Grand Forks Curling Club’s origins began in small downtown rink

The first rink in Grand Forks was located across from the Royal Canadian Legion, where the Harrington Apartments now stand.

The first curling rink in Grand Forks was across from the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 59.

It’s been 116 years since the first meeting of the Grand Forks Curling Club. Back then it cost $10 for a full-season membership, which is a lot more expensive than it is now given inflation.

The first rink in Grand Forks was located across from the Royal Canadian Legion, where the Harrington Apartments now stand.

According to the 1909-1910 curling club minutes: “In December 1909 the ice was put into the Grand Forks Curling Rink for the first time, and starting on Jan. 5, 1910, 16 teams from the Boundary Area (Grand Forks, Phoenix, Greenwood, and Mother Lode) participated in the inaugural President’s Cup Curling Bonspiel.”

The coveted Grand Forks Cup was awarded for the first time two years later in 1911 and that was when the real inter-city rivalry began, culminating in Grand Forks’ first national team who were eligible to participate in the 1st Annual Vancouver Bonspiel. The team skipped by N.L. McInnes didn’t win the bonspiel that year, but they put Grand Forks on the map in terms of curling talent and local curlers competed in many other national competitions over the next few years.

With curling’s rise in popularity, women were eager to form their own club and in 1926, women-only competitions began. Soon they were hosting their own mixed bonspiels where 16 rinks participated.

The local curling rink boasts the single biggest sporting event that Grand Forks has ever hosted. In 1957, a total of 168 curlers from eight communities competed in a three-day bonspiel.

But the club doesn’t always revolve around good sportsmanship. Like most century-old institutions, it has its own salacious history as well. In 1932, 131 Sons of Freedom (“Freedomites”), a breakaway sect of the Doukhobors, were arrested and confined inside the curling rink following a nude protest along North Fork Road. Forty years later, a streaker wearing nothing but a pair of winter boots strode across the rink during the Ladies Annual Bonspiel.

In 1977, the Grand Forks Curling Club purchased a new lot and formed plans to construct a 21 metre (70 foot) by 61 metre (200 foot) curling rink that would hold four ice sheets, a cafeteria and lounge area. This new rink was projected to cost $150,000. In typical construction fashion, a year later a new estimate for the rink was set at $382,200.

Shortly after its construction, the curling club had to go to the city and ask for a bailout due to the rink’s large mortgage and shared high interest rate. The city and the club reached an agreement where the city took ownership of the rink and took on the debt, and the club would rent the rink for a monthly fee. For the first time in nearly 80 years, the rink no longer belonged to the curling club. It was now a municipal enterprise owned by the City of Grand Forks. The city had intervened and prevented the rink from going defunct, saving the sport of curling.

Imagine if this city did not have this pivotal communal hub. That would mean Angus MacKay and his mixed team would have never been West Kootenay Champions in 1988 and Don Bedard would have never qualified for the Provincial Championship in 1991. The city would have never been able to host countless spectacular venues like the 1990 Interior 60+ Masters Playdowns, the 1992 Provincial Junior Boys Championships or the first combined bonspiel in 1994 featuring 44 teams, 16 women’s rinks and 28 men’s.

The curling club even had the privilege to host several Olympic athletes. Three women from the Russian curling team, who had competed in the Salt Lake Winter Games earlier that year, trained in the local rink for the 2002 World Junior Curling Championships held in Kelowna. The Russian Junior Men also dropped by Grand Forks and competed against some local teams. No official tallies were written up for these matches.

In 2007, there was a boon of young curling talent in Grand Forks, as both the girls and boys high school curling team secured the right to represent the Kootenays in the provincial championships. Neither team won that year, but it precipitated one of the most successful curling seasons in the club’s history.

First off, skip Norm Arnott, Carlo Crema, Johnny Ikari, Al Cook and George Last became 70+ BCIMA Hobbs McAlister Champions. Then skip Bill McGowan, Angus MacKay, Tom Bassett, Paul Beattie and Joe Hasabe won the 60+ BCIMA Hobbs McAlister Championship. Kevin Maffioli, Mike Imrie, Shawn Mamchur and Daryl Popoff earned a fourth berth into the Interior Men’s Playdowns. Team Hawkins consisting of Curtis Hawkins, Mike Hiram, Kevin Woykin and Jessie Bass won the Provincial Juvenile Championship.

But the winningest team in 2007 was made up of Randi Ludwar, Erinn Bartlett, Stacy Ludwar and Clare Turner. They won the B.C. High School Championship and earned gold at the BC Games. They then took home bronze in the U.S.-18 Optimist International Tournament in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Their phenomenal season garnered them recognition from Curl BC, who named them Team of the Year. Randi Ludwar, their skip, was also named Player of the Year and their coach Teresa Hiram Coach of the Year.

Team Ludwar’s previous long-time coach Terry Bublitz commented, “Congratulations has to go to these young ladies. I have coached many winning teams in my years, but never have I seen a team who are this good and has accomplished so much. And to think they are just 16!”

The girls’ team had continued success when they placed fourth in the Provincial Playdowns the next year and another Ludwar, this time sister Kelly, and her team won bronze. Talent must run in the family.

With this great show of success, especially from the younger generations, the Grand Forks Curling Club gained even more popularity and in 2010, it hosted the largest bonspiel in the town’s history. The 2010 Combined Bonspiel, which happened to be the curling club’s Centennial Combined Bonspiel, featured 46 teams, 15 women’s teams and 21 men’s. Both Grand Forks men’s and women’s A-division teams won that year. The elusive Grand Forks Cup was once again engraved with the men’s team’s names.

“I’m very proud of our curling rink,” said Mikki Hamagami, a long-time curler at the club, “and the integral role it plays in the community.”

Mikki’s late husband, Terri, and Ken Lockhart had key roles in initiating the build of the new curling rink.

“Sadly, curling is becoming less popular nationwide,” Mikki continued, “but I’m optimistic the club will attract more players, especially young ones, with our facility’s new sticks and excellent coaches.”

Given the club’s long and proud history, there is no doubt it will attract many great players.

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