Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Canada and USA Women Curlers in Scotland in 1955

I encountered this curling pin badge recently, and, initially, I could not explain what it was about. When did Canadian and US ladies visit Scotland together? I set out to find out more, and only then realised the significance of it all.

The pin badge represents the first time that women curlers from North America had come to Scotland on a 'goodwill' tour. Scotland's men had first crossed the pond to Canada and the USA in 1902-03, and the Strathcona Cup had been contested on many occasions since. More recently the Herries Maxwell trophy had been donated for Scotland v USA men's matches in 1951. But it was not until 1955 that women from Scotland and North America were to meet on the ice. Who had taken the initiative for this, I wondered?

I find the first mention that women might also engage in goodwill tours in remarks made by William Paterson of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Club when he attended the RCCC AGM at Stirling on July 27, 1949. He had just been made a Vice-President of the RCCC. Paterson said, "Why don't you ladies arrange to have a team sent over with some of you ladies who want to have games with our ladies. I know some of our ladies have asked me about that possibility. I just put that as a suggestion and then perhaps something will come of it."

Nothing did come of this, for nearly three years.

I think it is important to realise that in the early 1950s, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had no input from women. The Office Bearers, and the Council of Management, were all male. There was no Ladies' Branch. One of the members of the US Men's team which had been in Scotland early in 1952, a Mr Kochs, on his return to America wrote to the Royal Club suggesting that an invitation be sent to lady curlers of the United States of America to visit Scotland. The Council apparently thought this was worth following up, and they invited all the Scottish women's curling clubs to send a representative to a meeting on June 18 to discuss this. This meeting was very successful, apparently, and a committee, headed by Mrs Love, of Perth Ladies, was established to take things forward.

But when this was brought up at the July 1952 AGM, there was an 'oops' moment, when William Paterson stood up to say, "I want to talk up for the ladies in Canada." It was he who had suggested a match between Canadian and Scottish women three years previously! Much discussion then ensued, with the outcome being to refer the matter back to Council, as the previous Canadian invitation had been 'overlooked'! 

Two more years were to pass, but at the Annual Meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, at Ayr Ice Rink, on Wednesday, July 28, 1954, an invitation for North American lady curlers to come to Scotland was back under discussion. On the Agenda, Item XIII, was 'Proposed Invitation to Canadian and USA Ladies'. John Watson, the incoming President, had taken the chair by the time the item was reached. He spoke in this way, "We have extended a provisional invitation to two rinks from Canada and two rinks from the United States of lady curlers to visit this country in January 1955. The ladies in Scotland have been extremely helpful. They are all working hard to gather up funds to entertaintheir visitors. The Council had a meeting with representatives from the ladies' clubs and we rather left it to themselves to decide whether they would house them in their own homes or in hotels. Each Area will decide that for themselves. They are raising, I think, adequate funds, but the Royal Club or the Council of the Club have agreed that they will be behind the ladies if they need financial assistance, and it is not too great. (Laughter.)

The duration of this tour is to be approximately one month. We understand that the ladies don't wish to play more than one game per day, and they will accordingly have perhaps rather a less strenuous time than the men had.

We have decided that the opposition in all cases shall be confined to ladies. They will not play against men on any occasion. I make that quite clear. (Hear, Hear.) It would be too dangerous for the visitors.

Now, I am going to ask this meeting very wholeheartedly to confirm this invitation to our lady friends across the water. (Hear, Hear, and Applause.)"

The meeting confirmed the invitation. A question followed from Mrs Fairley Daly of Glasgow Ladies to clarify if the invitation had already been sent. The Chairman replied that an unofficial invitation had been sent and accepted. Now that the matter had been officially raised at the RCCC AGM, the official invitation would be sent.

I was interested to read the words, "We have decided that the opposition in all cases shall be confined to ladies. They will not play against men on any occasion. I make that quite clear. (Hear, Hear.) It would be too dangerous for the visitors." Patronising, or what? Or was John Watson just trying to be funny?

The Tour went ahead in January 1955. Detailed information is hard to find, but perhaps this article might stimulate further research.

This is a photo of the Canadian and United States ladies on their arrival in Scotland, at Prestwick Airport. They were met by James Hamilton, Secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, and Mrs Murray, president, and Mrs Littlejohn, secretary, of Ayr Ladies Curling Club. Also in the photo are James McWhirter, Tom Smillie and Archie Gilmour. The photo was taken apparently by David Murray of the Gangrels Curling Club, and forwarded to the Scottish Curler.

Here are the four teams:

One of the Canadian teams, from Ontario. L-R: Mrs Andy Grant (skip), Mrs TG Davitt, Mrs MG Squires, and Mrs JB Walker. (Note the convention of the time in describing the women in terms of their husbands' names!)

This Canadian team was from Quebec. L-R: Miss E Gauthier (skip), Mrs H Clark, Mrs R Pollack, and Mrs HL Liffiton (who was Captain of the Canadian team).

The first USA rink. L-R: Mrs Ross Bennett (from Portage), Mrs George Erwin (Chicago), Mrs Frank Pollen (skip, from Chicago), and Miss Eleanor Garfield (from Boston).

The second of the US rinks. L-R: Mrs Horace Vaile (skip and captain of the US side, from Chicago), Mrs James A Clarke (from Yonkers, NY), Mrs Julien Leonard (Brookline), and Mrs Arthur Long (Chicago).

