the same time with the other games and sports of this country, as well as with these of our sister kingdom, who will not admit, that in point of variety of the judgment, dexterity, and exertion required, the interest, or rather the enthusiasm excited, it surpasses them all.

The motto adopted by the Duddingstone Curling Society, is therefore just and appropriate.- The members wear a silver medal, upon which are represented Duddingstone Loch frozen, where a party of curlers are at play, the old parish Church, Arthur’s Seat, &c. in the background. The motto is Sic Scoti; alii non aeque felices.” The motto, loosely translated from the Latin is, “This is the way the Scots play: the rest of the world is not equally lucky.”

The medal, or badge, of the Duddingston Curling Society, struck in 1802 and worn by members 'to distinguish them from any other gentleman'.

A few miles to the south of the capital and a few years later the curlers of Peebles were displaying the same enthusiasm for the game, not to mention the hardiness of the Scot.

1814, 7 February, Caledonian Mercury.
“CURLERS AT PEEBLES.- Five rinks, consisting nearly of eighty, met on the Tweed on the 2d curt. And after anxiously contesting the game, they dined on the ice, beneath the bridge, on the standard dish of beef and greens, served up from the Tontine. Many patriotic and curling toasts were given by the Provost in the chair, and others, in presence of upwards of 2000 spectators. The bagpipe and merry reels closed the icy scene, and the part proceeded to the Tontine, and spent the evening in the true curling style.”

Dundee Curling Club celebrated its bicentenary in the year 2000, although in the history published to mark the event it was conceded that there was no written minute until 1840. I wonder if the report below means that the curlers of Dundee were a bit premature.

1820, 22 Jan., Caledonian Mercury.
“On Tuesday last the Dundee Curling Club was constituted in due form – Mr William Bisset of Forebank, Preses of the Club, in the chair. Mr Bisset was on the ice in 1740, and partook of an ox roasted, on the Tay, during that memorable season; and, although now within a month of eighty-six years of age, he has played almost every day during this winter with all the hilarity, vigour, and skill of the youngest and most expert curler.”

It was a great thrill to come across the next passage for the medal still exists and still belongs to the curlers of the parish of Morton, of which the main village is Thornhill to the south of Sanquhar. I have had the privilege of borrowing it, and I have pictured winners proudly strutting around the parish with this small, unsophisticated proof of their skill on a ribbon around their necks.

1816, 26 February, Caledonian Mercury.
“On Tuesday the 30th of January, the curlers of Morton met on Drumcork loch, to play for a silver medal, presented to them by Mr John Fingland. The ice being uncommonly fine, a very great number of competitors were present. The rinks were marked out and tickets drawn, when one of the finest displays of skill in curling took place ever witnessed in that neighbourhood. It was not until after several were matched a second time, that the Committee, which was chosen, of experienced curlers, could award the prize, which they at last did to Mr W. Ferguson, Thornhill.”

The very medal!

1820, 22 Jan., Caledonian Mercury.
“On Tuesday last the Dundee Curling Club was constituted in due form – Mr William Bisset of Forebank, Preses of the Club, in the chair. Mr Bisset was on the ice in 1740, and partook of an ox roasted, on the Tay, during that memorable season; and, although now within a month of eighty-six years of age, he has played almost every day during this winter with all the hilarity, vigour, and skill of the youngest and most expert curler.”

In the early part of the nineteenth century most curling took place in late December, January and February. The report below is indeed remarkable as it records a bonspiel taking place on the last day of October. The agricultural comment puts it properly into context.

1836, 5 Nov., Caledonian Mercury.
“It is a remarkable circumstance in the annals of curling that on Monday 31st October a bonspiel was played on the pond at Garvald House between the Dolphinston and Garvald players. The pond is five feet deep, and the ice was excellent. There is still nearly one half of the oats in that neighbourhood to cut, and almost the whole potatoes to dig.”

The next pair of excerpts speak for themselves of a different age.

1847, 20 Jan., The Scotsman.
“ROYAL LUNATIC ASYLUM, MORNINGSIDE.- CURLING.- The inmates of this asylum have recently formed an artificial pond in the grounds, and instituted a curling club amongst themselves; and, through the kindness of the Duddingston and Merchiston clubs, who have presented them with a number of curling stones, these unfortunates are now occasionally enjoying the pleasures of this exhilarating and ancient game.”

