By Darren Lum
Published Oct. 17 2017
When the cold northern wind howls across the Highlands whipping up the snow under the grey pall of a Canadian winter sky there is a contrasting atmosphere inside the Haliburton Curling Club. There you will find laughter wide eyes and open hearts accompanied by bright brilliant smiles and the warmth of friendship.
It’s been like this for 75 years.
Bringing a curling club to Haliburton was led by Art Gilliam a general store owner on Pine Street. Gilliam had learned to curl in Toronto and brought his passion to the village. He received the backing of a few other businessmen who were curling in other towns – Merv Robertson Bill Arnberg Frank English and Lou Consky.
According to information collected by Jack Robertson and Phyllis Woodcock the first public meeting was held on Dec. 29 1941. The club’s president was named Hedley Feir the vice-president Art Gilliam and Bill Arnberg was named the secretary-treasurer. The annual membership dues were $20.
By the start of 1942 the club started and was renting ice at the Haliburton arena two nights a week for the eight men’s teams and once a week for women. Curlers had to bring their own equipment including curling rocks. It was a common sight to see women walking down Highland Street towards the arena with a house broom. The women didn’t just go to the club to play but also to work as they were responsible for catering fundraising events and bonspiels. Without running water the catering was a challenge.
By Christmas of 1948 the club was curling in their new building which was built from $1000 in the club’s account and through the rallying efforts of Carl Hussey who owned the local hardware store. The building effort needed a lot of volunteers and support. What was then Hay and Company which is now the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve they provided the new build with lumber from the trees cut down for a road. Hay and Company also processed the lumber for free. The lumber was taken to town by volunteers. It was far from what the facility is like today. At that time there was only a wood stove for heat and there was no running water.
Long-time club member and Rotarian Art Dawson who has been a club member for 43 years said this club has always been very inclusive. It didn’t matter if you were the best curler or the worst.
The 65-year-old who was born and raised by Clifford and Betty Dawson in the area said the club brings long-time residents like himself and new residents together.
“It’s a wonderful successful operation. We have more than 250 members to meet one or two nights a week in a social atmosphere. Anybody with any type of calibre can play. It’s for everyone” he said.
Getting to play with the club’s real “characters” over the years has been a privilege. He named Joe Iles and Bob Colliver as the few he got to get to know because of curling which provides a relaxed atmosphere for everyone to be themselves.
The benefits of physical exercise and skill development were another draw for him.
Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s not by accident the club has lasted this long.
The longevity he said is owed to how the club is comprised of committed and passionate volunteers who all want to be there.
However Dawson sees the club has been fortunate as far as its leaders over the club’s history.
“We’ve been lucky. We’ve never had a bad president” he said.
The past-president of the mid-1990s Chester Howse said his greatest mark of pride is related to the effort to not only build up membership numbers but also to expand and update the club’s facilities during his time as the club’s leader.
Before the club expanded it upgraded the ice making plant. They added a new clubroom that was double the size new kitchen with contemporary equipment and new change rooms for the men and women. The old kitchen and the change rooms were far smaller. Howse remembers prior to the expansion the women members often had to store their belongings in their husband’s lockers. Situated in the men’s change rooms the lockers were not conveniently located for the women. Events that included all the members he said were often booked at the Pinestone Resort to accompany everyone since the club lounge was too small being half the size it is today. The contemporary facilities have created rental opportunities for the community whether it’s a workshop on first aid a fundraiser or a private party.
“It’s great to see the club thriving like it is now and such an important focal point in the community. So many people move to Haliburton to retire and one of the first things they do is join the curling club” he said.
As past-president he remembers getting calls from realtors with questions about the curling club to inform potential home owners moving here.
He became a member in January of 1993. A month earlier Howse had just retired and joined the club because of friends who “coerced” him to join. Howse said he had only been a member for a few years before his ability to ask questions was used against him by the sitting president.
“I was invited to a couple of meetings for whatever and I was asking according to [the president] ‘I was asking all the right questions so I should be the president.’ So the next year they voted me in” he said.
Another great memory he has is when Olympic Canadian curler Brad Gushue came to the club for an appearance following his gold medal performance in 2006 in Turin Italy.
Before the gold medal win Howse came up with the idea to get Gushue to come to the curling club and “put Haliburton on the curling map” after he returned from a holiday spent in Mexico.
Howse said through circumstance and luck he was able to secure Gushue’s paid appearance here by calling his mother. This came after a visit to Gushue’s curling club based in St. John’s Nfld. Before the gold medal performance he spoke to a person there who gave Howse Gushue’s mother’s phone number. Howse laughs about how that number was not available anymore after that gold win.
Gushue came with his gold medal and spent the day here visiting the club signed autographs and posed for photos with children and spoke as a guest speaker following a dinner at the Bonnie View Inn.
“That was a big happening here” he said.
Current club president Mary Hillaby said the 75th anniversary is a special event for past and present members.
“Seventy-five years is a wonderful accomplishment and the town and all its constituents should be very proud” she wrote in an email. “The curling club started as one of the main venues where people could go to meet others have fun and play one of Canada’s most popular sports.”
She adds the club is popular and doing extremely well for a rural club. Hillaby claims every June the club hosts the largest event in south central Ontario the Home and Cottage Show.
Community support comes in the form of local businesses and individuals either with ice advertisements or banner displays.
She said “we help to fulfill the needs of the community by renting out the lounge and curling pad when not in use. The club’s invitational bonspiels have many repeat participants because of the atmosphere the quality of ice and hospitality.”
Curlers at the club range in age from eight to 88. Many older curlers have been able to curl far longer than in the past due to changes in the equipment which includes the introduction of the curling rock throwing stick.
“I am proud to be the president of the Haliburton Curling Club and work alongside an active board of directors. We are moving the club forward to accommodate the needs of our curlers so they keep active stay fit and have fun! Who knows? Hopefully the curling club will see it’s 100 year celebration in 2042!” Hillaby wrote.
The Haliburton Curling Club would like to invite all members and past members to join us at an Open House Sunday Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the club. All former members can call the club at 705-457-2830 to let them know you would like to attend.
With files from Haliburton Echo archives.