Little tidbits about Okotoks’ early curling days are turning heads in the recreation centre.
The Okotoks Museum and Archives is exhibiting The History of Curling in Okotoks featuring facts, photographs and artifacts in the Okotoks Recreation Centre’s Art in the Hall display case. The exhibit will remain on display until the end of January.
Museum specialist Kathy Coutts said the exhibit focuses primarily on the history of the Okotoks Ladies’ Curling Club, but also delves into the early days of curling in Okotoks.
“Curling has always been important as a way to stay fit in those long days of winter but it was also a way for the community to come together,” she said. “There’s a strong social component of curling that existed in the early days, as well as what exists today.”
The exhibit is on display in conjunction with the 2020 Sentinel Storage Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts that's being hosted at the Okotoks Recreation Centre’s Murray Arena from Jan. 22 to 26.
“I thought it would tie in nicely while the Alberta Scotties were here,” Coutts said.
The exhibit consists of old curling brooms and a curling rock, as well as ribbons and nametags from the Okotoks Ladies’ Curling Club.
Coutts said the earliest record of curling in the Okotoks area dates back to 1901 when a Calgary Herald article tells of a competition between the Okotoks team and a team from Fish Creek.
“It didn’t say where it was going to be held but I would imagine in those days it would either be on Sheep Creek or here on the Sheep River because indoor curling rinks at that time were few and far between and curling occurred in the early days on the river,” she said.
During the early days of curling, members were responsible for bringing their own rocks, which Coutts said were likely purchased through a mail order catalogue or Calgary retailer.
As for the brooms, early pictures reveal a variety that’s quite different from today’s standards, said Coutts.
“Some of the curling brooms look like kitchen brooms,” she said. “They’re not at all what resemble curling brooms today. There’s a wonderful picture from 1940 and the brooms look like they could have been just snatched from behind the kitchen door.”
Curling took place outdoors in Okotoks until 1912, when two sheets of ice were added to the indoor arena on the northeast corner of where Northridge Drive and Elizabeth Street intersect today, said Coutts.
Six years later it burned to the ground and in 1920 another arena was built further east on Elizabeth Street.
Heavy snowfall collapsed the roof of the ice rink portion of the building in 1925, yet curling commenced until 1929 when a new rink and three sheets of curling ice were built where the Okotoks Public Library is currently located, Coutts said.
She said skating and curling continued to take place on natural ice in the facility until artificial ice was installed in 1958.
“That was significant both for the skating rink and curling rink,” she said. “The curling season was able to be longer and the ice was more consistent.”
Local clubs curled at the site until the present-day facility was built in the early 1980s, said Coutts.
As for the history of women’s curling in Okotoks, Coutts said the Okotoks Ladies’ Curling Club formed in 1955 after it was determined there was enough interest by women in the community.
The membership began with 32 women paying an annual fee of $8. Belle Murray was selected as the club’s first president.
“It’s only fitting that the Scotties are being played in the Murray Arena, which is named after the Murray family,” said Coutts.
The Okotoks ladies curling club didn’t acquire a full set of matching stones until 1965, the same year the club’s first ladies bonspiel was held, said Coutts, adding that numerous women did exceptionally well in curling over the years.
This month marks the second time Okotoks hosted the Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts. It was initially held in Okotoks in 1998.
Coutts said The History of Curling in Okotoks exhibit is a great way to celebrate the history of curling while tying it in with the provincial event near where the championships are held.
“We want to continue to promote our history in non-traditional spaces,” she said. “We want to go beyond the traditional four walls of our museum and take that history out into the community.”
For further Alberta Scotties stories and coverage during the event go to https://www.okotokstoday.ca/2020-alberta-scotties