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.


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


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.


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!


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.

Curling in the Footsteps of History: Part 2


by Robin Copland

That there was a rink to play on at Myreside at all was due to a young groundsman called Scott, a keen, keen curler from the Borders. On his own initiative, he had constructed a concrete curling rink that, although smaller than regulation size, was used for curling until, in 1902, it became the floor of an implement shed. For Season 1902/03, Scott had made two pioneering Tarmacadam rinks at the side of the club pavilion and further, had installed gas lighting. For many seasons, the Watsonian CC played matches with neighbouring clubs when frost permitted.

On the Saturday night of the Canadians’ arrival in Scotland, there was a sharp frost in Edinburgh and a member of the Watsonian Curling Club, founded less than ten years earlier in 1898, took it upon himself to invite a number of the tourists to his club, there to enjoy an informal game of curling. For the next couple of hours, a cheery game was enjoyed before all participants adjourned to the pavilion for drinks and high jinks.

History records a victory on the ice for the Scots, though the games were not official and therefore do not appear in the record books.

It thus appears that the Watsonian Curling Club had the privilege of being the first curling club in Scotland to entertain members of a visiting Canadian team. The 2009 tour will have dinner in the Watsonian clubhouse on Thursday 29th January – the second last night that they will have in Scotland. I cannot help but think it is a fitting place at which to end their tour and hopefully, glasses will be raised in honour of the hardy souls who accepted the informal invitation a century ago.


One of the features of the 1909 tour was the importance attached to Worship. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, though it is somehow quaint to reflect from a century on that it was absolutely expected that every one of the tourists would attend church on each of the Sundays that they found themselves in Scotland. No allowance seems to have been made for the possibility that different faiths may have been represented on the tour, although, to be fair, that is probably because there were none!

Thus the party attended a Service in their honour at noon on Sunday 17th January at St Giles Cathedral. The Reverend John White of South Leith conducted the service and gave “a very powerful sermon on the Responsibility of the Empire”. He spoke of the tour as “evidence of a growing friendship between the Mother Country and her daughter colonies”. The official report notes that, “the visitors were much interested in St Giles” and that each met the Reverend White in their hotel after the service. Indeed he became the first recipient of the official tour badge.


Suitably refreshed after a relatively easy Sunday in the Capital and spiritually revived as they must have been after the thunderous sermon given by the good Minister from South Leith, the tourists were entertained by the Edinburgh Council on Monday morning. They visited the City Chambers and Edinburgh Castle before heading for Peebles by train on a line sadly now disused.

Though the weather in Peebles was dismal with rain falling from a leaden sky, the tourists received a warm welcome from local curlers who raised their brooms and shouted in their honour as their train steamed into the picturesque station. Later, they were honoured with a civic reception in the Town Hall. Flags flapped in the wind and handkerchiefs were chastely waved from the upper-floor windows along the main street.

What is striking about the 1909 tour – Peebles is just the first example – is the way that elected officials went out of their way to welcome the Canadians to their towns and cities. The tour was a huge event in Scotland and the tourists seemed to have caused a massive stir wherever they went.

Later that night, the curlers were entertained to dinner at the Peebles Hydropathic (now known simply as the Peebles Hydro Hotel). Sir Henry Ballantyne, a tourist himself on the 1903 tour, presided over the event and spoke of his pride at hosting the first official dinner of the tour. Many were the speeches thereafter and the toast list, looking back a hundred years, was mind-boggling in its length and complexity. These were different times from those we inhabit today!

The next morning must have been an exciting one for the party – many of whom were of Scottish origin, for a visit had been laid on to Abbotsford House, home of Sir Walter Scott – arguably Scotland’s most famous author. The party was joined by several local ladies and gentlemen and was conveyed in eleven motor vehicles, a rarity in those far-off days, and travelled to Abbotsford via Selkirk. After an hour in Scott’s famous old house, the party proceeded to Melrose where again, they received a raucous welcome from the townspeople. Again, there was a civic reception before the Canadians were given some time to explore the ruins of Melrose Abbey. Everywhere they went, they were feted, though sadly any plans that may have been made for curling had to be abandoned because of the weather.