1848, 7 Feb., Caledonian Mercury.
“CURIOUS CURLING CHALLENGE.- On Monday last, the inmates of Morningside, through their medical superintendent, Dr Skae, sent a challenge to the Merchiston Curling Club, four against four, either on their pond at Morningside, or any other. Four respectable citizens kindly agreed to humour the lunatics, and play them on their own pond; for which purpose their ‘channel stanes’ were sent out in a cart on Tuesday, but unfortunately John Frost had by that time taken his leave, and the ice was covered with water. Dr Skae’s patients comfort themselves by hoping that “there is a good time coming.”

One of the ways in which curlers could extend the number of curling days was by using rinks made on the Cairnie principle. Another was to substitute something different – indoors and on a much smaller scale. This was the 'curling table' or 'summer ice table'.

The Glasgow Herald, which in the first four decades of the century did not appear to take much interest in the National Game began from 1840 onwards to include lots of 'curliana' – results of matches, advertisements and curious snippets.

For example, the issue of 28 October 1850 contained an advert by Andrew Galloway of 105 Hope Street, Glasgow, which proclaimed:
“The subscriber begs to announce that he has lately introduced an EXCELLENT SUBSTITUTE for ICE, whereby the NATIONAL GAME of CURLING may be enjoyed within doors. It consists of a handsome Mahogany Table, resembling a Billiard Table in form, having a surface of perfect smoothness for the Curling Stones to glide over, and capable of being adjusted by screws to the greatest nicety of level. The style in which the apparatus is finished is such as to render it an ornamental piece of Furniture, suitable for any Mansion.

The Subscriber has furnished his Curling Tables to many Noblemen and Gentlemen, all of whom speak in the highest terms of the excellency of the invention, and of the agreeable exercise and amusement thereby afforded.

A Curling Table in operation, and numerous references may be seen at the Subscriber’s Cabinet and Upholstery Warehouse.
ANDREW Galloway.
105 Hope Street,
Glasgow, 23d October, 1850.”

It was not long before the possibilities were being exploited. In the Herald of 13 December 1850 Messrs. Pattison & Co., announced the opening of their “Magnificent SALOON” in Brunswick Place/ Trongate where patrons could enjoy “GAMES of AMERICAN BOWLING, CURLING, BOWLING, CHESS, DRAUGHTS AND BAGATELLE,” though NO BETTING ALLOWED.

Of the Curling Table they said: “[It] is furnished by Mr. Galloway, of Hope Street, and is one of the finest he has ever produced – being four feet longer than the one built for Eglinton Castle.”

Watercolour sketch by Jemima Wedderburn of a house party of the Earl of Selkirk playing at summer ice.

David B Smith

Thursday, April 02, 2009

An Sguabag Bhealaidh

At page 228 of his monumental history the Rev. John Kerr prints without introduction or discussion or translation seven verses of a Gaelic song by Paul Cameron of Blair Atholl.

Curling has never been an integral part of Gaelic culture and for long I wondered what the poem was about. Many years ago I asked Duncan McRae, RCCC Council member and law agent in Stirling, and native Gaelic speaker, if he would translate it for me, for the Gaelic is not much at me.

I recently came across his version, which he had entitled 'A Curling Ditty', although I could see with my very little Gaelic and my big Gaelic dictionary that the poet had called it 'The Little Broom'.

A search of the RCCC Annuals for the 1880s showed that a Paul Cameron was a member of the large Dunkeld Curling Club, as was the Duke of Atholl.

Curiously while I was working at a version of the poem in both languages a lady from Carrbridge got in touch by email. She was putting together a page of Gaelic terms used in curling and she had based her work on Paul Cameron’s poem. She wondered if I was able to help.

Here’s the McRae version.

Seisd. ‘S i mo luaidh an sguabag bhealaidh,
Chuireas snuadh an graidh nan fearibh,
‘S i mo luaidh an sguabag bhealaidh,
‘S alag mhear nan cuairteag.

Chorus. My favourite is the little broom
Putting colour into men’s cheeks;
My favourite is the little broom
And the lively effort of the circles.

Ged thig oirnne reoth’ ‘us gaillionn,
Chuireas groiceannaich do’n teallach
Theid na crolaich mach le farum
Thun a chath bu dual daibh.

Although frost and tempest may come upon us
Drawing ordinary men to their fire-places
The curlers venture forth merrily
To the battle as was their wont.

