I wondered at first if any of the Scottish men had ever shared curling ice with women before. At the beginning of the twentieth century, as I've discussed here and here, curling in Scotland was male dominated, and only one of the twenty-four men came from a club with female members, as far as I can see from the club membership returns in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1902-03.
In 1902, very few of Scotland's 619 curling clubs listed women among their membership, although five were ladies-only clubs. William Henderson was a member of the Kinnochtry CC, which had two 'extraordinary members' in Miss M Lyburn and Miss Henderson, so it is possible that he had played alongside, or against, these women before he gained his place on the touring team.
Three other members of the team, Provost D R Gordon and Dr Robert Kirk, from Bathgate CC, and Major Scott Davidson, of Hercules CC, would have been well aware of the associated women's clubs, Boghead Ladies' CC and Hercules Ladies' CC. Indeed, Dr Kirk's wife, Violet, had been secretary and treasurer of Boghead Ladies' when that club was admitted to the Royal Club in 1897, and in 1902 was the club's President. One has to wonder whether curling was much talked about in the Kirk household, and even if they had played together?
According to the Reverend John Kerr, the Team's captain who compiled the record of the tour (Curling in Canada and the United States, published in 1904), the first encounter with Canadian women had not been a scheduled match. He says, "When it became known that there were many keen curlers among the Quebec ladies who were anxious to have a game with the Scottish curlers, it was arranged that two rinks of the bachelors should be told to play the ladies, the married contingent being strongly desirous that the ladies should score a victory. In this they were not disappointed, for while the bachelors had a tie in one rink - Mr Bramwell v Miss Scott - they lost by 9 shots in the other, on which Miss Brodie skipped against Mr Prain."
These games took place on Thursday, January 8, 1903. The two Scottish skips were Robert Bramwell of the Upper Nithsdale CC, and Henry Prain of Castle Huntly CC. The names of the other players are not given. The membership of the Quebec Ladies' CC is first listed in the Royal Club Annual of 1905-06. At that time the club had 39 members. A Miss R R Scott was on the Council of Management then, and a Miss Brodie was the club's treasurer. Were these the women who skipped against the Scottish men in 1903? More research is required to find out about these pioneering women curlers.
There is a sense that Kerr considered the games with the women 'a bit of a joke'. He himself did not take part, and goes on to say, "Apart from the point of gallantry the result was not to be wondered at, for here and elsewhere in Canada, the ladies play the game with small iron stones about half the size and weight of the irons used by the gentlemen, in the use of which, by long practice, they are past masters, while the Scotsmen were considerably at sea at what might be regarded as a ping-pong form of curling."
In 1903, the use of the phrase 'a ping-pong form of curling' seems derogatory today, but Kerr goes on to write, "It was most refreshing to see the dexterity of the lady curlers, and the enthusiastic way in which they entered into the game, their sweeping being quite a lesson to everyone."
On his return to Scotland, Bathgate's Provost Gordon published a little booklet entitled 'With the Curlers in Canada', to raise money for a fund to build a United Free Church in Bathgate. Gordon gives more information than Kerr about these games against the ladies.
In describing the Team's visit to Quebec he says, "Here we were invited to engage in a match with the ladies - two rinks a side. There were heard the usual voices who counselled that no match should be played for fear the colours of the team would be lowered. Some thought that the Scottish tartan had been very severely torn up to that date, and any further discomfiture in that direction would not greatly matter.
The prevailing opinion was that eight bachelors should be sent out to meet the lady curlers. I had the honour of leading the ice in one of the rinks. The conditions were that we should adopt the small curling irons, which resemble a toy tea kettle, beautifully turned on concave bottoms. They weigh about 18 or 20 lbs. The ladies could play them most accurately and it required all the balance and skill of the gentlemen to hold their own with the ladies.
The rinks were surrounded by all the youth and beauty of Quebec, who enjoyed the novel spectacle of big brawny Scots in knickerbockers and tam o' shanters contesting for all they were worth for supremacy. As you know, victory rested with the ladies, who well deserved it. But let me tell you that the fair veterans of the curling rink were cheered and encouraged by every one on playing an excellent shot, and that the Scottish Team did everything possible to render the play of the ladies successful. Every one was more delighted than another with their victory. Like a vanquished general who hands over his sword to the conqueror. I handed over my curling besom or cowe to the skip of the ladies' rink to be hung in her boudoir with a Gordon tartan ribbon tied round it, in token of surrender and as a remembrance of the historic meeting between the sons of the Thistle and the daughters of the glorious Maple leaf."
So, Provost D R Gordon played against the Quebec sides. I wonder who it was amongst the Canadian women who went home with a Scottish curling broom, and if it ever did hang 'in her boudoir'!
At this point, I should say that although the 1902-03 Tour is now considered a great success on a wide variety of fronts, at the time Scots curlers at home, perhaps expecting too much of the travelling team and being ignorant of how good their Canadian opposition were, had a different reaction. Gordon's comments confirm that the Team knew that disappointing results until that point on the Tour were not being well received back in Scotland. And that Team members had discussed the public relations consequences of playing against the women, win or lose.
