The ‘roar­ing game’

Learn­ing to the love curl­ing thanks to Un­cle Joe

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Ted Markle Next week will be my last col­umn pub­lished in this pa­per (in print or on­line). You can reach me at ted­ – Twit­ter : @ted­markle

Ear­lier this year, Sue and I joined our lo­cal curl­ing club. It was the nat­u­ral thing to do. Our fam­i­lies have been sweep­ing to­gether for years in this town.

Our skip, the friendly gi­ant Un­cle Joe, is teach­ing us both the code and the finer points of this be­guil­ing tra­di­tion.

The game be­gins with hand­shakes and wishes of ‘good curl­ing’ be­tween team­mates and com­peti­tors. Par­tic­i­pants launch 40-pound gran­ite stones down sheets of ice amidst an­i­mated shouts of “you’re too heavy” or “hurry hard.” It ends with the win­ners buy­ing the losers a drink. What could be more civ­i­lized? What could be more Cana­dian?

It was more than 250 years ago when the lanky and melan­cholic Ma­jor Gen­eral James Wolfe read Gray’s “El­egy Writ­ten in a Coun­try Church­yard” to his troops in flat­bot­tomed boats as they crossed the Saint Lawrence River on a moon­less Septem­ber night.

The fore­bod­ing line from the El­egy, “The paths of glory lead but to the grave …” prompted Wolfe to ex­press to his men, “I would rather have writ­ten those lines than take Que­bec to­mor­row.” He would die hours later in the piv­otal bat­tle.

What you may not know, how­ever, is the ori­gins of Cana­dian curl­ing ac­com­pa­nied our maudlin Ma­jor Gen­eral in that river cross­ing.

The 78th Fraser’s High­land Reg­i­ment, orig­i­nally as­sem­bled at In­ver­ness, Scot­land, was an in­te­gral part of his army and fol­low­ing the bat­tle would spend the long and bru­tally cold win­ter of 1759-60 within the pul­ver­ized walls of Que­bec.

The rapid on­set of cabin fever thanks to the deep freeze in a new land clearly in­spired a need for some fun, friendly com­pe­ti­tion, in­clu­sive­ness and ca­ma­raderie.

So it was in these chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances that a group of in­trepid young men from the reg­i­ment de­cided to melt sev­eral can­non­balls, make iron curl­ing stones and be­come the first curlers in Canada.

To­day, the vi­tal­ity of those high­landers lives on. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cana­di­ans are ac­tive curlers, the sports chan­nels broad­cast bon­spiels and “skins” games around the clock and there are clubs in ci­ties and small towns in ev­ery prov­ince and ter­ri­tory.

Sue and I are for­tu­nate to be guided in our ini­ti­a­tion by Un­cle Joe. A re­tired teacher, loved by his stu­dents for his hu­mour, it’s a chal­lenge to ac­com­pany him any­where in town. His former pupils are a ver­i­ta­ble posse of pa­parazzi chas­ing self­ies with their hero-in­struc­tor. I be­gin to see why he is so ap­pre­ci­ated as Joe fo­cuses on the spirit of the game more than any spe­cific rule.

In a con­test where there are no ref­er­ees, the onus is on the par­tic­i­pants to en­sure it is played in an or­derly and fair man­ner. “Play the game with a spirit of sports­man­ship and con­duct your­self in an hon­ourable man­ner both on and off the ice,” says our men­tor.

The game is in­deed a throw­back. In an era of sports trash talk, the tra­di­tion of curl­ing pro­hibits the in­tim­i­da­tion or demeaning of op­po­nents or team­mates. This is not to say that play­ful hu­mour dur­ing the rit­ual of the post-game drink is not welcome. On the con­trary, get­ting to know your fel­low curlers, telling a few sto­ries and hav­ing a laugh or two is the high­light of ev­ery game.

Much as it must have done for Fraser’s High­landers all those years ago, curl­ing pro­pels us to emerge from our dark, win­ter co­coons and into the light of fra­ter­nity.

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