Thursday, March 5, 2015

Early Photos: Outdoor Curling

The winter sport of curling has been enjoyed by enthusiasts since the Scots invented it sometime before 1541. At least that's the first recorded mention of the game in the annals of Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, Scotland. I've curled and enjoy the sport, mainly because, like bowling, it is family oriented and without a distinction between the genders or age unless one reaches the competitive ranks.

Although this isn't a photograph, the following watercolor shows many similarities to the current sport. Actually, not much has changed in the granite stones, but brooms have evolved with the times.

A curling match at Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1860. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This 1836 watercolor from Library and Archives Canada shows curling on the Don River, Toronto, Ontario. That was back when the city was called York in Upper Canada.

Curling on the Don River, Toronto, 1936, watercolour. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1995-255-2

Thick ice and fair weather in 1897 meant the people of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia could get out for a day of curling and skating on a local lake. Along with the curling match in the foreground, you can see more curlers with their brooms to the right of the main attraction.

Group of people curling on a lake in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, ca. 1897. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although Banff, Alberta is famous for its healing hot springs and ski resorts, it appears a lot of curling went on as well as this next series of photographs show. About the only thing missing is the beautiful view of the majestic Rockies surrounding the mountain valley.

Curling rink at Banff, Alberta, 1899. Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta.

Also at Banff is this photograph of a womens' match being played amongst some towering pines. Note that one team has white sweaters and dark skirts, while the other team is all in dark. I suspect the two throwers are behind the photographer which would complete the normal team of four players.

Women's curling game, Banff, Alberta, 1903. Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta.

In this 1901 Banff photo where you can see the mountains in the background behind the clubhouse, note the use of coal oil lamps on either side of the rink enabling the playing of night games.

First curling rink, Banff, Alberta, 1901. Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta.

In the final Banff photo taken sometime between 1903-1919, improvements include sidelines, more buildings, more people including women and children, and more rinks in play. Also note the power poles on the right which means electric lights have replaced the coal oil lamps, although the cheapest method of heating the buildings would have still been by way of wood.

Curling, Banff, Alberta, ca 1903-1919. Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta.

I love the action in this next photo and can almost hear the men yelling, "Curl!" or "Hur-ry!" although in truth, it's probably too late for either call. But you can tell that something's going down as the skips/thirds in the centre and on the right are ready to brush any errant stones away. Note the guy in the middle with his hands in his pockets...I don't think he's a curler on this day since it looks like he's wearing skates, however, he could a referee. This is a great example of curling on the prairies.

Curling on the Prairies, 1900's. Courtesy of WDM.

This next photo of curling took place in Central Park, New York sometime between 1900-1906. It caught my interest because of the policeman second-man-in on the right. At first I thought he just stopped to watch as a breather while walking the beat. But I wonder if the game was between different precincts? Regardless, he's a nice addition to the image.

Curling in Central Park, New York, ca 1900-1906. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
High Park is to Toronto what Central Park is to New York City, and this next image shows curling in High Park. However, as the ponds in High Park tend to be long and narrow, it seems strange that the rink would cross the width instead of the length. However, I suppose the path in the foreground leads to a clubhouse of some sort because the stones would need to be put away at the end of the day. At first I thought the lines running along the rink were shadows from overhead lines, but on closer inspection, they seem to be tied to markers of some sort. If it wasn't laid out near the centre, I'd suspect they were using it as a sideline.

 Curling in High Park, Toronto, 1913, John Boyd. Courtesy of Archives of Ontario, I0003460
Reference Code: C 7-3 3478

These next 2 photos show the March 4th, 1916 Ross-Hodgson curling match in Woodlands, de Lery, QC in action. Although you can see a lake or meadow in the distance, the rink is located out of the wind in the woods.

Photograph | The contest ground, Ross-Hodgson curling match, Woodlands, de Lery, QC, 1914 | MP-1995.8.2.12
The Contest Ground, Ross-Hodgson curling match, Woodlands, de Lery, QC, 1914. Courtesy of © McCord Museum

Without spectators, it's hard to tell how much interest the game held for others, but the matching fur coats of this team show how serious they were about curling. It's interesting to note that their skip appears to be a woman. 

Photograph | Ross-Hodgson curling match, Woodlands, de Lery, QC, 1916 | MP-1986.22.3.11
The Contest Ground, Ross-Hodgson curling match, Woodlands, de Lery, QC, 1914. Courtesy of © McCord Museum

Finally, this last photograph might be the only black-and-white Jam-can curling match caught on camera. The photo was taken in a Regina, Saskatchewan backyard in 1948. It seems that around that time, Jam-can curling was part of the physical education curriculum for winter sports in some Saskatchewan schools. Today, our kids head to the nearest indoor artificial ice curling rink to learn how to curl, but old-timers say it's just not the same as Jam-can curling on an ourdoor rink. 

Jam-can curling on a Regina backyard rink, 1948. Courtesy of Saskatchewan Archives.

Jam-can curling can be played strictly with jam cans like you see in the above photo, or you can use tobacco or coffee tins. And although the above cans don't have sticks in them, adding a stick to the centre while the water freezes allows a handle for grip. I won't highlight this video since it's very modern, but if you want to see Jam-can curling in action, check out Jam Can Curling 2012

So, any curlers out there - armchair or otherwise? Care to share your thoughts?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. Anita's stories are set, but not limited to the western prairies. She is blessed to be included in Guideposts Books A Cup of Christmas Cheer collection. Anita is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae at


  1. How interesting, Anita Mae! This MS born-and-raised gal has learned something new today. I've never even HEARD of curling. I'd love for you to do a more in-depth post on the actual game and how it's played.

    Another thing... again, since I'm from MS and pretty much terrified of walking on ice, it amazes me to see all these folks out there with shoes/boots on.

    1. Hi, Pam. Walking on ice is slippery, for sure, but personally I'd rather use shoes and boots than skates! Even after years of recreational skating, I never enjoyed the sport as I didn't seem coordinated enough to control my ankles and more often than not landed on my butt.

      Like bowling, you don't wear street shoes when you curl in a rink - unless you're doing it as part of a school program where they make allowances for kids who will only curl a few times a year. The rest of us are expected to bring shoes with clean bottoms so we don't scratch the pebbled curling surface. Since the most I ever curled in a year was the weekly inter-section games, I never invested in curling shoes. Instead, I found that the old suede Hush Puppies had the best surface to allow sliding and grip. Still, I'd need to add a 'slider' to the sole of the foot that would be extended when I threw the rock in order to get the best slide.

      Many people who live in places like MS where curling isn't a winter sport are most often exposed to the sport through the Winter Olympics. With the US having a good team, you may even see the nationals being played every year on TV.

      As an aside, the Canadian women held their Scotties Tournament of Hearts a week or so ago and this week, the Canadian men are holding their nationals, the Tim Horton's Brier.

  2. Hi Anita, I never even heard of curling until the Winter Olympics and then I thought it was a new sport! Now I know different. Thank you for sharing!

    1. You're welcome, Margaret. Isn't it funny how some things seem so common until you change climates? Food for thought, huh.

      Thanks for stopping. :)

  3. Quite a history lesson on curling. I only ever watched this sport in the wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Thanks, Sharon. I guess it goes to show how broadcasting a huge sporting event can open the world to the uninitiated.

      It reminds me of the Jamaican bobsled team who saw the sport during one of the Winter Olympics and decided they wanted to try it out. No, they don't have snow in Jamaica, but that didn't stop them from coming to Canada to train. And yes, they made it to the Olympics next time out and are still competing. Love that story!