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It’s okay – encouraged – to throw rocks at continent’s oldest curling club

September 2011

Any woman looking to throw rocks in good company this winter should consider joining the Ladies’ Branch of the Royal Montreal Curling Club.

“Arg!” bellows one plaid-kilted member after thrusting forward from the hack and releasing her stone down the ice. It knocks her opposing team’s rock out of the target, or house, and she and her team members quietly celebrate.

“The reason I like curling is I really like the strategy,” skip Gerry Bain says. “It’s like a chess game on ice.”

The skip is the key strategist for a team of four, and Bain, 76, has played skip since she was 40. Curling is part of her family heritage, and she began in her 30s. She makes some modest comments when asked why she plays that position and finally manages, “It’s usually one of the better curlers.”

Membership is not just for the practiced. New players are met with smiles and conversation and coach Ray Barnes is generous with training.

“The reward I get is people come out and in a short period of time they’re able to get the technique down,” Barnes says. He teaches how to balance on the pebbled ice and corrects bad posture before it develops into habit, like bending one’s trailing leg after pushing off with one’s rock.

At this fall’s womens’ Maple Leaf Bonspiel, six teams from Canada and the eastern U.S. played over three days. The bonspiel is held every second year. Photo courtesy of the RMCC

He helps longtime members, too.

“Periodically, he’ll just take one of us aside and coach us, so it’s a free clinic. Not many clubs have that,” member Pat Hamilton says.

The Ladies’ Branch started in 1884 as part of the Royal Montreal Curling Club. The main club now has male and female members, but began as a men-only affair in 1807. The 205-year-old RMCC is the oldest curling club in North America. Wooden girders painted white support the roof of the rink, where it’s kept a cool zero-to-two degrees Celsius. Provincial crests and European flags are displayed along the rink’s length, on each side.

The dark wood walls of the clubhouse lobby are adorned with aged black and white photos of men in suits with straw brooms and irons. The earliest irons, or rocks, used by the club are rumoured to be made of repurposed cannon balls. Now they’re made with granite from Ailsa Craig, Scotland, and weigh about 42 pounds. Members keep warm in navy blue fleece coats, and many wear kilts in the tartan of Earl of St. Andrews. They sport badges and pins that commemorate past events and wins. The club is more social than competitive, though members will play in bonspiels, and there are often friendly competitions with nearby women’s clubs, like the one in Pointe Claire. The Ladies’ Branch is structured, organized and, members note, curling requires discipline.

“If you’re retired, I think it’s a great thing to do,” Bain says, adding younger women make great members too, if they have the time.

“Everyone comes off the ice at the same time, so there’s lots of camaraderie,” Bain explains. The group, made up mainly of anglophones from all over Montreal, play weekday mornings. After eight to 10 ends, they’ll wind up the stairwell past curling-themed stained glass windows and share a hot lunch in the spacious social club that overlooks the rink. On Thursdays, they play bridge.

The Royal Montreal Curling Club is at 1850 de Maisonneuve W. Prospective members can call general manager Gérald Côté, 514-935-3411. An open house will be held October 5, and the Ladies Branch begins curling October 13.



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