Gur e ‘n croladh gaol nam bairean,
Bheireas cail ‘us ceol ‘us carthan,
Slainte cre ‘us speiread aigne
Nach bi lag no truaillte.

Curling is the best loved of games
Providing strength, music and friendship,
A healthy heart and vigorous disposition
Which is neither weak nor defiled.

Thig an t-aodhair thig am baran,
Thig an t-aosda thig an gallan,
Dh’ ionnsuidh eire ghlas na carraid,
‘Togas tlachd mu ‘n cuairt di.

The farm workers will come and the lairds also,
The elderly will come and so will the young
Towards the grey ice of the contest
Giving pleasure to all the surroundings.

“Sios am bacan”, cluinn an sgiopair.
“Seol dhomh clach ri taobh na bioraid”.
Sid air falbh, an eiteag bhinneach,
‘S i air chrith ‘na gluasad.

Drop the “bottle” says the skip.
“Aim a stone beside the tee”.
Away goes the light stone
Shaking as it runs.

‘S ann an sin tha ’n horo-gheallaidh,
Ga toirt suas thar Sgor-na-caillich,
Rang a daimh le stri ga faire,
‘S laigh i ‘m barr na cuairteig.

Then there is great excitement
Echoing across Sgor na caillich,
The teams contesting vigorously
The stone lying on the edge of the circle.

Eadar “togail” agus “dionadh”,
“Sgram an geard” no “sgaile a cliathach”,
Cha ‘n ‘eil sean no og nach miannaich,
Bhi fo riar do bhuareis.

Between “raising” and “guarding”
“Wipe off the guard” or “strike out the shot”
Both old and young earnestly desire success,
All are thrilled by the excitement.

‘S lionar cuach de dh’fhuarag Adhal,
Nitear ol do Bhrod Dhunchaillion,
Bhuaidh ‘us cliu do’n Diuc tha again,
Sar chul-taic na sguabaig.

A cup is filled with Atholl Brose,
The toast is to the Brod of Dunkeld,
Victory and fame to the Duke,
Excellent supporter of the broom.

Seisd. ‘S i mo luaidh an sguabag bhealaidh,
Chuireas snuadh an graidh nan fearibh,
‘S i mo luaidh an sguabag bhealaidh,
‘S alag mhear nan cuairteag.

Chorus. My favourite is the little broom
Putting colour into men’s cheeks;
My favourite is the little broom
And the lively effort of the circles.

David B Smith, Troon, Scotland.
Daibhidh Mac a’ Ghobhainn, ann an t-Sron, Alba.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Silver Broom has a home

In July last year, we asked (see here) if anyone knew the whereabouts of the Silver Broom, the trophy that was awarded to the winners of the Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship, last played for in 1985. Nobody responded to our plea, but this week a sharp-eyed follower of this blog pointed us to an article in the Winnipeg Free Press, by Paul Wiecek.

The Silver Broom has been found, and has pride of place at the Winnipeg Granite Club! Here are extracts from Wiecek's story (the link is above, but just in case that disappears......)

Broom finds a home
Abandoned for years, curling's rescued trophy now sits in honour at the Granite
Paul Wiecek 6/12/200

It took the long way home. The very long way.

But 23 years after it was retired, one of curling's most iconic symbols -- the Air Canada Silver Broom trophy -- has finally found a dignified resting place right here in the city whose curlers won it three times.

The circuitous route that the trophy took to get here -- and the discovery of a fraternal twin in a tiny club in Switzerland -- is a story of a famous trophy forgotten then rediscovered, and the perseverance of one Winnipeg man in rescuing what was once the ultimate prize in all of curling.

"It had basically been sitting for about 14 years collecting dust in an Air Canada warehouse," says Jamie Hay, who used to work for the airline. "I figured that's no place for it... And so now it's here at the Granite (curling club), because I couldn't think of a better place than that."

Hay's long and twisting relationship with the Silver Broom begins in 1994. Some friends of his were playing in a bonspiel in Switzerland when they walked into the curling club's lounge and saw the Silver Broom trophy hanging on the wall.

They took a picture of their discovery and related the story to Hay, who filed it away in the back of his mind as a bit of an oddity.

And that's where the thought stayed until 1998, when an Air Canada vice-president told Hay that the company was thinking about starting a museum and was trying to reacquire its memorabilia. Hay told the VP of his friend's discovery in Switzerland and urged the airline to try and reacquire the trophy.

