Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Curling in the Footsteps of History: Part 4


by Robin Copland

From the outset, it was understood that although friendly competition against the Provinces and Clubs of Scotland, whether outdoors or in, would provide the tourist with most of his curling, there would be a series of three “test” matches in which “Greek would meet Greek”. These three test matches would decide “who held priority in curling fame” between Canada and Scotland.

Lord Strathcona presented a magnificent Challenge Cup, made by Messrs Sorley, Glasgow, Silversmiths to the Patron of the RCCC, His Majesty King Edward VII. There follows some pictures of the cup and of details thereon.

The Crest of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club

The Coat of Arms of Lord Strathcona

Sir George Harvey’s “Curlers”

Stirling Castle

As can be seen from these pictures, the Cup is a magnificent example of the silversmith’s art. The slight oxidising of the picture panels really “throws” the pictures out and shows them off to best effect. The Cup is now 100 years old and is still in tremendous condition for its age. Currently, it is housed in the vaults of the famous Edinburgh jewellers, Hamilton and Inches and is only "allowed out” for important occasions.

Interestingly, the records show that the Canadians were allowed to take the cup back to Canada with them after the first tour, and to keep it in Canada until 1st December 1909, by which time it had to be returned to the RCCC for safe keeping. Nowadays, the practice is for the cup to stay in the RCCC’s care at all times.

In order to select the Scottish rinks for the test matches, the Provinces were invited to put forward rinks for consideration. More rinks were offered than were needed, so the simple expedient of the ballot chose who was in and who was out! The following eighteen Provinces sent a rink of four players each to defend Scotland’s honour: Glasgow, Dundee and Perth, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, Scottish Central, Caledonian Club (England), Dumfriesshire, Biggar, Stirlingshire, Border, Peeblesshire, Midlothian, Loch Leven, Tenth, East Lothian, Cupar, West Lothian and West of Fife.

It is easy to be wise after the event, but this was hardly scientific and the result, with the benefit of one hundred years of hindsight, was in all probability a foregone conclusion!

In any case, the first Test Match took place at Crossmyloof on Thursday 28th January. The Scots only managed to secure two victories, though Renfrewshire’s James Y Keanie, a late substitute for the indisposed William Logan, scored an emphatic win by 24 – 8 against the hapless Colonel McKenzie of Sarnia, Ontario. The score after this first match was 112 – 70 in favour of the Canadians. The Scotsman newspaper reported that the Rev J Kerr exclaimed almost despairingly, “Mercy on puir auld Scotland if in the succeeding games of this important series we get on no better than this.”

Unfortunately for the Scots, things did not get any better! The second Test Match took place at the same venue on 1st February when the Scottish deficit was 29 and the third Test Match on Monday 8th February resulted in a Canadian triumph by 30 shots.

Needless to report the matches were played in the best of sportsmanship and the services of the umpire were never once required! After each Match there was a banquet when “with the knees under the mahogany, the fight was forgotten, and song and sentiment whiled the social hours away.”

Mr William Henderson, Vice President of the RCCC, presented the Cup to the winning team on the ice at Crossmyloof and, in so doing, paid tribute to the team and especially to its Captain, Lieutenant-Governor Duncan Cameron Fraser, “a man of fine masculine build”, as he put it!

In his reply, Lieutenant-Governor Fraser said something that rings down through the ages. “I never heard a man suggest that his stone ought to be in or out, as the case might be; not a single issue has been raised, not one unkind word, nor, I believe, one unkind thought. I tell you that the game that can educate men up to that point is a game which we should think good.”


Throughout the tour, the various Scottish Provinces came to Glasgow to play the tourists in the Scottish Ice Rink at Crossmyloof. Each curler doubtless travelled in expectation; by the end of the Canadians’ visit in February, one imagines that the later players travelled more in hope!

In truth, the Scottish curlers were vanquished by what must have been a very talented group of curlers who would, of course, have got better and better the more practice they had and the more they became used to the artificial ice at Crossmyloof. Bear in mind too that many of their Scottish opponents might literally not have had a game all season if the weather in their region had not allowed it.

The die was cast when the Scoto-Canadian team came visiting on 25th January for a match that the Canadians must have fretted about in their quieter moments. The Scots were accounted for by 67 clear shots and that set the pattern. On four other occasions, the Canadians won by more than 60 shots over a day’s play and in the last match of all against the tenth Province, they won by an astonishing total of 91 shots!

The team played a total of twenty six matches (each match comprised a number of individual games – either 6 or 12) and they were on the losing side on only three separate occasions. Many of the individual players remained undefeated throughout the tour.

The overall statistics were as follows:
Matches played: 26 Won: 23 Lost: 3
Shots up on matches won: 947
Shots down on matches lost: 16
Net shots up over the tour: 931

Disappointingly, only three matches were played in total on natural ice. The Scottish Ice Rink in Crossmyloof was a busy place as the balance of matches was played there.


Let it not be said that the tourists did not get out and about in Scotland! Apart from the long-distance journeys to Inverness, Aberdeen and Balmoral – these were the only occasions during the tour when outdoor ice conditions made the journey inevitable – the party did repair to various curling centres, there to enjoy hospitality and, perhaps, share the odd dram and tall tale.