Interestingly, two Canadian Maple Trees were planted on the site of the artificial curling pond in Melrose and another was later planted in the public park at Peebles. The party was then escorted by the town’s curlers to the train station, where they were given a most hearty send-off, “cheers being raised again and again”.


There were about twenty Freemasons in the party – that out of a total of thirty-seven curlers. Freemasonry then was a powerful force and movement and there were a number of events organised specifically for them. The first of these took place in the tour’s next stop, Kilwinning, where they were entertained by the Lodge Canongate, one of the most ancient Scottish Lodges, which at the time boasted of having the oldest Lodge Rooms in the world.

Obviously, we cannot go into what was said or indeed done at the Carlton Hotel that faroff night, except to say that Brother Duncan Cameron Fraser, the Tour Captain, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia and Past M.W Grand Master Mason of Nova Scotia was given the singular honour of honorary membership of the Lodge.

Throughout the tour, the Masonic members were spirited away from time to time to private dinners or entertainment. For example, on 16th February, after dinner in Aberdeen, the Masonic tourists were guests of the Provincial Grand Master at a concert.

Curling in the Footsteps of History: Part 3


by Robin Copland

The 20th January was described in contemporary reports as “the red-letter day of the great tour”, for on that day the National Reception was given for the Tourists in the Music Hall, now the Assembly Rooms in George Street, Edinburgh.

The evening started at 5.00pm and, so as the tourists could gird their loins for the marathon ahead, they were given the day off and used the time to send telegrams back to their families in Canada, as well as taking the chance to visit “Auld Reekie” as normal tourists, as opposed to members of a VIP group.

The company numbered some five hundred and the evening was chaired by Lord Strathcona, the President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Suffice to say that there were seven Lords of the Realm present at the evening, as well as the Solicitor-General of Scotland, a number of past-Provosts of Edinburgh, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and the Reverend J Kerr, the Captain of the Scottish 1903 touring team. Prime Minister A J Balfour sent a telegram of greeting in which he greatly regretted his inability to attend the function.

The toast list was common for the time. Where a curling dinner today contents itself with a guest speaker to toast the health of the club to which a member of the club tends to give a whimsical response, the number of speeches that far-off day was nine. Each of the speakers spoke at some length and the main themes were a warm welcome to the Canadians, the special relationship between Canada and Scotland, the Empire and the Armed Forces.

Looking back, it is strange that the major banquet of the tour was in the first week - before any curling stone had been thrown in anger! A grand night seems to have been had by one and all, mind you and that is all that is important to record.


Down through the years, Glasgow has proved herself equal to the challenge that curlers set her. Successful World and World Junior Championships bear testament. Perhaps the first time though, that Glasgow came to curlers’ rescue was in 1909. The Canadian tourists arrived through in Scotland’s largest city on Thursday 21st January. As the RCCC’s report put it in the 1910 Annual, “Other communities in Scotland might arrange to entertain the strangers at their festive boards; but Glasgow, knowing the National weather, had a notion that it would see much of them in the next three or four weeks. In St Mungo’s hand was the magnet that would attract them to the west, and hold them there.”

And the magnet? The newly-built Scottish Ice Rink had been completed in the suburb of Crossmyloof on the south side of the city. By the time the Canadians came to visit, it was already into its second season of business, having opened its doors for the first time in October 1907. Sadly there is no rink on the site anymore. Instead, shoppers walk the aisles of a Morrisons superstore, where before curlers toiled and brushed.

When the Canadians arrived at Queen Street station on George Square in the centre of the city, suffice it to say that they were met by the usual pomp and circumstance to which by now they must have become accustomed. An archway of brushes was formed by the welcoming curlers; pipers led the procession to the square and the party made their way to the North British Hotel beside the station for welcoming refreshments. Speeches of welcome were given and received and pins exchanged with the local dignitaries.

Friday 22nd January was the much-awaited day when the Canadians officially took to the ice for the first time. A series of trial matches was played against local clubs on both the Friday and Saturday and, in fact, let it be reported that the locals gave a good account of themselves – indeed they were up on aggregate, although the games were not “test” matches and therefore did not count in the overall competition. On the close of the first day’s play, the team were entertained to a grand dinner in the city’s St Enoch hotel, a railway hotel beside the station of the same name.

