by Bruce Cherney (part 3 of 3)
Winnipeg Mayor Richard “Dick” Deans Waugh, an avid curler and president of the Granite Curling Club from 1905 to 1907, at the member’s annual meeting on November 21, 1912, paid tribute to Joe Lemon after the old-time member “responded with ready cash to help the new project along” at 22 Mostyn Place (soon to be 1 Granite Way).
The mayor said, “if all the members would put their shoulders to the wheel and help that there would be no difficulty in making the undertaking a success” (Manitoba Free Press, November 22, 1912).
At the meeting, Granite president Cam Chisholm told the members that the stock for the new company formed in order to build the new rink would soon be subscribed. Secretary A.H.S. Murray said no member (who was charged a membership fee of $15 a year) would be compelled to purchase shares (non-share holding members belonged to the Granite Players’ Association), but that it “would take some hustling” to finance the completion of the building, which was expected to cost over $100,000 ($40,000 went toward the acquisition of the property).
The original cost of the rink had been projected to be just $50,000, but then rose to $75,000 and then to $110,000 before the astronomical sum of $140,000 for 1913 (nearly $3 million in today’s dollars) was finally needed to complete the facility. The painstaking attention paid to its lavish interior and expensive furnishings meant the club didn’t officially open until a year after construction got underway.
Despite the delay of the official opening and the fact the building was far from complete, the structure housing the ice at the Granite had been finished and the ice sheets were ready for play on December 7, 1912. Since the elaborately designed front entrance and clubhouse had yet to be built, a temporary clubhouse was erected for the curlers.
“Dan McNeil (the ice maker) bet a few cigars, also several other things, that he would be ready before December 15 and he certainly has made good with a vengeance” (Free Press, December 7, 1912).
As the same time that the Granite was being built at 22 Mostyn Place, the Thistle Curling Club was building a new seven-sheet rink on McDonald Street just off Main Street at a cost of $60,000. Meanwhile, the Union-Terminals Rink was undergoing several thousand dollars in upgrades to its four-sheeter. The Union-Terminals club on Water Street was created just one year earlier, but boasted a membership of 200 active curlers.
The recently-formed Elmwood Curling Club built a five-sheet rink that was officially opened on December 11, 1911.
The December 14, 1912, Free Press reported that the primary reason for the expansion and upgrading of curling facilities in the city was the result of the popularity of the annual Winnipeg Bonspiel (now the Manitoba Curling Association Bonspiel, or MCA Bonspiel). The newspaper said “the big annual carnival has reached such a stage that it is about the largest sporting affair in America during the winter months.”
The first “Big Bonspiel” was held on February 5, 6 and 7, 1889, with 62 rinks taking part from Calgary, Stonewall, Portage la Prairie, Brandon, Carberry, Virden, Stony Mountain, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portage, Wisconsin, Guelph and Lindsay, Ontario, as well as from the local Granite, Thistle and Victoria clubs. The latter club didn’t have a rink of its own as the old Victoria Gardens ice rink had ceased to exist, so only nine sheets of ice at the Granite and Thistle clubs was available for play.
One of the Victoria rinks was skipped by W.A. Carson and playing third for him was a first-year curler named Bob Dunbar. The Free Press on February 12, 1938, wrote that little attention was paid to him at the time, “but as every broom wielder knows Bob Dunbar quickly developed into the greatest curler in the history of the game.”
Sam Harstone’s Granite rink won the Grand Challenge in 1889, beating W.H. Sparling of Portage la Prairie 16-12 in 21 ends (all games at bonspiel at the time were 21 ends).
In 1903, curlers were arriving in the city from as far away as Scotland to participate in the annual two-week extravaganza.
“By 1903,” wrote Morris Mott and John Allardyce in their book, Curling Capital: Winnipeg and the Roarin’ Game, 1876 to 1988, “... Winnipeg was the headquarters of a major curling association (MCA) that was promoting improvements in the game and was sponsoring the world’s greatest bonspiel ... Winnipeggers could legitimately claim by this time that theirs was the greatest curling city on earth.”
It was the popularity of the game in the city which spurred on the construction of the new Granite club. Excavation on the new Granite rink began in the first week in September and the steel framing was erected in early November, but putting in place the remaining features of the building slowed the pace.