It was left at that until six months later, when the VP's assistant called Hay to inform him that the trophy had been discovered in a Montreal warehouse.

Hay wondered how the trophy somehow transported itself from Switzerland to Montreal. And he didn't hesitate to answer when the assistant asked Hay what she should do with the trophy, the museum plans apparently shelved. "Send it to me," Hay said.

A couple of days later, a huge crate arrived in Winnipeg. When Hay opened it, he was shocked to discover a massive wooden trophy with a silver broom attached, but which didn't look anything like the one in Switzerland that he'd seen the photo of.

It turns out that there were actually two Silver Broom trophies. Both had a silver broom that detached from its base, but the bases were different -- the one in Switzerland, which was awarded from 1968-78 was a plaque, but the one Hay was looking at, which was awarded from 1979-85 and was designed by a Canadian artist, was a massive piece of carved walnut.

(The trophy) has been to Calgary for the Canadian senior curling championships and it's been to an Air Canada bonspiel in Saskatoon. It spent a winter being displayed at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame at the downtown Bay and it spent two winters at the Fort William Curling Club, home of the man who last won it in 1985 -- Al Hackner.

And then last spring, Hay, a former president of the Granite Curling Club, hatched a plan with some fellow club members to put the trophy on display at Canada's oldest curling club.

A beautiful oak case was built by club member Don Supeene and the trophy was put on display in the club's second-floor dining room, sharing space with the club's almost-as-famous massive fireplace.

Don Duguid, who won the Silver Broom in 1970 and 1971, says it's the perfect resting place for a piece of curling history. "Where else would you put it?" Duguid asks. "It's the Mother Club and that trophy belongs there. It's a great spot."

Orest Meleschuk, who made it three world championships in a row for Winnipeg by winning the Silver Broom in 1972, says Hay deserves full credit for rescuing the trophy before Air Canada got into financial trouble a few years ago. "If Jamie hadn't found it, it could have ended up anywhere. Who knows -- it might have ended up at auction."

In the long run, Hay has a more ambitious plan for the trophy. Two ambitious plans, actually. "My opinion is that this thing should be sitting in the Canadian curling hall of fame... or it could be used as the championship trophy again. But there isn't a Canadian hall, and they're using another trophy right now at the worlds.

"So what do we do with it? The Granite seemed like a good place until we figure that out."

The Winnipeg Free Press photo shows L-R Derek Hay, Eric Guy, Don Supeene and Jamie Hay with the Silver Broom.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Memories of Crossmyloof

My curling career started at Crossmyloof Ice Rink in the early 1960s when I was a pupil at Hutchesons' Grammar School, just across the road. This photo was taken from Crossmyloof station. The rink closed in the late 80s and the site is now a supermarket. (Photo from this wonderful RAILSCOT Intranet site here)

The first rink at Crossmyloof opened on October 1, 1907, the enterprise of a few Glasgow businessmen. It could accommodate six rinks for curling, and was the first place in Scotland where curling could be enjoyed when it was not cold enough for outside play. This proved to be extemely useful when the Canadians visited in 1909 for the Stathcona Cup matches, see here.
This pic is from an old postcard of the 'Skating and Curling Pavilion, Crossmyloof', and shows the bandstand in the centre of the rink!

Curling in 1907. Pic from a Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual.
The rink closed at the end of the first world war and was purchased by William Beardmore and Company Ltd, to be used for the manufacture of aero engines. In 1929, a new rink was opened on the Crossmyloof site by the Scottish Ice Rink Company. Some of the walls of the old building were used in the construction of the new arena, which was somewhat bigger than the old. In the 1930s, a seven sheet curling rink was added to the complex, and then in 1961, a further four sheets were added for curling.

This is on the main seven sheet curling rink at Crossmyloof sometime in the early 1960s. The curlers in the centre are playing with the Alley Club on a Saturday morning. The player to the rear, in the cardigan, is Peter Cowan. (From Bob's collection)

This photo was taken in the four sheet annex, and shows Glasgow Ladies CC at play. The pic is from the Club's archives. The pipes ran across the sheets rather than lengthways and were plastic, the first time these had been used anywhere in Europe.

This is a view of the inside of the main arena, with skaters, and curling circles. Date (and source) unknown.

This is curling in the main arena, again date (and source) unknown. In the 1960s, on certain evenings, all the ice at the Crossmyloof complex was in use for curling, seventeen sheets in all.

