Canadian Curling [Download
Curling, by Jeffrey Reed
to FOREVER YOUNG
sports heroes, modest yet possessing
world-class skills, are a special breed.
Icons like Masters golf champion Mike
Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ontario, and
hockey legend Wayne Gretzky of
Brantford, Ontario relish their
small-town roots while carrying
themselves in a professional fashion.
Our homegrown heroes of curling are made
of the same stuff. Honing their skills
at community clubs in preparation for
larger stages, like the Nokia Brier, and
the Scott Tournament of Hearts – and
today even the Winter Olympic Games –
Canada’s elite curlers remain modest
in their achievements.
The sport of curling itself has modest
roots. Long before indoor ice facilities
popularized the game, curling was played
outdoors in frigid temperatures. A
hand-written record of curling dates
from 1540 in Scotland, a country which
widely embraced the sport by the 18th
century. In fact, the draining of an old
pond in Dunblane, Scotland once turned
up a curling stone dated 1511.
There are some historians who credit the
Dutch and Germans with founding curling,
but there’s no denying Canada its
title as the world’s curling capital.
From Victoria, British Columbia to St.
John’s, Newfoundland there are 1,300
curling clubs and 1.2 million
participants of all ages and abilities.
If hockey is the fastest game on ice,
then curling is the most beloved here at
In 2004 alone, more than 11 million
adult Canadians will watch curling on
television. No one acknowledges the
magnitude of televised curling more than
CBC-TV sports commentator, Don Wittman.
Inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall
of Fame (CCHF) in 2003, Wittman is a
veteran of 42 years of television sports
journalism. A resident of Winnipeg since
1961, the 67-year-old native of Herbert,
Saskatchewan says Canadians and curling
go hand in hand.
"I think a lot of people can relate
to curlers, because they’re not
earning megabucks as athletes, like the
multi-million-dollar professionals in
other sports," explains Wittman.
"Many people in Canada curl. A
(professional) curler is the guy or gal
next door, who may be the provincial
champion. I think they’re just
ordinary people, and that’s something
fans can relate to."
Curling In His Blood
Beginning his award-winning broadcasting
career in 1955, Wittman has covered
almost every major athletic event aired
by CBC, including 16 Winter and Summer
Olympic Games, several Stanley Cup
contests, 35 Grey Cups, and numerous
Canadian Open golf championships.
Since 1961, Wittman has covered
championship curling. He recalls his
first major curling assignment, the 1961
Brier – Canada’s men’s curling
championship – hosted by Calgary.
Wittman remembers, "It was the
first national event I covered for CBC.
They played 12 end games at that time.
Hec Gervais (Alberta) wound up
A television pioneer, Wittman played an
instrumental role in the enhancement of
curling broadcasts, and hence the game.
At the Sudbury-hosted 1983 Brier, the
CBC fitted skips Ed Lukowich of Alberta
and Ed Werenich of Ontario with
microphones. It was the first time in
television history that the comments
from curlers were being brought live
into the living rooms of Canadians.
While this innovative move added to the
intimacy of the game, and allowed
curling fans to share in the excitement
at ice level, it resulted in what was
then a controversial moment for the CBC.
Wittman says, "Werenich, when he
got set to throw his final shot, said to
the front end of Neil Harrison and John
Kowaja, ‘I’m just going to throw
this, and you guys sweep the piss out of
it!’ At the time, we got some reaction
from the viewers as to the language
being used," remembers Wittman,
"but that was very mild in
comparison to what is used many times in
a lot of shows today, on the news, and
"At the time, only the skips wore
microphones, because the technology wasn’t
advanced," explains Wittman.
"Now, we have all members of a rink
wearing microphones, and I think it’s
one of the attractions for people
watching on television."