The tourists were obviously based for the large part in Glasgow and there were many formal and informal dinners and occasions in the Second City of the Empire as it then was. For the most part, the Provinces would come to Glasgow, curl and then host a luncheon in the Canadians’ honour.

Exceptions to this rule there were though. For example, on 29th January (not February as the RCCC Annual would have it – the tourists had already departed for home shores by that time), David Gordon, ex-Provost of Bathgate and, much more importantly, a member of the 1903 Scottish Tour party to Canada, arranged for a “special” train to be laid on to take both the tourists and the team members of the West Lothian Province from Crossmyloof railway station at the back of the ice rink directly to Bathgate, there to host a dinner on his “home patch”! The evening was one of the highlights of the tour. Let the scribe in the 1910 Annual take up the story!

“…and what a night they made of it can never be described in the sober pages of the Curling Annual, with its (the West Lothian Province) committee watching its increasing bulk and weighing the question of expenditure.”

The report continues, “The gallery was occupied by a galaxy of ladies” and the local press wrote of “an epoch-making event in the history of Bathgate”! The whole evening seems to have enchanted the tourists and, given the excess of hospitality to which they had already been subjected, it says much for ex-Provost Gordon’s preparations that such a night amongst nights was so memorably enjoyed by one and all.

Other forays furth of Glasgow were made to Perth, to Coupar Angus, to Blairgowrie, to Crieff, to Dunkeld where the famous Cathedral received a visitation, to Blair Castle, to Dirleton in East Lothian and to Lanarkshire.

One supposes that another real highlight of the tour was the swing north from 12th – 15th February to Inverness, then east to Aberdeen and west to Balmoral. By this time, the tour was well underway and the results had all gone Canada’s way – so much so that, when snow began to fall on the games at Balmoral, McPherson of Dawson City, another of the many characters of the tour, remarked, “we have played you indoors and out of doors in all conditions – what we want now to complete this tour is to play you in mud…!”

Overall, the entertainment provided by their Scottish hosts seems to have varied from the sublime set-piece banquets, like the Welcome Reception in the Music Halls, like the luncheons hosted in City Chambers and Town Halls and like the formal evening in Inverness to less formal “smoker” evenings, visits to the theatre, a Curlers’ Court and what seems to have been an uproarious night in Bathgate. There was plenty of singing – indeed various tour songs were published and the Canadians were not scared to rise to their feet and tell a tall tale or two when the occasion demanded!


These Canadians impressed all with whom they came in contact. They were obviously talented curlers – their record speaks for itself – and although some might uncharitably say that they had the advantage of Crossmyloof as almost their home rink and that they had huge amounts of practice where their opponents would have been rusty and unsure of themselves, the fact remains that they won the first iteration of the Strathcona Cup by a massive margin of 101 shots over 18 games – an average of over 5 shots advantage on average per game played. Overall, including non-counting and Provincial matches, they routed the Scots by 931 shots, an average of just under 4 shots per game played.

But this 1909 tour was about much more than mere statistics. It was about forging genuine bonds across an ocean. It was about setting out some traditions that have travelled down through the years and that still hold true to this day. What shines out to me is the genuine affection that team mates felt for each other as the tour progressed and the real camaraderie of the rink that enabled strangers to get together and over the course of twelve or thirteen ends of curling have such a fine time in each other’s company that, come the lunch or dinner afterwards, they could sit down together and talk as if they had known each other all of their lives.

Many were the tributes paid this way and that by tourist and host alike. The Captain of the tour, Lieutenant-Governor D C Fraser, noted that, “He (the Captain) had never met with a better body of men in his life than those Canadians who came over to Scotland under his charge…”

The party departed Scotland by train on Wednesday 24th February and made its way to Liverpool where R.M.S Empress of Ireland awaited them. Bon Voyage telegrams were forwarded on 26th February by Provost Gordon, Mr Davidson Smith, the Secretary of the RCCC and the Rev J Kerr to the Captain and his party aboard the liner.

In a summary of the tour written by the Honorary Secretary, Mr H G Wills, on board the liner approaching Canada and dated 4th March, he wrote of their Scottish hosts, “It would be impossible to meet with men who could show so much real enthusiasm, and who could cheer just as generously for our own success as for their own…”

Here is a list of all my sources:

· Season 1909 – 1910 Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for tour details
· www.clydebuiltships.co.uk for the picture of the Empress of Ireland and for ship’s dimensions and launch date
· 2009 Canadian Tour to Scotland website www.strathconacup100.ca/ for the picture of Lord Strathcona and the picture and details of Alexander
· Malcolm Patrick, member of Watsonian Curling Club and fellow member of the East Team on the 2003 Centenary Scottish Tour to Canada for details of the informal outdoor game at Watsonian CC
· Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log for details of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland
· Ian Mackay for the picture of the tour badge
· Ainslie Smith, Captain of the West Team and team mate on the 2003 Centenary
Scottish Tour to Canada for the copy of the Banquet Menu
· Lindsay Scotland, webmaster of the Centenary Tour to Canada, 2003
www.ccct2003.fsnet.co.uk/ for photographs of the Strathcona Cup
· David Smith, for his ‘Curling Places of Scotland’, version June 2008, which is
available on the Royal Caledonian Curling Club website:
www.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org under ‘About RCCC > Origin & History’

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