|Claude Fortin with Pat Bamford, his first CHS curling coach at reunion|
Curling arrived early in Chapleau's story with some of the community's first inhabitants making their own sheet of ice on a stretch of land on the east side of Lorne Street using water from Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) engine house and shops across the street during the winter of 1885-86.
In his Chapleau Snapshots, George Evans, using material from 'Pioneering in Northern Ontario' by Vince Crichton and other sources, provided a glimpse into the history of curling in the community which was established in 1885 with the arrival of the CPR.
These early curlers must have really loved the sport as Chapleau was in its infancy, a community of tents and shacks with construction underway on a station and office building. The population consisted of about 400 people, ninety-five percent of them men at the end of 1885, I noted in my 1984 book, 'Sons of Thunder ... Apostles of Love'. But a roundhouse with turntable and water tank had been erected.
Apparently the winter of 1885 was bitterly cold, which was pretty usual for Chapleau throughout its history, and disease was rampant, but curling was underway.
"Hardy curlers had to shovel and sweep snow... every time to play," George noted.
In the early years, curling had its "ups and downs" and was played only when "enough enthusiasts willing to make outdooor ice and shovel snow."
By the late 1880s, J. Gill had opened an outdoor skating rink just south of the site, and hockey also arrived in Chapleau. It must have taken off as a Chapleau hockey team made a road trip to Sudbury in 1893.
In his article George writes that Lombard Lafrance took over the rink in 1895 and made changes, including heated changing shack, one for men and one for women and as high board fence as a defence against drifting snow. By 1904, the rink was entirely closed in. Eight years later a "group of citizens" took over and proceeded to renovate and enlarge it. Two more sheets of ice and clubroom were added in the early 1920s.
|from left D Matheson, T. Godfrey, J. Hogg. G.B. Nicholson circa 1928|
George suggested that perhaps caught up in the optimism of the "Roaring Twenties" by 1928, they left Lorne Street for their own four sheet building on Pine Street. Chapleau curling enjoyed some of its best early years between 1929 and 1932, despite the start of the Great Depression when it played host twice to the Northern Ontario Curling Association Bonspiels.
Then the effects of the Great Depression struck and dwindling membership became an issue by 1934. George's article notes that the club rejected "an obvious solution when it rejected applications from the four Pirie sisters. Curling was a man's game".
|Rene Hackstetter collection|
Nonetheless curling continued and Chapleau rinks continued to enjoy success in out-of-town bonspiels.
Women were not admitted until 1949. Interestingly, women appear to have been able to play when curling first arrived but somewhere along the way, they were banned.
After World War II, younger curlers assumed control of the club and as well as women being admitted the club obtained a liquor license that helped keep the books healthy -- and physical improvements were made. The clubroom was enlarged, a washroom was added as well as an oil furnace.
In 1962, "the ultimate" happened when artificial ice was installed.
|from left D. Cote, M.Tangie, D. Fortin, J. Crichton CHS curlers 1960s|
George noted that in 1954 Vince Crichton was a major player in establishing school boy curling and a a year later, Herb Riley donated a trophy. Curling became a popular sport at Chapleau High School.
One of the highlights at the CHS reunion was the return of Pat Bamford, one of the popular curling coaches during the years he taught at the school. Claude Fortin provided photo of them being reunited and explained that Pat was his coach in the first year he curled.
In the mid 1970s, the Ontario Ministry of Labour ordered structural reports done on arenas and curling rinks and the Chapleau facility was subsequently closed. Despite improvements made at the Chapleau Memorial Community Arena to bring it up to standards, in due course, it was also facing closure.
The municipal council by 1976 had decided to replace the arena and the curling club executive asked to be included in the project which resulted in the Chapleau Recreation Centre, which was opened in 1978.
In his article, George commented that the Pine Street building had a "loveable rustic quality about it." It did indeed.
This is really a first rough draft of the history of curling in Chapleau that I am sharing made possible because of writing by the late George Evans and Vince Crichton. Also thanks to Claude Fortin and Rene Hackstetter. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org