WESTLOCK – The 50th-anniversary of the Westlock Curling Rink in its current location was held Dec. 30, 2022, a night to celebrate not only their storied past, but the continued success of the Westlock Curling Club.
Around 180 people attended the evening event to not only talk about the current six-sheet rink sandwiched in between the Westlock Rotary Spirit Centre and Jubilee Arena, but the 96-year history of the club — MC Paula Clark, a past president of the club, noted they had planned for over 200 to attend but bad weather conditions forced some to cancel.
Heather Baron, one of a handful of speakers that night, provided a very detailed history of curling in Westlock, information she learned from talking with curlers, and added, “Most importantly, we owe a debt of gratitude to a local author, the late Clyde MacKenzie for his 1983 publication, A History of Recreation in Westlock” and noted he was a well-known local fixture who supported and reported on local sporting events and wrote many sports articles for the Westlock News for several years. Much of the information in his publication was furnished by Joe P. Renaud, an ardent curler and patriarch of an avid curling family who also established Westlock Hardware in February 1927 — MacKenzie worked in his hardware store as a bookkeeper.
The community’s first curling rink was built in 1926 just off 107th Street where Pembina Medical Clinic now stands and was a wood and tin building with two sheets of curling ice.
“And as Clyde writes in his book, ‘The structure was not the best, and with heavy snow, that first winter, the building caved in.’ Undaunted, curlers pitched in to resurrect the ruins and the club was soon back in business,” Baron said.
She noted at that time many of the local curlers owned their own pair of rocks, but in 1927 Westlock Curling Rink Ltd. was formed and through the sale of shares at $50 each, $5,000 was raised to purchase a set of matched rocks.
“Other fun facts of the time, the first ladies and mixed bonspiels took place in 1927. The first Westlock Men’s Open was in 1939. The fees in 1933 were $5 for men and $2 for ladies. Bonspiel entry was 25 cents per member,” she added.
In 1954, Westlock Curling Rink Ltd. sold the land and tore down the first rink and moved into an old, abandoned hockey rink on the fairgrounds that had been built in 1917. The lumber from the demolished first rink provided material to add lanes to the existing structure and it was converted to a five-sheet rink, while a cistern was dug to catch rainwater to make ice and a lobby and lunch counter were built at the front.
In the mid 1950s, Westlock & District Chamber of Commerce inaugurated sponsorship of a successful run of the Farmer’s Bonspiel and mild weather often interrupted the spiels and triggered demand for an artificial ice plant.
A committee was set up, and shares at $100 per share were sold and a contract was signed to purchase a refrigeration plant and six miles of plastic pipe. Baron noted some problems were encountered in the groundwork, with recommendations to dig down to the clay which was a mistake and caused heaving.
There were other issues with club financing and it had to borrow money from the curlers to keep up the payments. Meanwhile, a buildup of snow on the roof one winter caused it to cave in over Sheet 1. Another winter, the rafters over Sheet 5 were cracking, and a crew of shovelers had to go up on the roof to clear the snow. In warm weather, a leaky roof and natural frost caused dripping and created bumps on the ice. And because the ice was below ground level, the water would run in from the outside causing problems.
“And in spite of all the challenges, dedicated curlers pushed on, and Westlock continued to enjoy a golden era of curling,” she said.
She noted the club had 80 members in 1960, a time of many successful bonspiels, and an era of curling family dynasties.
“By now, countless curlers in and around Westlock have lived and loved their game for nearly six decades, despite every challenge, every issue, and every setback.”
A clear need
It was clear there was a need for a new rink in Westlock and Baron referred back to MacKenzie’s words: “It was a seven-year battle before the deed was accomplished.”
MacKenzie was secretary-treasurer of the club for 13 years, “so his passion for this new rink is emanated in his writing” and much of her final chapter is through his eyes in 1983.
In the summer of 1971, town council agreed to a plebiscite on building a curling rink, but taxpayers turned it down. In 1972, grants were available from the government through agriculture societies for the construction of multi-purpose recreation facilities and the ag society agreed to sign the application for the grant. Plans were drawn up with the hockey dressing rooms and showers included in the process. The town advertised it intended to borrow the money, and there was no opposition. The curling club put in what money it had and borrowed more from the town and there was great support from local backers who signed notes up to $3,000. In the process of building the new rink, there was lots of volunteer help — a group of curlers from Jarvie came down on a Sunday to drag six miles of plastic pipe from the old rink to the new rink.
Meanwhile, the refrigeration plant was moved over and reconditioned, and another set of rocks were purchased. The old building was cut into sections and moved to a cattle ranch at Busby.
The official opening of the new rink was held Dec. 28, 1972, with officials from the Northern Alberta Curling Association in attendance. Monsignor Rooney, a great local advocate of curling was there too, and guest rinks were invited from all surrounding clubs.
Baron wound up her presentation noting the many other functions the curling rink has hosted — from agriculture fairs, trade fairs and farmers markets to countless weddings, anniversaries, graduations and ballet, jazz, tap and Ukrainian dance performances.
“I think Clyde would be very pleased to see us all here tonight celebrating 50 years in this facility and paying tribute to all those whose dedication and hard work brought this place to fruition,” she concluded.
To wrap the night, club vice-president Laurier Boissonnault spoke of their current activities, from regular curling to stick curling and high school curling, plus four bonspiels this season and also noted the 2017 and 2019 hosting of the Boston Pizza Cup, the men’s provincial championship.
Boissonnault finished his presentation with some additional numbers: 347 is the approximate number of bonspiels over the years; 95 is the oldest current member, Roland St. Louis, who’s curled since 1989; 288 is the most curlers back in the 1970s and 1980s, with double draws on six sheets, three nights a week; seven the number of provincial events hosted by the club and 25 is the number of bonspiels won by the Clark family.