Now, the next three pics are something of a puzzle. They show young people at play on the main curling rink, before the bar which overlooked the ice, was built. What was the occasion? It could well have been the first inter-school match between Hutchesons' Grammar and George Watson's in Edinburgh which took place in December 1961. Information would be welcome. Anyone recognise anybody?


Note the spectators in the 'hot house'.

There are other photos of curling at Crossmyloof on the SCRAN site here. I would be pleased to learn if anyone reading this has others. I would also like to be able to correctly credit those pics whose source is not indicated.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Ramsay

One of the little-sung heroes of Scottish curling history is the Rev. John Ramsay. Like many a man of the cloth he was a keen curler. He joined the famous Duddingston Curling Society in 1808 at the age of 30, but it was publication – anonymously – of An Account of the Game of Curling by a Member of the Duddingston Curling Society that entitles him to a place in the pantheon of Scottish curling.

An Account was, of course, the first printed account of the history and present practice of the game. In it Ramsay proposed for the first time in print the idea that curling had come to Scotland from the Low Countries, but he also firmly placed it in the culture of Scotland of his day.

Ramsay was born in Carstairs in Lanarkshire and went to the University of Edinburgh where he studied Arts and Divinity. Before he got a charge of his own he made ends meet by being a private tutor, co-founder with Sir David Brewster, a fellow student, of The Edinburgh Encyclopedia, editor of and contributor to The Scots Magazine, and after 1805 successively assistant minister to the Rev. George Husband Baird, Principal of the University and minister of the High Kirk, assistant to Sir Henry Welwood Moncreiff of St Cuthbert’s and assistant to Dr Moodie of the Tron Kirk. Principal Baird a member of the Duddingston Society. In 1812 he was called as assistant to the parish kirk of Ormiston, East Lothian, where he speedily succeeded to the ministership on the death of the incumbent. After twenty one years he was called to Gladsmuir and spent the rest of his life in the ministry of that East Lothian parish.

While Ramsay was a member of Duddingston he not only was elected one of the committee to devise the Gold Medal but also wrote his Account and participated in all the usual curling activities. The Duddingston Bet Book shows him joining in challenges by members from Lanarkshire against members from Dumfries and Galloway but joining other clerics to play the lawyers.

When he got to Gladsmuir he was in at the foundation of the curling club there and from 1836 until 1841 was the new club’s president. One of his first acts was to propose that the club “should procure a silver Medal to be worn for the Season by the winner.” He remained a member until, it appears, he resigned the presidency and membership in 1841. What caused the separation of the club and the minister is not known, but for the last thirty years of his life the minute book is silent about him; and even his death went unnoticed.

His parishioners, however, did erect after his death in 1871 a plain, dignified stone above his grave in the kirkyard at Gladsmuir.

During the just-finished tour of Scotland by the Canadian curlers, David Affleck, secretary of the East Lothian Province of the RCCC, and the president, Callum Harvey, arranged for a deputation of two of the Canadians, Barry Greenberg and Bruce Beveridge, to join them to lay a wreath in memory of this important man. The wreath was made, appropriately, of evergreen branches of Scots pine and conifer of Canadian origin.

When the Rev. John Kerr wrote of Ramsay in a piece that is printed in The Channel Stane he said, “If any ‘brither curler’ has a day to spare when the summer sun dispels all thoughts of John Frost and the channel-stane, he will find it refreshing to visit the beautiful spot where our historian is laid, and to read the simple inscription on the marble slab above his grave.”

What a good idea!

by David B Smith.

The small volume that is the Account of the Game of Curling by Rev John Ramsay.

Ramsay's headstone at the old Gladsmuir kirk.

A wreath made up of conifer foliage such as the Douglas Fir and Thuya, both native plants in the Canadian west coast, and Scots pine foliage, all collected from Smeaton Lake, a traditional outdoor curling site, was placed at the foot of the Graveyard memorial. L-R: David Affleck, Barry Greenberg, Bruce Beveridge, Callum Harvey.

Pics by Bob Cowan

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Curling in the Footsteps of History: Part 1

Robin Copland has written about the Canadian curlers' visit to Scotland in 1909. His booklet, Curling in the Footsteps of History, is reproduced here in four parts.

INTRODUCTION

The pioneering Canadian tour took place in January and February 1909. This important tour set the tone for future tours of Scotland from Canada. Like all tours, true stamina was required of the party – especially at the start of the twentieth century when planes and email were but dreams!