“The structure is 210 feet in length and 150 feet wide which constitutes a record sized rink,” reported the
November 9, 1912, Free Press. The article was accompanied by a photo of the steel work, visually demonstrating the progress made on the new rink. The spans of steel work for the rink measured 150 feet in order “to do away with a lot of girders and braces which not only take up a lot of space but block the view of the spectators.
“There are to be nine sheets of ice. These are built with ample space between, so that crowding, which is a noticeable drawback in many rinks, will not be the case in the new building. There is also much space provided so that the players may get along with their play without coming into contact with players on the opposing sheets.”
The article described the intention to richly furnish the building, with the clubroom itself “prepared after the Elizabethan plan while the rink proper is after the Norman style.”
Chisholm gave particular attention to the front entrance with a formal gateway constructed between two oversized pillars, joined by an arch of wrought iron which is inscribed with “Granite Curling Club.” The three-storey front entrance exterior resembles a Tudor cottage and is perhaps the structure’s most distinctive feature.
The Granite has since been described as a “bit of England” at the northern foot of the Osborne Bridge.
The second floor held a large assembly room and lounge, a ladies’s room and a service kitchen. The assembly room was described in the Free Press (September 20, 1913) as “a large and spacious room, the seats heavily upholstered and extremely comfortable, in pursuance of the idea of the directors of the club to make the club more of a home than a mere rink where one can spend an hour or two in game, and then depart.”
Over the massive fireplace in the assembly room is an inscription carrying a condensed version of the club’s history within a bronze plate.
The third floor was devoted entirely to English billiards, snooker and pool. The three tables were described as “up-to-date style, well-set and true, and with a moderate tariff (cost to play), which in all certainty will be reduced as the club gains strength and riches.”
The basement contained the lockers and shower facilities for curlers.
In addition, there was a wooden veranda for summer use that faced the Assiniboine River.
One feature in the original plans, but not built, was a lawn bowling green.
“The rink portion of the club is 136 feet by 201 feet, according to the building permit (1986 — The Year Past, City of Winnipeg Historical Building Committee report) ... The structure is stud-framed, with a clear span of 136 feet. The trusses arch to a height of one and a half storeys, carried to ground on steel columns faced with brick buttresses. The walls, made of wood covered in corrugated metal, are far from airtight, but this was quite desirable in the decades before artificial ice was installed. In fact, there was only a layer of sand laid between the ground surface and the rink ice.
“All four corners of the rink were square towers of brick and rough cast, crenelated and definitive in resolving the arching lines of the rink proper to the articulated lines of the clubhouse. The two towers at the rear (east) end of the rink have subsequently been altered and flattened.”
According to the December 14, 1912, Free Press, “Dan McNeil, one of the most popular ice makers in the city and everyone’s friend, will live at the rink so that it will have excellent care both winter and summer.”
Following the completion of the rink, the September 20, 1913, Free Press referred to it as “palatial.”
“At the close of last curling season those who visited the Granite would have a certain idea as to the appearance of the finished rink, but not in their wildest dreams could they have pictured a palace so replete with comforts and advantages entailed by modern civilization ... no expense has been spared to make the Granite club, in virtue of its position as pioneer club of the city, far in advance of all competitors. As a home it is unexcelled. As a rink it stands alone. No finer building for the purpose exists at the present time.”
Since the rink was so expensive to build, the annual membership fee was raised from $15 to $25. The executive intended to limit membership to 300 people “that being the number which they consider they can comfortably handle.”
“Even though the Granite’s members were normally well-to-do,” wrote Morris and Allardyce, “it soon became obvious that the club had over-reached itself and could not pay the taxes and the mortgage. In 1916, the Government of Manitoba took over the building and rented it back to the Club for the next thirty years.”
But despite numerous setbacks, the Granite Curling Club always managed to find a way to remain in operation, sometimes with the help of the province and in other instances with aid from the city.
Over the years, the Granite rink has undergone numerous changes, including artificial ice in 1953 (the first in Manitoba), and a two-storey addition in 1959 to house the bar and Granite Room, as well as additional shower and locker facilities. A major restoration of the “Mother Club” was undertaken in 2010, which included wall reconstruction and insulation, with $444,197 in funding provided by the city, provincial and federal governments. Another $200,000 to upgrade the heritage site was raised by the Granite’s membership.