And newspapers in Scotland did see this first defeat by the women as extremely newsworthy.
The Dundee Courier of Saturday, January 10, sought to excuse poor results in Canada on the basis that the tourists would have been 'a little rusty', because of the mild winters of previous years. The defeat by the women did not go unnoticed. The unnamed writer of this article says, "Their crowning humiliation has just occurred in the shape of a defeat at the hands of lady curlers in Canada. The Scotsmen may, of course, have been overpowered by chivalry or nervousness."
So, some at home even saw the defeat by the women as a 'humiliation'
A Scotsman reader also sought to find excuses for the team's losses against the women. In a Letter to the Editor printed in the January 23rd issue and dated the day before, 'JLM' writes, "In your issue of 11th inst it was announced that a match had taken place between the Scottish bachelors and the Quebec ladies, which resulted in the defeat of the former by 4 shots. I have heard it stated that the bachelors and ladies played on equal terms, but this would not appear to be the case. I have received a letter today from one of the Scottish skips, who informs me that the match in question his team was handicapped by having to play with 'iron stones' weighing 62 lb, against irons of only 30 lb in weight used by the ladies."
Anyway, JLM's compaint is nonsense. It is inconceivable that irons of different sizes and weights would have been used within the same game. In any case Gordon records that the Scots played with the same small irons as the women. So does Henry Prain who is quoted by Kerr, "It is to be said in extenuation that we played with very light irons, and they present a very small mark at the distance of a full size rink." JLM had obviously misinterpreted the letter he received. The matches were indeed played on equal terms.
Incidentally, it was usual for male curlers in Quebec and Montreal to play with heavy irons (see photos here). These could weigh 60 lbs (27 kg). However, for the visit of the Scots, the Canadian men had agreed to play with granites, rather than their usual irons, in deference to the visitors. Not the women, though. Women's irons were smaller (see comment on this post here), and according to Shirley Adams weighed around 32 lbs (say 15 kg).
On Friday, January 9, the Scots travelled to Montreal. On the Saturday they received the Freedom of the city from Mayor Cochrane before all six teams played games against the Montreal Club. On the Monday, they played at Westmount against the Heather Club.
But on Tuesday, January 13, the men again faced the women. The 'Ladies' Montreal Curling Club', as it was called on its foundation in 1894, was the first all women's curling club to be formed in Canada, around the same time the first women's clubs were being formed in Scotland. It shared ice and facilities with the Montreal Curling Club, but remained quite distinct from the male club, according to One Hundred and Fifty Years of Curling 1807-1957, a history of the Royal Montreal Curling Club.
Kerr records, "On the Tuesday, three rinks skipped respectively by Messrs Henderson, McMillan, and Bramwell, played three rinks of the Montreal Ladies Club, the first named finishing 4 up, but the others being each 9 down, the skips against them being respectively Miss N Smith, Mrs Ogilvy and Miss Bond. Over 1200 spectators were said to have witnessed the match. The play of the ladies was excellent, and was much applauded by their opponents, who all agreed they could curl as well as the gentlemen."
And that was the extent of Kerr's description of the games. He did not name the team members.
Other newspapers provide more information. The Edinburgh Evening News, on receiving the results of the Montreal games, could not resist the subheading 'Beaten again by the Ladies'!
Noo They'll No Craw Sae Crouse
The Scottish Carles lickit by the Montreal Leddies yesterday
The Dundee Evening Telegraph noted that the Canadian paper article had been written 'evidently by a son of Scotia'!
I see that Robert Bramwell, from the Upper Nithsdale CC, who had skipped in a tied game against the Quebec Ladies, was soundly beaten in Montreal. The other losing skip was Thomas Macmillan of Glencairn CC. William Henderson of Kinnochtry CC skipped his team to a win. Henry Prain, who had lost in Quebec, seems not to have ventured onto the ice against the Montreal women! But Provost Gordon did, and was once again on the losing side.
Gordon did not have so much to say about this second defeat. In With the Curlers in Canada he records the games against the ladies of the Montreal Club, "Some members of our team engaged the ladies in a curling match. Afterwards a brilliant reception was held in honour of the event. As in the game at Quebec our team suffered defeat at the hands of fine lady curlers, who were experts and enthusiastic players. That game was also played with the small irons.
Many people have laughed at the victory of the lady curlers, and some have tried to find the reason for the result. Those who have felt the influence of the ladies most will readily believe that their charm, aided by their great skill, accounted for the defeat of the Scotsmen."
There is yet another match against the Canadian women that must be documented.
In recording the events of Thursday, January 15, when the Scottish Team were guests of the Montreal Thistle Club, Kerr says in his book, "While the games with the Thistle were going on, two rinks of the team, skipped by Captain Simpson and Mr Bentley Murray, played against two rinks of the St Lawrence Ladies' Club and spent a delightful afternoon." Captain Simpson was James Simpson, the laird of Mawcarse, who had been an officer with the Fife and Forfar Imperial Yeomanry. He was a member of Orwell CC. D. Bentley Murray of Airthrey Castle CC was the youngest of the Scots on tour, at 29 years of age.