Much was made of the fact that the local rinks won because they were familiar, indeed comfortable with the ice conditions at Crossmyloof. Many ventured at the time that it would have been a useful exercise if the Scottish test teams had practised on the artificial ice before the official test matches later on in the tour.

On the Sunday morning, the party worshipped at Glasgow Cathedral. After the service, the visitors were shown round the Cathedral – a singular honour as it happens. Each of the tour party was presented with a copy of the sermon given by the Reverend Dr Cooper, Professor of Church History at Glasgow University.


Although some members of the 1903 Scottish team were unable to take part, most of them travelled to Glasgow on Monday 25th January so that the two teams could meet together in friendly competition. This time, the Canadians got into their stride – perhaps the practice sessions at the end of the previous week had helped them become acclimatised – and in beating their Scottish counterparts, gave a good account of themselves. The RCCC annual reports as follows, “Each Scot gave a neat memento to his Canadian opponent when they met on the rink, and a pleasant interlude for luncheon, with sundry adjournments to the bar to see if Riddell’s blend was up to the mark, made up a most delightful day.”

That evening, the memory of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, was celebrated at a dinner at the Windsor Hotel and a lusty rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” brought one of the most enjoyable evenings of the tour to a close.

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’

Curling in the Footsteps of History: Appendix


Friday 9 R.M.S Empress of Ireland departs Halifax en route to Liverpool.
Saturday 16 Arrival at Liverpool Docks on Empress of Ireland; train journey north to Edinburgh and informal match versus Watsonian CC at Myreside
Sunday 17 Church service at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh
Monday 18 Peebles; dinner at the Peebles Hydro Hotel courtesy of Peeblesshire Province.
Tuesday 19 Abbotsford House and Melrose by car. Masonic Dinner at Lodge Canongate, Kilwinning
Wednesday 20 Free day and National Reception Function in the Music Hall, Edinburgh
Thursday 21 Luncheon in the City Chambers, Edinburgh hosted by the Lord Provost. Evening train to Glasgow and welcome reception.
Friday 22 Practice day against local curlers in the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Dinner as guests of the Scottish Ice Rink Club at the St Enoch Hotel, Glasgow.
Saturday 23 Practice day against local curlers in the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Sunday 24 Church service at Glasgow Cathedral.
Monday 25 Special Match against the 1903 Scottish touring team at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof, followed by dinner in the Windsor Hotel, Glasgow.
Tuesday 26 Match versus Midlothian Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Dinner in Ferguson and Forrester's Restaurant, Glasgow.
Wednesday 27 Match versus Glasgow Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Dinner in Ferguson and Forrester's Restaurant, Glasgow.
Thursday 28 First Test Match at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Friday 29 Match versus West Lothian Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Dinner in Bathgate.
Saturday 30 Match versus East Lothian Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Dinner at which Rev J Kerr gave the principal address.
Sunday 31 Church Service.