Without a doubt, it is the personalities
of curling which make the sport a game
beloved by Canadians. Wittman says the
curling establishment is "slowly
but surely" marketing its stars on
a large scale, in order to raise the
profile of the sport. "The Scott
Paper Company, for example, does a
pretty good job of taking advantage of
their reigning champions, and using them
in advertisements," Wittman says of
2003 Scott Tournament of Hearts
champion, Colleen Jones.
Heart Of A Champion
Elected to the CCHF in 1990, Jones is an
ageless champion. At age 44, she remains
at the top of her game. Representing the
historic Mayflower Curling Club
(established 1905) in her hometown of
Halifax, Jones is the most successful
women’s skip in Canadian curling
history, with five Canadian Women’s
Curling Championship titles (1982, 1999,
2001-03), and a World Championship title
in 2001. Her Team Canada rink, including
third Kim Kelly, second Mary-Anne Waye,
lead Nancy Delahunt, fifth Laine Peters,
and coach Ken Bagnell are all part of a
curling dynasty. But don’t tell that
to Jones, who, like all Canadian curling
champions remains modest in the
"My goodness, don’t give me that
label. I’m not ready for that,"
said Jones, after winning the 2003 Scott
Tournament of Hearts. However, Jones has
spent most of her life dreaming of
winning the national title.
A graduate of her hometown’s Dalhousie
University, Jones joined CBC-TV in 1986,
and moved to CBC Newsworld in 1995. An
amiable, animated, attractive curling
superstar, Jones is also comfortable in
front of the camera while on the other
side of the microphone. She has reported
on Olympic and Commonwealth Games, and
today enjoys delivering weather
forecasts from beautiful locations
around Nova Scotia, as well as offering
viewers the latest sports highlights
from around the world. She juggles her
curling and television careers with a
busy home life, which includes husband,
Scott, and sons, Zach, 16, and Luke, 9.
As a child, Jones grew up with seven
sisters. She remembers, "We had a
Saturday morning junior program at the
Mayflower club. When you turned 13, you
went out the door with your sisters to
the curling club. Right away, I wanted
to be as good as them. I’d practice
after school, and practice even more
sliding on the kitchen floor in sock
Jones spent endless hours practicing her
sweeping with corn brooms, and with
seven sisters it was never a problem
finding competition. "Seven
sisters, two curling teams,"
explains Jones. "There was always
someone to curl with, and that motivated
If curling has a sex symbol, then Jones
fits the bill, in a girl-next-door way.
But, just as she shuns the dynasty
handle, she laughs off her sexy image,
captured on television. Her flowing
hair, large smile, and gum chewing are
just as much a part of her image as is
her take-charge leadership and chant,
"Hurry hard," which echoes in
curling rinks around the globe.
In 2006, Turin, Italy will host the next
Winter Olympics, and curling will once
again receive a shot in the arm. Jones
says, "I think the Olympics will do
more for curling than anything else. I
think it’s going to be the Olympics
that will turn the tide for curling. The
best thing curling can do is market
itself as a lifetime sport, that you can
play forever. It’s very sociable. And
now that it’s an Olympic sport, it’s
quickly becoming a ‘cool’
Wittman agrees, calling the Olympics
"huge" for curling in Canada.
"Now there’s something for the
curlers to really shoot for: a chance to
represent their country in Italy,"
In 1998, Sandra Schmirler became a
household name, winning curling Gold for
Canada at the Nagano, Japan Games. The
Regina skip (CCHF 1999), who dominated
women’s curling in the 1990s by
winning three Canadian and World
championships, died in March, 2000 at
age 36 after battling cancer. Jones says
she "always admired Sandra’s
team, their character and class. They
certainly brought curling to a whole new
level. Her team were always heroes to
our team, and one we’ve tried to
More than a million Canadians are
filling rinks across the country this
curling season. In places like St.
Thomas, Ontario and Benito, Manitoba,
young curlers – the future of the
sport – are emulating their hero,
Colleen Jones. Even if they don’t
reach the success level of Canada’s
most successful women’s curler, they’re
playing a sport that they’ll enjoy the
rest of their lives.