I do hope that you enjoy reading of their exploits while here in Scotland. A fuller version of the whole story is available in the 1910 RCCC Annual and that was my primary source for information. (There is a list of all my sources at the end of Part 4)

Robin Copland

CHAPTER ONE – PLANNING AND PREPARATION

In 1903, after many invitations had been sent and rejected for one reason or another, a hardy party of Scottish curling tourists under the captaincy of the Reverend John M Kerr, toured Canada and the USA during a period of two months in January and February.

Five years later, at the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’s Annual General Meeting in Perth in July 1908, it was “resolved unanimously and enthusiastically to invite a team of Canadians to Scotland and return if possible the hospitality shown by Canada to the curlers from the mother country in the winter of 1902-03”. Although the notice was short for such an undertaking, the invitation was sent out specifically to coincide with Lord Strathcona’s Presidency of the Royal Club, his Lordship being “such a link between Scotland and Canada … and had taken such a keen concern with the advancement of ‘Scotland’s ain game’”.

Sir Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal

When the message was flashed back that Canada cordially accepted the invitation, the news was received with “unmingled delight” in Scotland’s curling communities although some privately feared that the size of the organisational task that lay ahead would perhaps preclude the tour ever taking place. The doubters should not have worried! Within two months a team, with representatives from as far afield as Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Dawson City, Yukon, had been picked and were making plans for their trip – this, mind you, in a time when the phone was a rarity and the only quick way to get a message cross-country was by telegram.

A small committee was put together in Scotland to organise a programme that mixed competitive curling matches with dinners, hospitality and sight-seeing. The programme extended over five weeks. As a sign of the times, it included no curling on any of the six Sabbath days and indeed, Church Services were organised on each of them, including two at Scotland’s great Cathedrals, St Giles in Edinburgh and Glasgow Cathedral in the west.

There was only one covered artificial rink at Crossmyloof in Glasgow. This had been “very kindly placed at the service of the Royal Club in the event of John Frost not having the decency to provide natural outdoor ice for the occasion”. It was just as well and in the event, many of the matches took place in this wondrous new facility on Glasgow’s south side.

CHAPTER TWO – ARRIVAL AT LIVERPOOL AND THE JOURNEY NORTH

Although by this time, trans-Atlantic liners were driven by steam, there was still uncertainty over arrival times depending on the weather. This was specially the case for winter crossings. The Empress of Ireland was thus listed to arrive at Liverpool on either the 15th or 16th of January. Although she enjoyed a capital crossing from Canada, the tide prevented her docking until the morning of the 16th, so the Scottish welcome party that had travelled down to Liverpool on the 15th had to wait a night before welcoming their Canadian brethren to the shores of their ancestry. They passed “a pleasant evening” in the company of members of the Liverpool Curling Club before marching to the dockside in procession behind Pipe-Major Mackay, carrying their besoms high and wearing their Tam o’ Shanters with pride.

Old friendships from the earlier tour were rekindled and the Canadians, sporting their Dominion heather button-holes, welcomed the visiting party onto their ship where a toast was drunk to the success of the tour. A special train transported the party north directly to Edinburgh’s Waverley station. Interestingly, two ladies accompanied their men on the tour, something that would perhaps not be countenanced in these supposedly more enlightened times one hundred years later!

The train was held up for fully an hour by a fall of snow near Newcastleton on the route north. Meantime “the visitors and their friends thoroughly enjoyed themselves … by singing songs, cracking jokes and spinning yarns”!

During the journey north, a calculation was made: the average number of miles travelled by each of the tourists – just in getting to Halifax to join their ship – was 1200. One hardy soul, the cheery Mr McPherson of Dawson City, would travel something like 14000 miles in total over land and sea during the tour. He used various modes of transport from pony and trap to express luxury liner through trains and automobiles!

CHAPTER THREE – ARRIVAL IN EDINBURGH

The welcoming party of Edinburgh curlers had a long wait at the Capital’s Waverley Station due to the blocked line at Newcastleton. It is not recorded how this time was spent, though looking back over a hundred years, one cannot help but wonder if the proximity of the bar at the North British Hotel might give us a clue!

The stationmaster, Mr Maitland, arranged for fog signals to be placed on the down line to warn of the train’s impending arrival. Sure enough, the loud retorts of their detonation gave the welcoming party due warning and two lines of local curlers stood on the platform. Mr Robert Cousin of Merchiston CC and Mr Mark Sanderson of Duddingston CC had been tourists to Canada and they lead the colourful lines of curlers, both from their own respective clubs, as well as representatives of the Waverley, Northern, Craiglockhart, Balerno, Currie, Corstorphine and Bathgate Curling Clubs.