Monday 1 Second Test Match at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Tuesday 2 Matches versus Stirlingshire and Forth and Endrick Provinces at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Wednesday 3 Match versus Upper Strathearn at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Match versus Scottish Central Provinces called off due to thaw.
Thursday 4 Match versus Strathmore Province and Dundee and Perth Province called off due to thaw. Tour in motor cars to Murthly Castle by way of the giant beech hedge, to Birnam, to Dunkeld and finally Blairgowrie.
Friday 5 Perthshire Curling Association
Saturday 6 Scotland v Wales football match.
Sunday 7 Church Service in St Cuthbert's Church, Edinburgh.
Monday 8 Third Test Match at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Tuesday 9 Matches versus Biggar and Peebles Provinces at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Dinner in the Grand Hotel and a show at the Empire Theatre.
Wednesday 10 Match versus Lanarkshire Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Thursday 11 Match versus Loch Leven Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Grand Reception and Court chaired by Sir Basil T Montgomerie, Bart.
Friday 12 Outdoor Match versus Inverness Province at Moy. Dinner hosted by Inverness Province.
Saturday 13 Outdoor Match versus the North-East of Scotland Provincial
Curling Association, West Cults, Aberdeen. Dinner in the Palace Hotel, Aberdeen.
Sunday 14 Various church services attended informally in Aberdeen. Rest day.
Monday 15 Visit to Balmoral and outdoor match on the rink in the grounds
Telegrams exchanged with King Edward VII in London.
Tuesday 16 Matches versus Galloway Province. Luncheon in the City Chambers, Glasgow, hosted by the Corporation of Glasgow, Lord Provost McInnes Shaw in the chair. His Grace, the Duke of Argyll, former Governor General of Canada entertained to dinner by the tourists at the North British Hotel, Glasgow.
Wednesday 17 Visit to Burns Country and tour in thirteen motor cars especially provided for the occasion. Luncheon in the Tea Gardens. Afternoon visit to Culzean Castle and dinner in the Council Hall, Ayr as guests of the Corporation. Smoking concert in the Town Hall.
Thursday 18 Matches v English and Dumfries Provinces at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Friday 19 Matches v Twelfth Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Canadian Team Presentation Night at the North British Hotel, Glasgow.
Saturday 20 Match v Borders Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Sunday 21 Church Service at Glasgow.
Monday 22 Match v Ayr District at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Tuesday 23 Matches versus Tenth Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof.
Wednesday 24 Matches versus Scottish Central Province at the Scottish Ice Rink, Crossmyloof. Depart Scotland.
Thursay 25 Sail for Canada on R.M.S Empress of Ireland.

Curling in the Footsteps of History: The Empress of Ireland

by Robin Copland

When the tourists travelled to Scotland, they did so on the Empress of Ireland, a new trans-Atlantic steamer built in Fairfield’s yard on the River Clyde in 1906 and launched in Govan, Glasgow, on Saturday 27th January that year.

The Empress of Ireland was a large and well-appointed ship of some 14000 tons, 550 feet long and with a breadth of 66 feet. It is not recorded in which class the Canadian curlers travelled, but suffice to say that, as was common at the time, she offered first, second and third class accommodation, the latter situated deep in the bowels of the ship.

A mere five years after her voyage carrying the Canadian curlers to their great Scottish adventure, the same Empress of Ireland had departed Quebec and was on her way down the St Lawrence river towards the open sea and her ultimate destination, Liverpool. The weather was alternatively fair and foggy. It was 2.00am in the morning of 29th May 1914. She had just dropped off the pilot at Farther Point, and was still close to the shore line. Her Master, Captain Henry Kendall spied a collier, the Storstad, laden to her Plimsoll line with coal on an inbound path up the river towards Montreal and also sailing close to the shore.

In Captain Kendall’s judgement, the collier was some eight miles distant, so he ordered his ship to starboard and to the centre of the river. Immediately after making the move, both ships were swallowed by an incoming fog bank – this, mind you, in pre-radar days and in confined waters. Captain Kendall fretted about the lack of visibility so decided to put his engines astern to take the way off his ship, this action taken in accordance with the Rules of the Road at Sea when maneouvering in the company of other ships. When he ordered the engines astern, he sounded three blasts on the ship's siren. (1 blast indicates a ship is turning to starboard; 2 blasts indicate a ship is turning to port, and 3 blasts indicate a ship is going astern).

The Empress slowed almost to a complete stop, but still had some forward way on. Suddenly, out of the murk, two masthead lights appeared to starboard. Storstad was heading straight for the Empress. Captain Kendall quickly ordered a sharp alteration of course to starboard, but alas it was too late to save his ship.

The sharp bows of the Norwegian ship sliced into the Empress amidships between her two funnels. The fully loaded Storstad punched into the Empress below her waterline, entering her for about 25 feet, and opening up a gaping hole some 14 feet wide. Water rushed into the starboard side, and Empress of Ireland quickly took on a list to starboard. Open port holes which should have been closed at sea, allowed the ingress of even more water. The damage precluded the closing of water tight doors, compounding the problems the ship faced. Within 10 minutes the liner lay on her side, some passengers who had managed to escape perched on her hull. One passenger commented, “It was like sitting on the beach, and watching the tide come in.”

