INNISFAIL – The fabled brooms from the farm are back.
For the first time since 2020 the annual Innisfail Farmer/Farmerette Bonspiel was played in town.
But the 2023 event at the Innisfail Curling Club from Jan. 16 to 21 was an especially big affair as it was the 75th annual bonspiel.
The 74th was played in January of 2020; two months before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and forced the cancellation of most community events.
This year’s bonspiel was also important because it renewed an opportunity to support the Innisfail and area community.
Organizers donated 10 per cent of the proceeds from a Calcutta auction to the Innisfail and District Food Bank. They also donated $500 to the local junior curling program in the name of bonspiel volunteers from Innisfail’s McGillivray Insurance & Financial Services.
As for the action on the ice, there were 32 teams with 128 total curlers who paid a $60 entry fee to participate.
The entry fee entitled each player to have four breakfasts, four lunches, three suppers, a chance at prizes, a minimum of four games, and entry to the bonspiel-ending banquet on Jan. 21.
Tim Kreil, chair of the bonspiel, said the numbers were a “bit down" from previous years but certainly not the level of enthusiasm.
“I think everybody here is pleased to see we've been able to continue on,” said Kreil.
Kreil added the event also attracted more than 100 sponsors.
“The businesses are all very happy and proud to be supporting the 75th and I look around and people are having a great time and enjoying themselves,” said Kreil. “That’s a lot of fun, camaraderie and fellowship.”
Ashley Willert, bonspiel committee member, said the annual event has always been an important event for the farming community to connect and reconnect with each other.
“I think it's a reason for community and farmers to get out to socialize. You maybe don't see your neighbours as much as you should, and this just gives you that excuse to see some friends,” said Willert. “There's always lots of fun on the ice, lots of drinks to be had upstairs, a lot of food and our sponsors help us out a lot."
As for the play itself, the bonspiel format switched to being an open event for the milestone year. There were no teams with just men and women.
Kreil said the switch was made because overall curler numbers are down. He said to ensure the bonspiel had “value” the committee felt changing to an open event would be a way to attract enough players to have 32 teams, with each requested to have two members who are either active or retired farmers or farmerettes.
“We switched it up and took away the division between the men and women, and so that was the big change going into this year,” said Willert. “Before there were 32 men's and 16 ladies teams, and we knew that we weren't going to be able to pull those numbers this year and so we thought we would try this out and I think it's been a success.”
Play began on Jan. 16 and continued until Jan. 20 when the winners and runners-up of the four events were determined.
All 16 players from both the winning and runner-up teams earned the right to choose a prize with a minimum value of $250.
The bonspiel also featured 18 door prizes on behalf of the sponsors, as well as lunch draws every day.
What was also important for bonspiel organizers was that the event be a boost for the Innisfail Curling Club.
“This helps keep the curling club afloat,” said Kreil. “I think the bonspiel is a great morale booster for a lot of people.”