A silver anniversary for a gold medal team

November 2021

This year marks the 25th anniversary for the Bearskin Airlines Hope Classic. This February, women curlers from Thunder Bay, Hornepayne, Upsala, Fort Frances and other Northern Ontario communities will gather at the Fort William Curling Club for a weekend of friendly competition all for the cause of fighting breast cancer.

Over the years, a committee of five women have been the driving force behind this event. And what dramatic results they have seen. The Linda Buchan Centre at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, named in honour of the founder of the Hope Classic, Linda Buchan, conducted over 8,000 breast examinations and the funds from the Hope Classic were used to replace an older mammography machine in 2021 with a GE Senographic Pristina machine. The funds raised in the Bearskin Airlines Hope Classic are channeled to the Linda Buchan Centre through the Northern Cancer Fund of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation.

I wanted to know more about how this committee can stay so committed to the cause. I met with my friend, Susan Childs, on a Saturday morning, to talk about curling, raising funds, friendships and memories. Susan is one of the “core five” behind the Classic, along with Sue Childs (yes, there are two Susan Childs in a committee of five people!), Barb Whitney, Cindy Orr, and Sue Pennock. Sue Childs is the only remaining member of the original committee and was a great friend of Linda Buchan.

I’ve known Susan (Humby) Childs since high school. I didn’t remember her as a curler then but she said that she got into curling when she married into the Childs family. “They all curled, so I got into it too!” I remember Susan’s mother-in-law, Lil Childs, because she curled with my mom, Sis Angus, at the Fort William Curling Club. Many days after school I would walk to the curling club as the teams in the afternoon ladies league were finishing their games. The women shared stories and coffee in the club house. I never forgot that sense of community that the lady curlers had – and how loud it was! My mom traveled the district for bonspiels and came home with electric blankets, electric carving knives and sets of glasses.More than the prizes, she loved being with her friends and playing a sport she enjoyed. That sense of community and friendship is perhaps the reason the committee continues to steer the Hope Classic. More than just a fundraiser, the event remains connected to its founder, Linda Buchan. “It was a small dream of hers to start this bonspiel,” Susan said. “She wanted to get women together to curl, have fun, dance and to help find a cure for the disease of breast cancer.” Linda shared her experiences as a person living with cancer and as an advocate for women’s health. Her dream was realized with the help of a team of organizers and hundreds of women who came out to participate. Linda herself was curling and cheering and dancing with the other women for the first six years until she passed away in December 2002. The Linda Buchan Centre for Breast Screening and Assessment was named in her honour and thousands of people receive services from the Centre each year. Linda’s family remains involved in the Hope Classic and her granddaughter, Sydney Buchan, has been a top pledge-getter for many years.

“I remember the process of registering a team for the Hope Classic in those early years,” Susan laughs. “The Classic was so popular that it was full within a few hours. People had to go to their curling club to get the registration form then drive the completed registration to Linda’s house to get in!” Although the registration system is now done over the computer, the pandemic has presented some new hurdles. The committee is keeping their fingers crossed that all 32 teams can participate come February but it all depends on the capacity limits due to Covid health regulations and protocols.

“Even though this is a bonspiel, it’s never really about the curling,” says Childs. “So many people have never curled before and through this event, many have started curling.”

I asked Childs, who has been on the steering committee for over 20 years, why she and the core group continue to participate. “We all know someone who has been touched by breast cancer and that’s why I want to do this. And it’s the camaraderie of the event. I remember those early years of seeing Linda on the dance floor.” Susan and the other committee members, curlers, and sponsors are ensuring that Linda’s dream continues to be a reality. “Because of this bonspiel someone may get an early diagnosis. I know that the Hope Classic makes a difference. I remember attending one of the early Hope Classics and writing a thank you note to Linda because of how well organized the event was and how much fun all the ladies had. Linda’s enthusiasm for how this event could make a difference to the community was an inspiration. I was so impressed by Linda. She was a quiet person with an idea.”

Sometimes the quiet people need some help making noise. That’s what the Hope Classic team has shown. They have helped amplify Linda Buchan’s voice to make a difference for patients and their families in the northwest. This year, the committee has labeled the 25th anniversary Hope Classic the Legacy of Hope. Here’s a toast to Linda Buchan and her team who keep working for breast cancer treatments and cures. And here’s to all the participants who in one weekend will make memories to last a lifetime. Linda’s legacy lives on with curlers of all ages and abilities. It may be a silver anniversary this year, but Linda and her team deserve gold medals. Hurry hard, gals!

Nancy Angus is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Bayview. Contact her at nangus@shaw.ca

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