There was only time to lower four of the lifeboats. Many of the passengers were trapped below in the lower decks, unable to escape in time.

Within 14 minutes the Empress was gone and she lies to this day 150 feet below the surface on the muddy bottom of the Saint Lawrence River. 1,012 souls perished that night. Strangely, for in those days, the Captain traditionally went down with his ship, Captain Kendall was one of the survivors and, on being hauled aboard the Storstad, was heard to mutter in a masterpiece of understatement, “You have sunk my ship.”

He was exonerated of all blame and later survived a torpedoing in the Great War.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Prince of Wales's Stones

When David McFarlane, president of Scottish Central Province of the RCCC, asked me during the recent Ramada Perth Masters whether Central Province was the oldest I had to confess that I had not the slightest idea. Moreover, I said, since provinces were permissive when they began and did not form part of the organisation of the Royal Club, that is, groups of clubs could form one if they wished, and organise themselves, there was very little in the Annuals about the early history of provinces.

Anyway, the query set me off on a search through many an early Annual, and I found a number of items of interest which had escaped me in the past.

We all know that the first royal connection with the RCCC occurred when Prince Albert agreed in 1842 to be the club’s patron; and that permission to change the name from Grand to Royal followed the next year.

The agreement of Prince Albert was marked by the presentation to him of a silver-handled pair of curling stones. My rediscovery of the stones after a long search and a description of them are to be found in my article in the Scottish Curler of October 2003.

On the death of the first patron the club solicited the patronage of his son, Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, and this was readily granted. This honour to the Club was also marked by the presentation of a pair of curling stones.

The Scotsman of 7 February 1863 reported the stones thus:
“…At the same meeting [last AGM] it was resolved to present His Royal Highness with a pair of curling stones, and it was remitted to the Secretary, Mr Cassels, to take steps accordingly. The stones will be forwarded in a few days, and are at present lying at the shop of Messrs Mackay, Cunningham, & Co., goldsmiths to the Queen, Princes’ Street. They are made of green serpentine, found near Crieff, Perthshire, and generally known to curlers by the name of Muthill stone. The handles, the wood of which is of oak from Linlithgow Palace, are richly mounted in silver. The plates which screw on to the stones are elaborately chased with thistles, forming shields in the centres which bear the following inscription:-“Presented by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Patron, 1863”. The handles are wreathed with thistles, engraved, and the mountings on each end of the wooden part have a wreath of oak-leaves and acorns executed in the same style. They have been beautifully designed and executed by Mackay, Cunningham, &Co.”

When I was looking for the 1842 stones, which many royal functionaries were unable to find in any of Her Majesty’s palaces, castles and houses, I was eventually told that a pair of presentation stones had been traced at Sandringham, the Queen’s English summer residence. When I sought to have them photographed I was told that they had been transferred to Balmoral, and when I was next passing the Queen’s summer residence in Scotland I found the 1863 stones in the factor’s office, where they were in use as a pair of bookends supporting some large volumes sitting on a window sill. I was disappointed that I had not found the stones of 1842 but I was pleased to see a pair of considerable grandeur.

So significant were the stones that an illustration of them appeared in the Illustrated London News of 8 April 1863. Her Majesty graciously allowed this pair to be borrowed and displayed at the exhibition, held in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow, when the Silver Broom Men's World Curling Championship was being played in the Kelvin Hall, in 1985.

The discovery which prompted this article appears in an abstract of the RCCC Treasurer’s Account for 1862-3. It was the bill for the 1863 stones.

“…Paid for Curling Stones presented to the Patron ….£25 13 8”.

This was a very large sum to expend on curling stones.

Almost contemporary with this pair are the earliest surviving financial records of curling stone manufacture. Andrew Cowan made stones at Barbieston near Drongan in Ayrshire, and his account book survives for the period from 1865 until about 1889.

Stones were generally sold by him by the pair without handles. The price depended on the sort of stone and the degree of finish. About the cheapest price was twenty four shillings for a pair of Burnock Water. One can get some idea of what that price represents when one sees elsewhere in Cowan’s account book that he paid workers two shillings per day. The price of his cheapest stones, therefore, was the equivalent of the wages of a working man earned in two weeks of six days. Curling stones have always cost a fairly hefty price – but they did last for ever.