Kerr goes on to talk about the decoration of the rink, the food, the souvenir pins, what the ladies were wearing, the enthusiastic spectators, and those who attended the after-game reception. Only after two pages of the above does he mention who won, writing, " ... the match, which like those with the Quebec and Montreal clubs, was in favour of the fair sex." He does not record the scores. And Provost Gordon makes no mention of these games in his booklet.
However, the scores can be found in the Scotsman of February 2, 1903, in a long article summarising the Team's time in this part of Canada. This says, "The ladies' club in connection with the St Lawrence Club defeated the Scottish curlers, two rinks a side this afternoon by 27 shots to 14."
That wasn't all though. Almost in passing Kerr mentions that the match against the ladies had "given delight to the visiting Scotsmen" and as a consequence a further match was arranged on the Friday, "the rinks on this occasion being mixed - two ladies and two gentlemen on each." No names, no scores, but Kerr thinks it important to record, "Tea was afterwards served by Mrs Roy, Mrs Guthrie and Miss Brophy."
Curling historians, and those who followed the recent World Mixed Curling Championship in Kazan, Russia, may well wonder if this passing reference to a game with two men and two women on each side, is indeed to the first recorded mention of an international mixed curling match!
It would be interesting to have confirmed which, if any, of these ladies played against the Scotsmen.
Note that the two irons shown in this studio photograph are the larger men's irons, not those usually thrown by the women.
Those with a forensic bent might like to closely examine the photo and compare it with the one above to see if any faces match.
On the evening of Thursday, January 15, two Scottish teams, with the tour captain John Kerr, went to Lachine. There they mixed up the teams with the local curlers 'so as to make it as sociable as possible'. These games were even played with irons.
here. The Notman photographic archives can today be found in the McCord Museum in Montreal. The above image is online here, much clearer than that scanned from Kerr's book. It is described as 'Lachine Ladies curling team, Montreal, QC, 1903'.
The Scottish Team went on to tour Ontario, and travelled as far west as Winnipeg, before heading home via Minneapolis, Chicago, Utica and New York.
The Team was feted on their return to Scotland, and of course that first Royal Caledonian Curling Club visit to North America set a precedent for future goodwill tours that continue to this day.
One further story, which shows that the defeats of the Scots by the Canadian women remained in the mind, can be found a year later, in an extensive report in the Falkirk Herald on January 23, 1904, of a Masonic dinner. One of the guests was Dr Robert Kirk, mentioned earlier, his wife being a keen curler in Bathgate. Kirk had been the Team's doctor in North America. He gave a speech, outlining many of the differences that existed in play there, compared with Scotland. He praised the standard of play of their hosts, and the hospitality the Scots had received. He mentioned the ice conditions, saying, "The ice bothered them at first when they first went to Canada. They were not accustomed in Scotland to playing on ice as level as a billiard table, as that was the kind of ice they had in Canada."
Then, "As to the defeat of the Scottish curlers by the Canadian lady curlers, he had to say for the benefit of those present that no married men played against the ladies - (laughter) - and that had perhaps a great deal to do with the result of the game. The ladies and gentlemen played on that occasion with the same size of curling irons - they did not play with curling stones - and those irons were like small goblets. The ladies played a beautiful game, and before the gentlemen got hold of the ice, the ladies had the game won."
A married man, Dr Kirk did not himself face the women on the ice.
Dr Kirk concluded his speech with this anecdote, "A Quebec gentleman whom he met on the ice said to him - 'What on earth tempted you to try conclusions with the ladies? We would think twice about doing so, and we have played with the irons all the time.' (Laughter and applause)"
To finish on a more serious note, Provost Gordon was much taken with what he saw of Canada and its people in 1903. Before his final chapter of With the Curlers in Canada, he writes, "In Canada the status of women is better than in this country. Of course, I speak as a whole. They are given
greater and higher privileges than is the case here; they take part in many social functions, their freer life and style of living make them more natural and companionable, their frank and open manner begotten of equal privileges with man, gives them that confidence in their own powers
which places them amongst the leading women of the time."
This gives a fascinating insight into the position of women in Canada, and by contrast in Scotland, in 1903. Provost D R Gordon was a successful businessman in Bathgate as an ironmonger, seedsman and motor engineer.
Kerr's book is more than just a record of curling matches, and of the Tour itself. In it you can find much about the Dominion of Canada and the USA as they were in 1903, the way of life then, the economy, and much about other forms of recreation, sightseeing opportunities, and modes of transport. Indeed, 24 pages of the book are devoted just to the return voyage on the SS Lucania from New York to Liverpool.
The cartoons at the top of the post originally appeared in a Canadian newspaper, but were reprinted in the Dundee Courier, and in Kerr's book, from where they were scanned.
'With the Curlers in Canada' by D R Gordon can be downloaded from the University of Manitoba library as a pdf file here. It is a much simpler read than Kerr's detailed tome.
The newspaper clippings are © The British Library Board, or © Johnston Press plc, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive, which continues to be the most wonderful resource for curling research.
I would be very pleased to hear from any descendants of the Canadian lady curlers mentioned in this article, and to learn any further information that might be available in Quebec and Montreal about when the visiting Scotsmen were defeated by the Canadian women!
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