I do hope that curling friends in Canada and the USA may be able to say more about these pioneering women, for example, how they were selected to come to Scotland, and what has been handed down of their experiences here.

The illustrations in this article come from the February 1955 Scottish Curler magazine, in its first season of publication. This was the first time that an action picture of a woman curler had appeared on the magazine's cover! The caption says, "Everything is forgotten except the stone which curls its way to the target. Mrs Vaile, captain of the United States lady tourists in Scotland, lies flat on the ice to watch her stone. Often she waggles her right foot in agitation. This picture is an object lesson in concentration."

Robin Welsh, the Scottish Curler Editor, was extremely complimentary about the visitors in his Editorial. 'Lady Tourists Set the Heather on Fire. Canadian and United States Lassies ... a credit to their countries' was the header. He wrote, "A toast to the lassies ... of the Canadian and United States team. They have just left our shores, and, in retrospect, we can now survey the tour - the first ever made by a group of overseas lady curlers.

Everywhere they went these ladies captured the imagination; the colour and spirit of them infected us, curler and spectator alike, and their tour was a triumphant progress.

And how appreciative they were of anything done for them. Said Mrs Vaile, captain of the United States side: 'Never have we met such friendly and hospitable people. Nothing has been left undone for our pleasure. I think none of us will be content until we come back again.' Well, Mrs Vaile, will ye, and your sister tourists, no' come back again?

They were such a cheery happy lot - sixteen smiling gals. But I'll say this about their huge success in Scotland. They worked for it. Not only did they play almost continuously for a month (standing up to the strain magnificently), but they also had a month's round of official functions AND they found time to write kind letters to their many new friends AND they kept smiling.

The Castle in Edinburgh was floodlit in their honour; and the visitors lit their own lights of friendship throughout Scotland. A great performance all round. These ladies were a credit to their countries."

It is in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1955-56 that we find a further Scottish response, in the report of the Annual Meeting at Perth Ice Rink, on Wednesday, July 27, 1955. Mrs T Love of Perth Ladies addressed the meeting, "Mr. Chairman, my Lord, Sister and Brother Curlers, it has been said, to be seen one must stand up, to be heard one must speak up, but to be appreciated one must sit down. I shall be brief. As you all know, in January of this year eight ladies from Canada and eight from America arrived at Prestwick Airport, all ready for four weeks' curling mixed with fun and good sportsmanship. I think their hopes were realised. Speaking for the Scottish Ladies, and I think for many of the men too, our guests were most charming. They appreciated all that we did for them. They were good curlers and they were good sports, and I hope that we will always remember that. (Hear, Hear.)

As Scottish Convener I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Royal Club for their kindness and help to us during the times of our meetings, especially Mr Hamilton, with whom I had many long telephone conversations, and long epistles and short ones from time to time. The members of my committee I thank very much for the hard work they put into all the arrangements they made and for the raising of the funds. This was done very successfully, and no area was one penny in debt. (Hear, Hear.) And the £200 which was offered from the Royal Club was not called upon, too. (Hear, Hear, and Applause.) In fact, in this area we have £60 invested against the next visit. (Hear, Hear, and Applause.)

This was a tour of goodwill, and an experiment which we hope will be repeated. The results of the games did not seem of importance so much as the games themselves, as you will realise when I tell you that some of the areas had no records of the games' scores. (Hear, Hear, and Applause.) Everyone was most helpful and was very willing to help in any function in which they were approached, such as civic receptions, and every-one was very helpful indeed. I would like to say, thank you very much, one and all. I can say truthfully that the tour was very successful. (Hear, Hear, and Applause.)"

This confirmed that a committee of Scotland's women curlers had taken charge of the arrangements of the incoming tour. More importantly, it had all been accomplished within budget.  

The Scottish Committee were organised too, in having their own commemorative pin for the event.

Mrs Love states that the tour was an 'experiment'. Its success set in motion important consequences for women curlers in Scotland. Three years later saw the formation of the Ladies' Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. In 1958 there was an increasing number of lady curlers who were members of clubs affiliated to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. At the AGM of the RCCC in July 1958, Irene Cleland (Edinburgh Ladies Curling Club) asked the Royal Club 'if it would consider the formation of a Ladies’ Committee, so that the women could confer with each other over matters pertaining to women’s curling'. According to Marjorie Broatch who wrote The Ladies Branch Of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club: The First Twenty-five Years, Mrs Cleland reminded the Chairman, Brigadier Jack Gow, that prior to the visit of the Canadian and American Touring Team in 1955, a temporary Committee was formed. This Committee was responsible for the entertaining of that team and for raising the necessary sums of money. If a permanent Committee was to be formed, the women would then have the machinery to call meetings. This would enable the clubs to get in touch with each other without lessening their loyalty to the RCCC whose traditions meant so much to all women curlers."

And so the Ladies' Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had its origins. In November 1958, the first Scottish Ladies' team toured Canada and the USA.

It was not to be until 1979, that the first World Women's Curling Championship took place. But that's another story.

The illustrations are as indicated in the text. My thanks to Lindsay Scotland for taking the photos of the two pins. Both these pins will be for sale at a fundraising event, organised by the Carrington Curling Club, at Murrayfield Curling Rink on November 18, details here. The proceeds will benefit the ongoing rink renovation project. Some of the other items which will be on sale, or auctioned:

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