Below is an account from Cowan’s book for stones with handles sold not long after the making of the Prince of Wales’s stones.

Curling Stones Sold
1865 To
Nov. 28th. The Hurlford Curling Club
To 8 pair Marble Polished Curling Stones with handles fitted in
@ 33/- per pair ... £13/4/-

(For the benefit of those not familiar with pounds, shillings and pence, before decimalisation in 1971 there were twenty shillings per pound. The shilling was subdivided into twelve pennies. Thirty-three shillings (33/-) was one pound thirteen shillings.)

In 1876 a special pair of handles of silver and buffalo horn sold by Cowan cost One pound sixteen shillings.

From the above figures it will be very apparent that the stones presented to the Prince of Wales were very expensive indeed.

David B Smith.

1. Photograph of the Prince of Wales’s stones.
2. Drawing of the stones from The Illustrated London News.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Daily Graphic 1890

Despite numbers of curling clubs in England, particularly in the northern counties of that country, the popular press - or, in fact, the press in general - treated the game as a peculiarly Scots pastime and every time there was a considerable frost regaled the readers with anecdotes of the peculiar doings of their northern neighbours.

The Daily Graphic newspaper was founded in January 1890 as Britain’s first, illustrated daily paper. The illustrations were much sketchier than those in The Illustrated London News, The Graphic and some other weekly papers, because the artists had much more time to produce finished work for them.

In December 1890 there was a great frost. The Thames froze over from bank to bank at Twickenham for over a mile from Eel-pie Island to Crossdeep. The curlers of Crystal Palace Curling Club were able to play for the first time for several years. Back home in Scotland the Scots curled too, as was evidenced by the plethora of reports of matches for district medals, and local medals, and provincial medals, in the subsequent Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

The new illustrated daily was not to be outdone. Page 7 of the edition of December 25 carried an argument FOR curling in England, and page 14 a small article and a sketch of 'The Roaring Game' at 'Dudingstone near Edinburgh.'

Here is the sketch:


The artist obviously knew the place. Not only are the Scots attired like Scots - one is wearing the kilt - but the octagonal curling house, built by the Duddingston Curling Society in 1826, is clearly recognisable. (A scheme for its refurbishment is underway at present.)

And here is the article:

“The frost had long held London in its grasp before being felt in Scotland, but now its spell has been cast over the whole of the north country. In anticipation of the icy touch, curlers and others had made due preparation, and they are enjoying their favourite sport. Several bonspiels of considerable importance have already been played with the enthusiasm which invariably animates the brethren of the broom. The game, which has been sung by the poets and painted by the artists of the land, has drawn all sorts and conditions of men around the sticks. In the excitement which prevails as well-aimed stones dash across the hog-score to the broughs or (culminating triumph!) to the tee, social, political, and other differences all disappear. A story is just told of a nobleman who after a poor attempt was greeted by his skip, the local blacksmith, with the curiously-mixed remark, 'That’s na shot ava ye idiot – my lord.' The utmost good fellowship, however, pervades the ranks of the curlers; and after a dinner of 'beef and greens', their traditional fare, they pledge each other heartily in the white wine of the country."

The other passage argued for the 'acclimatisation' of the game in England, just as had been achieved with golf by 1890.


If curling can flourish in Scotland in spite of the fact that sometimes winter passes winter without giving a single chance of playing a really great match, why should it not also flourish in England, where there is a greater chance of frost than in any part of Scotland? For, curious as it may appear, the mean temperature of December and January is lower in the English Midlands, and even in the country between the Thames and the English Channel than in any part of Scotland, except the coldest of the central counties or the tops of the Highland hills. This winter, indeed, the normal difference between England and Scotland has been greatly intensified. It may be that in spite of the continuous winter frost it is not possible to acclimatise the game in England, but, just as the game of golf has found a home in the south as well as in the north, so it ought to be quite possible to carry to the south the game which for generations has been the favourite one of the north when the days are at the shortest and the frost of the keenest.”

Can anyone suggest why, more than a hundred years later, the game has achieved scarcely a toe-hold in England?

David B Smith