As the train drew to a halt, the whole party erupted in cheers and each of the tourists was welcomed to Scotland individually and enthusiastically by each of the welcoming party. “A spirit of jollity” prevailed. Pipe-Major Duguid of the Queen’s Edinburgh Brigade struck up on his pipes and soon a large crowd of interested onlookers had gathered to view the procession of curlers as they made their way from the station platform up onto Princes Street and to the tourists’ hotel.

Once in their hotel, a speech of welcome to “the ancient capital of dear old Scotland” was given by ex-Provost Gordon. The Hon Duncan Cameron Fraser, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia and Captain of the tourists gave the first of many “thank-you” speeches on Scottish soil. He finished his first speech thus:

“We, like the Scots, would rather lose every time than win by aught that would lower us in the estimation of the people…”

Brave words that echo down through history to the present day!

Here is a list of the 1909 Canadian tourists:

Captain of the Tour
Lieutenant-Governor D C Fraser

Ontario Members
T J Hamilton, Merchant, Fergus;
Alex Logan, Merchant, Parry Sound;J H Neelands, Merchant, Barrie;
R L Paterson, Manufacturer, Toronto;
Simpson Rennie, Seedsman, Toronto;
J W Ryder, Hotelkeeper, Sarnia;
R S Strath, Real Estate, Toronto;
R M Waddell, Peterborough;
Randolf McDonald, Railroad Contractor, Toronto;
Lieutenant-Colonel McKenzie (Captain), Manufacturer, Sarnia.

Quebec Members
D A Bethune, Contractor, Montreal;
Alex Milne, Contractor, Montreal;
David McGill, Agent, Montreal;
A McAulay, Merchant, St John’s, NB;
James Stewart, Contractor, Pembroke, Ont;
William Stuart, Contractor, Ottawa, Ont;
F S Stocking, Passenger Agent, Quebec;
W L Thom, Merchant, Montreal;
H G Willis (Secretary), Agent, Montreal;
J H Hutchison (Captain), Contractor, Montreal.

Nova Scotia Members
James Dover, Merchant, Truro;
Dalziel Paterson, Customs Department, Pictou;
George E Munro, Merchant, Westville;
Lieutenant-Governor D C Fraser;
H St Clair Silver (Captain), Merchant, Halifax.

Manitoba Members
Alex Fowler, Merchant, Balder;
Dr W J Harrington, Physician, Dauphin;
Henry T Hurdon, Transportation, Duluth, Minnesota, USA;
A D McDougall, Railway Contractor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA;
Donald McMillan, Accountant, Butte, Montana, USA;
J G McLean, Merchant, Pilot Mound;
C W McPherson, Civil Engineer, Dawson City, Yukon;
J P Robertson, Historian and Librarian, Winnipeg;
William Robertson, Lumber Merchant, Kenora;
A S Ross, Superintendent, Regina, Sask;
W L Parrish (Captain), Grain Merchant, Winnipeg.

Very few of these are the “great and the good”! The tourists were drawn from seven of the Canadian Provinces; almost all were from “middle class” backgrounds. Three of their number were from across the border in the USA and became honorary Manitobans for the duration! We should not be too surprised by this seeming anomaly as the 1903 Scottish Tour to Canada had included some of the northern States of the USA in its itinerary.


Alexander Logan, 1862 – 1944. Parry Sound Curling Club and 1909 Canadian Tourist

• Born 24 May, 1862, South Oakley, Parrish of Saline, Fifeshire, Scotland.
• Emigrated to Canada with his parents in 1883.

• Occupation: Contractor and businessman. He founded Logan's Funeral Home and Furniture Store in 1885. Logan's Funeral Home carries on business in the same location to this day and is managed by Alexander's great grandson, Hugh Logan. He was also responsible for the construction of several commercial buildings in Parry Sound.
• Co-founder, ardent curler and supporter of the Parry Sound Curling Club.
• Corresponded with Andrew Carnegie of Dunfermline, Scotland and was successful in securing his financial support for the purchase of the first pipe organ at Parry Sound's St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.
• Fire Chief for the Town of Parry Sound, Church Elder and member of local Masonic Lodge.