A history of curling in CBN
Memories all that remain of sport’s heyday in Harbour Grace
The building that once housed the Conception Bay North Curling Club in Harbour Grace has a different look these days compared to when it first opened in the winter of 1980.
Now a Clarke’s Furniture outlet, the former Rec Plex houses beds, couches and recliners where four lanes of pristine curling ice used to be. You’re more likely to see a forklift hauling a pallet full of flooring out of the side entrance rather than a cart full of curling stones entering the building.
The area where the bar was sits unused and the sign is blank. There is very little evidence a thriving rink once existed at the location for more than two decades.
The Town of Harbour Grace sold the building in 2007, washing its hands of a costly piece of infrastructure and the sport of curling in general.
Staring in the early 80s, curling was a popular sport in the CBN area. Curling was happening seven-days-a-week and tournaments – or funspiels – were happening every weekend.
It was the location for an annual RCMP funspiel, as well as the home of area play downs and firefighters tournaments. It was even the starting point for an eventual Olympic gold medallist.
Local Jamie Korab got his start in the sport at the club in the early 1990s after seeing a sign on the door that read ‘free curling.’
“I decided to give it a try and I had a knack for it,” he recently told The Compass.
Korab would become a member of Brad Gushue’s rink that captured gold in the men’s competition at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games held in Torino, Italy.
“I loved it,” said Don Coombs, a former president of the curling association and past mayor of the town. “Curling is a game for everyone.”
An avid curler, Coombs skipped a number of local teams at national competitions and remembers a time when a dozen teams would vie for the right to represent the area at the provincial tankard.
“We hosted junior championships and others,” said Coombs. “It was a good program. It was well-used and there was a lot of history there.
“It was a great bunch of people.”
In its day, the curling club was used for more than just the sport it was named after. There were dances, high school reunions and minor hockey banquets held at the site once the ice was removed.
It became a hub for the community year round.
First opened in 1980, the curling club was the culmination of a five-year planning period that started with the plan to construct an add-on to the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium.
Clarence Stone, who served as the association’s first president, remembers how it got started. A group started meeting that was “looking to provide recreation to the residents.”
They picked a curling rink and got the process started. The first option was the stadium addon, but that was squashed.
“The economics were just impossible,” said Stone. “We gave it up a couple of times. It was a very challenging procedure.”
By then, the group decided to look outside Harbour Grace for additional help. That’s when people like Vic Dawe came onboard and the facility took on a regional feel. The decision was made to build a $400,000 facility on the Conception Bay Highway just a stone’s throw from the provincial court house.
Finally, Vic Dawe set the first stone in motion on Jan. 26, 1980 as members of the organizing committee, federal and provincial government looked on.
“I loved curling,” said Stone.
An early mistake
Stone believes the group made a “fatal mistake” right from the get-go. It had a membership system in place.
That produced a stigma that the club was an exclusive place meant only for the elite of the area. That wasn’t the case. The club peaked with 120 members at one time.
“It seemed like we didn’t include everyone in the community,” said Stone. “Unfortunately, we went with it.”
It became such members of the community were not going using the building’s bar because they thought a membership was required to obtain entry.
The group got into the school’s shortly thereafter, offering an alternative to minor hockey. This produced some strong results.
At its height, the youth curling program had between 50 and 70 participants yearly and produced curlers like Korab.
“We had great success with school children,” said Stone.
Terry Shea, a coach with the Northwest Territories Brier team, got his start at the facility.
“I knew a lot of members from all around,” said Korab. “It was well-used year round.”
Perhaps, curling came to Harbour Grace at the wrong time. The exposure of the game was not what it is now.
Perhaps, if the club was still operating when Korab and crew captured the gold medal, this story wouldn’t be happening.
“It was a new game and a lot of people did not know about it,” said Stone.
That coupled with the economic downturn and a dwindling volunteer base meant the club was forced to close. Harbour Grace tried to bring it back after taking ownership in the late 90s, but even that could not save it.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Korab. “It was really sad for me.”
“The sport would have been great for the kids,” lamented Coombs. “You have to have the kids.”
One option would be to hold a night of curling at the current stadium or the new stadium once it is built in Harbour Grace. Such an arrangement would be similar to programs at the Trinity-Placentia Stadium in Whitbourne and the Parc Unity Arena in Placentia.
S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium manager Mike Adam, coincidentally a teammate of Korab’s at the 2006 Winter Olympics, said he has not heard any talk of having a curling night at the stadium. He would however be the first one to support a possible bonspiel once minor hockey has finished for the season.
“It wouldn’t take much to get me on board,” he said. “If the interest is there, I’d be very interested.”
Before it served as the home of a Clarke’s Furniture outlet, this building was the site of the Harbour Grace Curling Club.