The Canada Winter Games are now in their second week. This is one of the biggest and most successful events to have ever been staged in Red Deer. It has helped to draw wonderful national attention to our community.
One of the popular sports at the Games has been curling.
Curling is also one of the oldest organized sports in Western Canada. Curling clubs were formed in Alberta as far back as the 1880s. As the province grew and developed, curling matches were played in almost every community. A big benefit to the growth of the sport was the fact that it was very popular with both men and women.
The first local curling games were played in the 1890s on frozen sloughs or the Red Deer River. It is said that modified jam cans were often used as curling rocks. Sometimes the ice on the river was improved with water from the nearby C.P.R. reservoir, built to service the steam locomotives.
The first official curling match was held on Boxing Day, 1898.
It was played on a new outdoor curling and skating rink, which had been built on the edge of a small coulee along Morrison (52nd) St. west of Nanton (48th) Ave.
In the fall of 1903, Red Deer’s first covered ice rink was constructed on the Morrison (52nd) St. site. The structure, which cost $3,000, had an ice surface of 175 by 60 ft. on one side, with two sheets of curling ices on the north side of the building. The new rink officially opened on Dec. 22nd, 1903 with a large and very successful ice carnival.
Curling, subsequently, really took off in the community.
In October 1904, the Red Deer Curling Club applied to join the new Alberta branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. At one point, the R.C.C.C. of Alberta was the third largest curling organization in the world.
Curling in Red Deer suffered a major setback in February 1907 when the roof of the ice rink collapsed under a heavy weight of snow.
Fortunately, the part of the rink used for curling was salvageable, and was soon put back into use. An extra sheet of ice was later added.
In February 1911, the first Red Deer Bonspiel was held with the championship cup being donated by the Calgary Brewing Company. The following year, the Red Deer Ladies Curling Club was formed.
In 1913, a joint stock company was formed to make significant improvements and a large addition to the curling rink. Over the decades, this rink was the scene of a tremendous number of exciting games and bonspiels.
In the spring of 1931, Red Deer put together a ‘dream team’ to compete in the Alberta Brier. The playdowns had to be held after midnight as warm weather created problems with the ice.
Nevertheless, after a rousing all-night competition, this local team clinched the provincial championship. Unfortunately, bad luck dogged them at the subsequent MacDonald Brier in Toronto. They finished with only four wins and five losses.
On Boxing Day 1945, the Red Deer Curling Club hosted a bonspiel with each competing rink consisting of three farmers and one club member. Thus, the annual Red Deer Farmers’ Bonspiel was born.
On July 13th, 1953, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent turned the first sod for a new curling rink on the Exhibition Grounds on the south side of downtown Red Deer. On Jan. 28th, the new facility officially opened with a founding member of the Red Deer Club, Hugh Clarke, throwing the first rock.
Recent years have continued to prove that Red Deer is a true curling centre.
In 1994, the Labatt’s Brier was held at the Centrium. In March 1996, Red Deer hosted the World Junior Curling championships. The national Scotties Tournament of Hearts championships were held in Red Deer in 2004 and again in 2012.
On Jan. 3rd, 2013, the newly expanded and renovated Red Deer Curling Centre held its official grand opening. It boasted an additional 38,000 sq. ft. of space, the 12 sheets of ice, the 350-seat lounge, the new meeting rooms and a number of other first class amenities.
This wonderful facility, named the Pidherney Centre, has been the venue of the 2019 Canada Winter Games curling matches.