A curling match will take place today (Saturday, December 4, 2021) in Lorette, MB with eight Lorette curlers hosting eight from Winnipeg’s Fort Rouge Curling Club. In some ways it will be inconsequential – in other ways the most important curling games played in Manitoba today.
It is “Game # 1586” in CurlManitoba’s O’Grady Cup Challenge – one of the grand traditions in Manitoba curling.
Going back to 1908, In 1908 Colonel J.W. deCourcy O’Grady, who was President of the Manitoba Curling Association, presented the trophy to encourage good will and promote curling matches between affiliated clubs in the Association, which at that time included clubs from North Western Ontario and parts of Saskatchewan.
Since 1908, the tradition of two teams representing the ‘club holding of the Cup’ and two representing ‘the challenger club’ began and it has continued since that time. One of the longest delays between games in the series was the one which ended last Saturday at St. Vital.
Fort Rouge had hosted Morden on Sunday, March 15, 2020 (the day before the province shut-down due to Covid-19). Consequently, Fort Rouge ‘held the Cup’ for a period of one year, eight months, and two weeks before facing the challenge offered by St. Vital Curling Club.
Having won the challenge last week, Fort Rouge travels today to Lorette looking forward to eight ends of curling, an opportunity to play in a club they don’t usually play in, anticipated warm hospitality, and establishment of new curling relationships – perhaps friendships. Note that I make no reference to the competition.
It is an idea that seems foreign in this modern world that the competition is inconsequential compared with those other things. Of course, the numbers have to go on the scoreboard in order to determine the two-game (four ends each – the two teams both play four ends against each other) total point ‘winner’.
However, there is no personal glory of the winning players. In the old tradition, it is all about which CLUB ‘wins’ and accepts the responsibility of carrying on the tradition next week when eight curlers from either Lorette OR Fort Rouge to face the challenge of the next club on the list.
I have had great opportunities in the sport of curling but one thing I had never done was participate in the O’Grady Cup Challenge – until last week when I joined the Fort Rouge group at St. Vital. It just seemed important to be a part of continuing an event which has gone on for over a century.
I had probably only met half of our team and a couple of the St. Vital team before and we were an eclectic group – an opportunity I thought to explore the reason others wanted to play that day.
For the ‘party line’ I started with Keith Johnston (Fort Rouge) and Ken Stevens (St. Vital). Both are pretty good club-level curlers, both have played in the O’Grady Cup Challenge several times, both are past-presidents of their club, both are members of the Board of Directors of CurlManitoba. Asked why maintaining the tradition is important, their answers were remarkable similar.
“There was a time when this sort of inter-club camaraderie was common,” Keith says, rueing the fact that in the busy world we live in, that has to a great extent been lost. “This is a way to just celebrate curling and the curling club and everything that our clubs have meant to our communities.”
“It is just inspiring that something with such history is being continued,” Ken says.
On the broad scale, Stevens says it is about connecting generations who have played and continue to play the game but he sees an important more immediate benefit. “To me it is all about how sport can help bring us together,” he says.
While Stevens, Johnston and several others on the two teams have played in the O’Grady a few times, I was not the only rookie in the Fort Rouge group.
Being part of that century old tradition was my reason for being there but wondered why Scott Macdonell and Nathan Wilson were there. They are young men with busy lives. I asked why they had taken the time to spend an afternoon curling with this group of mostly much older guys.
I was delighted by their answers – completely different but both very honest, important reasons.
“I read in the Fort Rouge 100th anniversary history book about our club’s involvement in the O’Grady over the years,” Nathan says. “I said at the time – ‘wow, it would be really cool to play in that one day’. As soon as I was asked, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Scott, whose father Don (an FRCC past-president) wrote that history, had a really simple response. “Nathan was so excited to play in it that I really just wanted to be part of it with him,” he says.
Two significant responses – one young man wanting to celebrate the history of curling in the province by being part of something 100+ years old; the other simply wanting to celebrate a friendship through their shared interest in the sport of curling.
Don’s motive was obvious when he invited/encouraged them to participate. He was doing his part in extending the tradition into the next generation of Manitoba curlers. It didn’t hurt for either of them when Don mentioned that the hospitality extended by the host club to the visiting club is an important part of the tradition. (apparently free food and beer is also a tradition the younger generation is keen to see continue!!)
Those were the reasons they said yes – but having participated, I also wanted to know their thoughts now about why the O’Grady tradition is important. Their answers were thoughtful.
“I was worried that we might not be good enough curlers but that didn’t matter,” Scott said. “It is all about the fun, the score was irrelevant.” (For the record – no issue about good enough – these two young curlers are good players!)
“It is supposed to be about two clubs coming together but we discovered that we didn’t even know most of the guys from our own club,” Nathan said, admitting meeting us all might be the most important thing accomplished that day.
“These are the regular guys at the club, just having fun, he concluded”
What better way could there be to celebrate the grand game of curling???
To the travelling curlers from Fort Rouge, and their hosts today at Lorette, I extend my sincere hope that your day will be as memorable for you as mine was last week at St. Vital.
(For the record, the hospitality at St. Vital was warm and welcoming! The curling itself: the reason for being there but irrelevant to the story!)
It should be noted, however, that there is an ’official game sheet” that goes in the record book. Such a game sheet exists for all 1,500+ games in the series going right back to the beginning. You can find those records and more HERE on the CurlManitoba website.