There is little evidence to firmly establish the birthplace of curling. Both Scotland and the “low countries” of Europe claim title. The earliest artefacts of the game are from the Scots, while the language common to curling can be traced to dialects spoken by the Flemish peoples of what is now Belgium.
The stages of curling history are best traced by the development of curling stones. The earliest known stones, dating back to the 16th century, were called “Kuting Stones”. There were small niches scrapped into the stones for fingers to grip and hold. Stones were as small as 2 kilograms, or as large as 10 kilograms. In the mid-17th century, handles began to appear with the early versions of curling stones. While handles allowed for greater control when throwing the stones, a wide variation in sizes and shapes of the stones still made it interesting to play. Before the current standard, shapes of stones included cones, ovals, squares, hexagons and others.
Current stones weigh about 18 kilograms, and granite from the tiny Scottish island of Ailsa Craig was the material of choice for curling stones. Up to the early 20th century, it was the only quarry in the world from which curling stone granite was mined. Veins of suitable granite have now been found in Wales.
Scottish settlers & General Wolfe’s soldiers brought the game to Canada around 1760. Unable to find Ailsa Craig stones, Wolfe’s troops melted cannonballs and made stones or “irons”. Irons were used in Quebec curling clubs up until the 1950’s. Scottish settlers developed a hardwood block with an iron ring as a striking band.
The oldest curling club in Canada is the Royal Montreal club, established in 1807. The first club in Ontario was formed in 1807 in Kingston. The third oldest club in Canada was formed in Halifax in 1824.
The largest growth for curling happened as the game moved west of the Great Lakes. In 1876, Winnipeg formed its first curling club, both Alberta and Saskatchewan formed clubs in 1880, and in 1895 curling reached British Columbia. Today, over two-thirds of the country’s curling clubs are located in the four western provinces.
The biggest single change to the game was the development of indoor curling facilities. Harsh Canadian winters forced the game to move indoors, but this also meant an improvement in playing conditions, as the effect of weather conditions was greatly reduced. The subsequent development of “artificial ice” for these indoor clubs meant an extended playing season, a greater proliferation of clubs and many more people being attracted to the sport as participants. In the late 1950s, Canada had over 1500 curling clubs, many of which were located in small rural communities.
Today there are about 1000 curling clubs spread across every province and territory in the country. While a few “natural ice” clubs remain, the vast majority have artificial ice allowing a typical club to operate from October through to April. The largest club in Canada has 12 sheets of ice under one roof and the smallest has only one sheet of ice. Within these clubs, also known as curling centres, up to a million Canadians curl each winter.
The Canadian Men’s Curling Championship, or Brier, has been held every year since 1927, with the exception of 1943-1945. The first Canadian Women’s Championship was held in 1961 and Canadian Junior Curling Championships have been contested since 1950 (men) and 1971 (women). Canada has also won more world titles than any other nation in the world - 34 men’s championships, 15 women’s titles, 17 world junior men’s and nine world junior women’s.
On July 21, 1992 the International Olympic Committee formally approved curling’s inclusion in the Winter Olympic program, after the sport had been played as a demonstration at the 1932, 1988 and 1992 Games. Curling had, for the first time, full medal status at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan and Canada won a gold and silver medal. Since Nagano, Canada has gone on to win four gold medals (Torino, Italy; Vancouver, B.C., Canada; Sochi, Russia), two silver medals (Salt Lake, Utah; Vancouver, B.C., Canada) and two bronze medals (Salt Lake, Utah; Torino, Italy) at the Olympic Games.
The 2006 Games in Torino, Italy marked the first year curling was included as a medal sport in the Paralympic Games. Canada has won the gold medal at every Paralympic Games since its inclusion (Torino, Italy; Vancouver, B.C.; Sochi, Russia).
A more detailed history of the sport in Canada can be found on the Canadian Curling Association website at www.curling.ca. Information about Canadian results at international curling events can be found on the World Curling Federation website at www.worldcurling.org