Fort William Curling Club - 125 years strong

November 2016

A lot of discussion has been taking place about the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary next year, but there is another important anniversary taking place in our community this year. According to facts contained in A History of the Fort William Curling Club, it was 125 years ago, on September 18th, 1891, at a meeting held at the Avenue Hotel, that the Fort William Curling Club was formally established. The first slate of officers elected included J.T. Horne as Chair and A.H. Dickens as Secretary with Peter and John McKellar included amongst the first members of the club. In fact, it was on property leased from the McKellar brothers that the club’s first reported curling rink was established in the area of Syndicate Avenue and Brodie Street.

In a very short time stones were ordered from Scotland and work began on flooding the ice which was a real challenge given the limited access to running water, with early ice makers reportedly having to pour 70 barrels of water on to the frozen ground to produce those early sheets. That initial rink was replaced by another facility in 1892 which allowed for curling in the centre and ice skating around the perimeter. Just like many early structures at that time, that rink was destroyed by fire but the Fort William Curling Company, which built the rinks and leased the ice to the club, had another structure up and running in less than a month. With yet another rink meeting its fate by the flames in 1908, the curling club acquired land on Leith Street between Vickers and McKellar and set about establishing their own home which operated for many years.

When the Prince of Wales Arena was taken over in 1942 to be used as an armouries, discussion eventually began on where the best location would be for its replacement, which turned out to be near the curling club. The decision was made to incorporate the curling club into the new Fort William Gardens so the old facility was torn down and the newly named Fort William Curling and Athletic Club was officially opened on March 10th, 1951, complete with artificial ice.

A lot has changed since those early days. Although we just have to show up today with our broom and shoes, curlers from earlier years had to bring along their own curling stones. Not only did early curlers have to provide their own rocks, they also had to play a lot more ends. In 1906 the Ontario Curling Association passed a rule limiting the length of a competitive game to 18 ends, with special competitions being allowed to go 22 ends. Eighteen gave way to sixteen and by the time the first Brier was held in 1927 that amount had been further reduced to fourteen. A year later
twelve ends became the standard and it was not until 1977 that the 10 end game made its first Brier appearance.

Speaking of the Brier, the Fort William Curling Club has contributed to the history of this iconic event in a number of ways, from co-hosting the event at the Fort William Gardens in 1960, to producing Brier champions.

When you walk into the Fort William Curling Club today you are greeted by a beautiful photo mural which features the images and names of the many individuals who have been a part of the rich and storied history of the club. The mural itself is historic, having been created by 2-time Canadian and world curling champion, and graphic artist extraordinaire, Heather Houston.

And what a history it has been with curlers from the Fort William side of town establishing a number of firsts in our community’s proud curling history, including the very first medal won for Canada in Olympic curling, which dates back to the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid when it was a demonstration sport. At that time the Manitoba Curling Association, of which the club was a member, was invited to send a team to the Olympic Games. One of the prominent members of the club at the time was a curler by the name of Robert B. Pow, and he was selected to join the team which went on to emerge victorious. Not only was Pow an Olympian, he also went on to become a Mayor of Fort William.

Our first national curling honours were claimed in 1958 by skip Tom Tod and his rink of Neil McLeod, Patrick Moran and David Allin who won the Canadian Schoolboys title. In 1975 another milestone was reached when skip Bill Tetley along with Rick Lang, Bill Hodgson Jr. and Peter Hnatiw brought home our communities first Brier title. Rick Lang made it into the record books again in 1981 when he skipped his rink of Anne Provo, Bert Provo and Lorraine (Edwards) Lang to our cities first national mixed curling title.

The following year it was another group of curlers from the Fort William Curling Club that made history when Al Hackner, Rick Lang, Bob Nicol, Bruce Kennedy and fifth man Al Fiskar claimed the 1982 Canadian and World Curling titles. In 1985 Hackner and Lang teamed up with Ian Tetley and Pat Perroud with Bruce Kennedy as their fifth man to once again claim the national and world curling titles.

In 1988 it was the ladies who would shine with Heather Houston, Lorraine Lang, Diane Adams, Tracy Kennedy and fifth Gloria Taylor claiming our first Canadian Women’s curling title. Repeating as national champions the following year, the first womens team ever to win back to back national curling titles, their victory at the 1989 World championships was another first for our community.

In 1991 the Jason Repay rink of Aaron Skillen, Scott McCallum, Trevor Clifford, along with fifth man Darryl Cambly and coach Jim Glena won our first Canadian Junior crown and claimed a bronze medal at the 1992 World Junior Curling Championship.

In 2006 Hackner and Lang again entered the record books when they teamed up with Al Laine and Brian Adams Sr. to claim our first Canadian Senior Mens curling title, going on to earn a silver medal at the 2007 World championship.

The Fort William Curling Club continues to send top notch curlers to national events including the Krista McCarville rink and the Doug Dean rink who brought home silver medals from the 2016 Scottie Tournament of Hearts and the 2016 Canadian Wheelchair Curling championships.

In addition to the Brier, the Fort William Curling Club has held a number of events over the years and this tradition will continue during its 125th season with the hosting of the Northern Ontario Men’s and provincial wheelchair championships this coming February and the Canadian university national championships next March.

Congratulations and happy anniversary to the Fort William Curling Club and thank you to the many volunteers who have spent countless hours carrying on the rich and proud tradition that began 125 years ago.

Diane Imrie is the Executive Director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. She can be reached at

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