The good old roaring game of curling began in St Thomas in the early 1870's on a pond off William St, near the site of the present day Foodland store. In 1878, a large frame curling and skating rink was built by the St Thomas Curling and Skating Company at a cost of $1,700. Money for this rink was raised by selling shares at $10 each. This building was located between Metcalfe St and Queens St, just south of Talbot St. and a few years later became the Granite Arena.
One interesting item in the bylaws of this first club reads: "The spitting of tobacco-juice is strictly prohibited on the curling ice" and later the Board of Directors banned the consumption of alcohol in the arena, No reference is found to when that bylaw was rescinded!
In February 1878, the St. Thomas Club won the Malahide medal for the first time, defeating the London Curling Club. This competition is still held today.
The club flourished but in time was disbanded. Around 1893, curling was revived in St Thomas and the name was changed to the Granite Curling Club. In 1894 the club joined the Ontario Curling Association, The President was Joseph McAdam and annual curling dues were $1. The Granite Arena was expanded from four to six sheets. In 1896 there were 75 members (all men). Although the newspaper reported that "a number of ladies lent the encouragement of their presence to this manly game".
Curling bonspiels were organized between rinks from London, Aylmer, Simcoe, Thamesville and other rural towns. One newspaper article makes reference to a bonspiel were the prizes were sacks of flour.
In 1903, the Granite Club hosted curlers from Scotland in one of the first international tours. The framed scroll hanging in the club today on Parkside Drive, is an historic document, commemorating that visit.
Unfortunately, in 1939, the Granite Club folded due to the uncertainties of curling on natural ice and decreasing membership. Many old trophies from the various competitions were kept in the foyer of the Talbot Hotel but were destroyed by fire that razed the hotel in 1951. Only one, the Presidents Cup survived from those early years because it was being used as a flower pot at the home of a daughter of a former curling club member. The trophy made it back to the new club on Parkside Drive after the club’s opening and sits beside the fireplace.
Also on the hearth are two rather odd looking metal rocks. These were the personal stones of Bob Bentley and he received the rocks in Loch Lomond, Scotland during the war. At that time, in Scotland, locals had their own stones and when they found out that Bob was a curler, they made him a set of rocks out of melted down metal from the ship yards. Bob curled in St. Thomas when it was five sheets and helped to build the current lounge.
The present St Thomas Curling Club was founded in 1955 by a group of men and women, led by President Bert Rankin, They curled several times a week at the St. Thomas Memorial Arena. Close to 200 enthusiastic people curled at the arena, so a decision was made to purchase land and build a club.
The present site on Parkside Drive was purchased at a cost of $5600 from the City of St. Thomas. Architects Fred Green and George Morley designed the building and the builder was Lorne McEwan. Sod turning took place in August 1956 and the club opened December 1 1956. The club only had 5 sheets of ice and the present location of ice one was the lounge, kitchen, locker and bar area. The cost of the building, equipment and furnishings was close to $100,000.
The property that the club owns is a large piece of land that follows behind many of the houses on the west side of Parkside Drive. Original plans called for some of that extra land to be made into lawn bowling greens. In the sixties the house at 34 Parkside was purchased as a resident for the club ice technician. Today it has a rental tenant.
In 1956-57, there were 225 men, 125 and 25 social members. Initiation was $25 for men and $15 for women. Annual fees were $40 for men and $25 for women (or ladies as they were called then). The net profit for club operations for that first year was $10,900.
To finance the startup costs of the club, $100, 5% interest bonds were sold. Approximately 600 of these bonds were sold to club members and many businesses in St Thomas also supported the fundraising. The interest was payable semi-annually and 5% of the bonds were redeemed each year after the bank loan was repaid. The last 200 bonds were redeemed in 1971, five years ahead of schedule.
High school curling began soon after the club was opened and up to 150 students played. Mixed curling began in 1958 and at one point, curled three times a week with 2 draws each evening. In fact in 1958, membership was cutoff. The Women’s League (formerly the Business Women) started in 1963, with the Senior Men’s league forming in 1985 and the Senior Ladies Social group in 1986. A very successful Little Rock program was established in the 1990's.
1958 also saw the first issue of the Hog Line Informer. The editor was very prolific in those first years, producing a paper biweekly. The editorship fell to the newbie on the Board of Directors and later the club secretary took over the writing.
Due to increasing numbers and the need for more lounge space, the Board of Directors decided to expand the club facilities. In 1959, an addition was built that created the present lounge area and locker rooms. The Club President that year, Don Anderson, traveled to Montreal to buy the chandeliers and lights that are still in the lounge. The old lounge was converted to create the sixth sheet of ice. A loan of $50,000 was obtained and by 1971 the club was completely debt free. Paying down the debts so quickly was mainly due to the many volunteer hours contributed by members . The ladies even provided phone service between 2 and 5 each day, for a few years. The club crest in the lounge and on the ice was designed by Mary Anderson.
In 1975-76, a committee was struck to examine the feasibility of an expansion, which would increase the area of the kitchen, bar, board room and locker areas. The plan was defeated by club members at that time.
Bonspiels are often the heart and soul of a curling club and the St. Thomas club is no different. Some of the major spiels that have been held here include the Labatt Early Bird (1957), now known as the Arctic Classic; the Carlings Married Couples (1957), continuing as a mixed spiel today; the Belles and Brooms (1978), the Malahide Medal and the Metcalf Trophy.
While bonspiels provide fun and camaraderie, our curlers also enter many provincial competitions and the names and the banners of the winning rinks are displayed in the lounge. Banners are presented to teams curling in a provincial championship. The banners at the end of the ice, represent the teams that have made it to a Canadian Championship.
The success of the club, as a debt-free not-for-profit organization, is really due to the many volunteers that gave and continue to give their unconditional time and energy to make “our house” a great place. All new curlers are encouraged to become involved whether it be on league executives, bonspiel committees or board committees.
Compiled by Ann Lapchinski from historical notes, essays and articles written by George Thorman, Isabel Mortin, Doreen Sanders, the London Free Press and the St. Thomas Times Journal.
February 21, 2014