By Darren Lum
President Kent Milford said the Haliburton Curling Club has, to this point in their season, had a good year considering the challenges related to the pandemic.
It’s clear what curling has meant to the 125 members this year, he said.
“What we established this year is, clearly, the competitive edge of curling is not what it’s about. It wasn’t really about the socialization after curling. Very few people stayed after taking advantage of the bar and one can understand that. What they needed was to get out of the house and get a bit of exercise and a little bit of long distance socialization and probably just to relieve the boredom more than anything else and we haven’t had any negative feedback from that perspective whatsoever. I think people have been thankful about the opportunity to do that,” he said.
Well short of the usual 240 curlers, the club has made it work in terms of keeping a good financial standing and everyone healthy without a single transmission at the club, the president said.
Milford said having close to 25 curlers, who would have curled at the Minden Curling Club, was a big benefit to the local club this year.
“I’m sure they will return to Minden next year when that club reopens hopefully. For this year it helped us a little bit too because it helped to defray some of the costs for opening with the 100 or so Haliburton curlers,” he said.
A curler at Minden since 2003, Jane Boyd enjoyed her experience this season.
“The Haliburton club has been very welcoming and we are very appreciative. Being able to curl this winter has been a welcome change from being confined to our home,” she wrote in an email, referring to herself and her husband, Scotty.
Milford said the club’s finances were also assisted by public funding, which included federal government employment subsidies for staff. Regional funding was also available, but was not taken because the club felt it would take away from other deserving recipients in the community, he adds.
Before the season, the club asked its membership about having a season this year, referencing how it would be possible to operate if there were 100 curlers willing to pay a “flat fee,” which is two-thirds of a typical fee.
“We feel we could defray the costs, and open up the club. The club will not likely recoup all of its costs, but it will allow us to provide you with a curling experience and still protect the interests of the individuals who feel its safe or not to curl,” he said.
In light of the COVID-19 cases at the high school recently, the club asked their high school members to not curl the week of discovery. The club asked for direction from the local health unit about any new actions the club needed to implement related to the high school outbreak, but have not heard back and have proceeded with caution.
“We can never lose sight at the curling club that the average age is 66 years old. Because of that and a number of people who are at high risk for COVID-19, we have [implemented] every single protocol we could think of to keep them safe, we implemented,” he said, referring to the start of the season.
He adds, the club operated under the COVID-19 response framework of Orange-Restrict zone even when the province announced this area was within the Yellow-Protect status. This went back to even before the season began when the club decided go “above and beyond” what the Ontario Curling Association guidelines for COVID-19 were in September, which stated curlers wear masks in the club, but not on the ice. Curlers at the Haliburton club have worn masks on and off the ice since the start.
It was this approach that allowed for an easy transition when the area experienced stricter COVID-19 protocols before the shutdown, Milford said.
“Just by doing that when we started the first week of December people were already implementing all those protocols when things started to get worse in the second wave, so it wasn’t additional adjustments that we had to make, or it wasn’t trying to make an adjustment after a potential issue had happened. We’re glad and we’re thankful we had done that from the word go,” he said.
This included disinfecting, sanitizing between groups and allowing for days between draws to pass.
The club’s season typically goes until the end of March, but this year with the two shutdowns it will be extended until April 30.
“That way people will have had three full months of curling provided we don’t get shutdown again,” he said.
The club faced criticism before the season started when it announced it would not permit competitive traveling youth curlers to practice at the club. Milford said this was based on keeping everyone safe. As the result of what’s happened at the high school, the club feels vindicated by the decision. When it’s safe again, he said, the club welcomes the traveling competitive curlers back, and is currently evaluating the situation with their youth curlers related to having them play again.
After this year’s challenges, Milford said the atmosphere at the club is positive.
“I truly haven’t heard a negative complaint and I tried to solicit as many opinions as possible. I received many compliments and comments of thanks that we got the opportunity to do something and relieve the boredom with a bit of exercise,” he said. “Many people said you jumped through many hoops to be able to try and allow us to have a safe curling season and we appreciate that. That’s probably the single biggest response we got time and time again.”
As the club is nearing the summer and vaccinations are administered, there is hope for a return to normal, Milford said.
“Hopefully we can proceed as usual, but it’s an experience I’m sure you’ve heard that many times over,” he said.