With irons and brooms, members of the Montreal Curling Club used the thick ice of the St. Lawrence River as their rink. Brrrr… it was a cold game outside
Settling into their new homeland of Canada, lively Scottish immigrants knew just how to fill the frosty winter months with activity. The lack of granite stones did not slow the progress of their sport of curling. Instead, the players used “irons.”
Montreal Curling Club was Exclusive
Founded by a chaplain and 20 merchants in Montreal, Quebec, the Montreal Curling Club was formed on January 22, 1807 in a tavern. Clearing a space on the frozen waters of the St. Lawrence River, the men “must have been cold on the ice,” said the Royal Montreal Curling Club, “and matches were generally followed by good food and drink, a tradition which continues to this day.” The Club was exclusive, and only certain chosen people were allowed to join.
The rock in the eastern Canadian region was not hard enough for the sport, cracking and chipping as the stones slammed into each other. The durable granite from Scotland was difficult to ship. Another source for the curling stones had to be found. Iron was the solution. “These stones were shaped like huge teakettles, weighed 46 to 65 pounds each and were owned by the clubs,” said John Kerr, quoted in Curling into Canada: The Hogline (1760-1850) on Collections Canada. The iron stones were used in the Province of Quebec and eastern Ontario until the mid-1950s. (Players slide the smoothed stones across the ice, aiming for circular targets, with curling brooms or brushes used to sweep the path ahead of the rocks.)
First Indoor Curling Rink
Weary of playing out in the elements, members of the curling community in 1838 began creating indoor rinks in rented warehouses. The Club was the first in British North America to hold matches on indoor rinks. The Montreal Curling Club opened its own indoor rink in 1860. A new curling shed was built in 1889 on St. Catherine Street in Montreal, with a Club House added a few years later, right next door to the rink. “The curling shed was built in the style of the famous Victoria Arena,” said the Royal Montreal Curling Club. A unique structure, it was constructed “on a frame of laminated wood in arched girders, permitting a large free space without pillars. It is the only known example of this type of structure still in existence,” added the Curling Club.
The name of the Curling Club was changed in 1924. The Queen approved a Royal Warrant granting rights to use the word Royal in the sporting club’s title. The organization became the Royal Montreal Curling Club.
Curling Club Competition
The second curling club in Canada was established in 1820; still in operation, the Royal Kingston Curling Club is located in Kingston, Ontario, about 165 miles west of Montreal. Other curling clubs opened, providing competition for the Royal Montreal Curling Club members. “The club took part in the very first inter-city game in Canada against the Quebec Curling Club in Trois-Rivières, about halfway between the cities of Montreal and Quebec, in 1835,” noted to Collections Canada. “Quebec won and Montreal had to pay for the dinner.”
As the country’s population expanded, so did the curling clubs. Spreading east and west, Fredericton, New Brunswick opened a club on December 24, 1854, Manitobans established a club in Winnipeg in 1876, and rinks were opened in Saskatchewan, Alberta and into British Columbia in the late 1870s and into the 1880s. Curling became a sport for all Canadians, both men and women (women’s stones weighed slightly less than the men’s), open to all ages and any rung of society.
“The oldest established sports club still active in North America,” the Royal Montreal Curling Club still enjoys a strong membership and holds an honoured place in Canadian curling history.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com Copyright Susanna McLeod