Manitoba’s first Olympic curlers

At long last! A Manitoba team will be representing Canada at the Olympic Games in curling. Skip Jennifer Jones, along with third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer, lead Dawn McEwen and alternate Kirsten Wall are heading to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, which begin February 7. Since curling officially became an Olympic sport at Nagano, Japan, in 1998, no team from this province, known for decades as being a hot bed for competitive curling, has participated in the Olympics.
But Jones was clearly the class of the field during the Tim Horton’s Roar of the Rings, finishing the round robin in first place and gaining a bye into the final. She then handily defeated the Sherry Middaugh rink from Ontario 8-4 in the Canadian Curling Trials final, earning the berth to represent the nation at the Winter Olympic Games.
The Brad Jacobs rink from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, which has Winnipeg-born Ryan Fry (son of legendary Manitoba curler Barry Fry) on its roster at third, will represent Canada in men’s Olympic curling.
As a skip, Jones has won four Canadian championships and gold at the 2008 world championship and a bronze in 2010.
No Canadian women’s rink, since the team skipped by Sandra Schmirler won gold, has emerged atop the final standings at the Winter Olympics. It remains for Jones and her squad to continue the winning form in Sochi that they displayed at the MTS Centre to again bring gold to Canada. It should be noted that the women’s curling in the Olympics is extremely competitive, with nations such as China, Sweden, Great Britain (Scotland), Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and Russia, fielding rinks all having a chance to win a medal. It’s not going to be easy for Jones, who said the Manitoba foursome’s goal is to win only gold at Sochi.
While the Jones rink will be the first women’s or men’s team from Manitoba to compete in curling as an official Olympic sport, there was one occasion when a local foursome did participate in a Winter Olympics, although  that was when curling was a demonstration sport. In 1932 at Lake Placid, New York, a rink from Manitoba was entered in what was a two country competition involving four teams each from the U.S. and Canada. The rinks from Canada included entries from Ontario, Quebec, Northern Ontario and Manitoba.
In the trivia category, it could only happen in curling: the ranks of the Manitoba entry had three Members of Parliament — William “Bill” Burns, the MP for Portage la Prairie, James L. Bowman, the MP for Dauphin, and Errick F. Willis, the MP for Souris. The other member of the rink was R.B. Pow from Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario. In another quirk of history, Pow was included as a Manitoban as the Lakehead was then part of the Manitoba Curling Association.
Writing in his Snapshots on Sports column in the January 9, 1932, Winnipeg Free Press, W.G. Allen said all the MPs were good Tories and excellent curlers, who supported Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in the House of Commons. Pow, the only non-MP in the group, happened to be the president of the Conservative Party Association in Fort William.
The MCA selected the Burns rink to represent the province, when the Canadian champions, the Robert “Bob” Gourlay rink from the Strathcona Club in Winnipeg, declined, since it would have been a financial burden to the members of the team. At the time, individual entrants had to pay their own way to and from Lake Placid as well as find their own accommodations. On the other hand, the MPs on the Burns rink had free passes for railway travel — a perk of their political office.
Allen wrote that the MPs had to go east anyway and “could arrange their trip more economically than others.”
“Curling at the Winter Olympiad, Lake Placid, will not be outdoors as many suppose,” reported Allen. “Hockey rinks are in the open, but the curling will be in a commodious building on artificial ice, where the figure skating will also take place. While the curling is only programmed as a demonstration, considerable rivalry is likely to develop.”
Also going to Lake Placid to represent Canada was the Winnipeg Winnipegs hockey team. They earned their berth to the Olympics as the winners of the Allen Cup in 1931, the Canadian senior amateur hockey championship. But unlike with curling, the Winnipegs were the only team representing Canada, and ice hockey was an official medal sport.
The Winnipeg squad won the gold medal in hockey with an unblemished record.
Another demonstration sport at Lake Placid was the 50-mile Dog Sled Race, which was won by a Manitoban. Emil St. Goddard of The Pas had the winning combined time for the two 25-mile stages of the race.
Unlike curling, sled dog racing did not eventually earn official Olympic status.
“The Canadian Curling council are good ‘pickers,’” wrote Allen. “There was nothing ‘conservative’ about the way those MPs stepped onto the curling ice at Lake Placid.”
Allen’s only complaint was that it cost $3 per ticket to see the “roarin’ game demonstrated,” when it was free in Winnipeg, where the “best curling in the world” was played.
Manitoba’s Curling Rink Finishes Demonstration Sport with Unbeaten Record, was the headline in the February 6, 1932, Free Press.
In one game out of the four played by the Manitoba representatives, skip Burns was forced to make his final stone score against the curling powerhouse foursome from Connecticut (sarcasm intended).
“Manitoba was given a tough game by Connecticut, who were one up coming home and were lying one when the last shot was delivered. With Jim Bowman urging the sweepers to their utmost the Burns rock ran true to the shot, the opposing stone was kicked out, Manitoba counting two to win 15-14.”
It should be noted that all games were marathon in length, as there were 18 ends played regardless of the score. Today’s practice of conceding defeat and shaking hands before all ends are completed in a lopsided game was not used in 1932.
The Manitoba rink won all four of its games, Ontario took three games and lost one, as did Ontario, while North Ontario had a 2-2 record. The Canadian rinks easily won the international competition over the U.S. 12 games to four.
Having been the only team to spot a perfect record, “The boys (from Manitoba) consider they have good reason to style themselves the Olympic champions,” wrote Allen.
In 1932, there was little real pressure placed on the Manitoba foursome when competing in a demonstration sport, but as the 2014 Canadian representative at Sochi, the Jones rink faces tremendous pressure to win gold and add to the nation’s medal haul, which is “expected” by Canadian officials to reach a record total of 30.