The London Curling Club is the home of the sport of curling in the London, Ontario region. The club itself comprises six sheets of professionally maintained ice, as well as a lounge and bar overlooking the ice sheets. Situated halfway between Toronto and Detroit, the London Curling Club is the perennial host of a number of tournaments and charity games featuring teams from Ontario and the United States. The London Curling Club is located on Lyle Street in the east end of downtown London, between Dundas and King Street, near the Palace Theatre.
Curling is a sport that gets a lot of television time in Canada, especially on TSN. During the winter, coverage of curling is second only to hockey; you can find a curling club in practically every small town in Ontario of at least a certain size (and that size is really only 1,500 people or so). If you’ve never been exposed to the sport, however, it can be odd to watch. There are people crouching and sliding down a painted sheet of ice, after all. The glib answer I usually give is that it’s shuffleboard on ice; there’s quite a bit more to it than that, of course, and the use of considered strategy in the sport has earned it the description of “chess on ice” (although it is, simultaneously, less rigid than that).
What Is Curling?
Curling dates back to 16th Century Scotland; the oldest known curling object is a rock with the inscription of the year 1511 on it that was discovered in a drained pond in Dunblane, Scotland. Bruegel’s Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap and The Hunters in the Snow, both dated from 1565, depict peasants in Belgium curling, although at that time they are not using brooms. While the game has changed quite a bit from its origins, the overall point is the same. Players have large rocks that are engineered to slide along ice. They stand on one end of a patch of ice; on the other end is an area (“the house”) with a painted circle that contains another painted circle. Players take turns sliding their rocks into the house; the team who gets a rock closest to the center of the house wins the round. Players are allowed and expected to use their rocks to strategically knock the other team’s rocks out of the house; players will also place their own rocks in places where they can prevent the other team from playing their rocks as they wish. Team get points for the number of rocks they have closer to the center than the other team; the winner gets one point minimum, but multiple points are often scored on well-played rounds.
Over time, the sport has developed specific ways to aid in the central strategies of the game. While it’s thought that the game originally involved flat rocks being slid along regular river ice, as the peasant picnic game transitioned into being a more accepted, formal sport, some attention was paid to how to treat the surface. Curling ice is pebbled, with water droplets applied and then frozen; this development allows rocks to slide with a predictable smoothness and has led over the centuries to curlers perfecting the twist to their slide that allows the rock to curl slightly to the left or right – hence the sport’s name. The term itself appeared in the early part of the 17th Century, in a poem by Henry Adamson from 1620, but the game is still known in some parts as “The Roaring Game”, after the sound that the rock made as it slid over the pebbles.
The rocks themselves have also of necessity changed over the years. Originally they were just as they sound – rocks that were particularly flat on the bottom, dredged out of rivers or picked from fields after harvest. They had no particular size or shape. Over time, early curlers put holes in them to better guide them; eventually, as players standardized the sizes of the rocks, they added brass handles to them so that they could be released precisely where the curler wanted. Different areas have experimented with different types of rocks; curlers in East Ayrshire once used the stone weights that held parts of their looms in place, and curlers in 19th Century Manitoba used shaped iron rocks. The brooms were added in order to better finesse the rocks; it was found that by sweeping the pebbled surface of the ice, friction would be reduced, and the rock would slide quicker toward its target. Early curling was about luck more than anything else; later, it became a sport of skill and strategy.
The first official curling club was formed in Scotland, of course, at Kilsyth in 1716 (although the town of Kinross, Scotland claims a club dating back before the Glorious Revolution). The club is also allegedly the first to put together the first custom-made curling rink, which was a small pond that was created by damming a nearby creek. Despite these claims, the International Olympic Committee takes a different stance on it; their official history of the sport identifies the first solid set of curling rules as having originated from the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, which was founded in 1838.
Either way, from the latter half of the 19th Century onward the sport of curling became one in which huge numbers of Scots and Scottish ex-pats took part. Outdoor curling was the rule until partway through the 20th Century, when air conditioning development allowed the creation of indoor curling sheets.
Today, equipment and play has been standardized; the sport has been an official part of the Winter Olympics since 1998 (although it’s been a part of the spectacle since 1924). The play area has been standardized to a rectangle of ice measuring 150 feet long and 16.5 feet wide; the distinctive “target” symbol of the house, with a large blue circle enclosing a small, centered red circle, is painted at either end of the ice length. Lines are painted 37 feet from either end of the sheet; these are known as the hog line, and if the rock doesn’t make it over this line on it’s way to the house, it is taken out of play; it also marks the line by which the curler must take their hand off of the handle of the curling rock. The ice itself is typically a brine solution that has been piped in and run through a refrigeration unit, keeping it a crisp -5 Celsius; curling rinks employ ice masters whose job it is to monitor air temperature and humidity in the curling play area, and to make adjustments where necessary. It is also their job to scrape and re-pebble the ice after every match.
The rocks themselves have been engineered over the years to a high degree of specificity. Rather than being flat-bottomed, modern curling rocks are concave up to a ring in the centre of the bottom; inside the ring, the rock curves back inward. In effect, it is only the ring that is in contact with the ice; the rest of the bottom of the rock is designed to be aerodynamic, and to keep curls of shaved ice from accumulating under the rock and hampering its path. This design was originally put forward by a curler from Toronto. The material of the rocks is standardized as well. Curling rocks are made of granite, sourced from two quarries: the island of Ailsa Craig, of the coast of Ayrshire, Scotland, and the Trefor granite quarry in Wales. The Ailsa Craig granite was specifically of the Blue Hone variety, as it absorbs a minimum of water and prevents ice from wearing down the granite over time; however, the quarry where that type of granite was extracted has since become a protected wildlife sanctuary, and most Ailsa Craig granite rocks are now made from the Common Green type, which is slightly lower in terms of quality but much easier to source.
The brooms – perhaps the most iconic part of the sport for many casual observers – began as simple home corn brooms but are now brushes that somewhat resemble push brooms. The brush surface is designed to smooth the path of the rock as efficiently as possible, and the material of the broom is lightweight, which allows the player to ‘sweep’ as fast as they possibly can.
Curling In London
As a region that was heavily settled by Scottish immigrants, southwestern Ontario and London have a long history of curling at both the picnic and the professional level. The London Curling Club was established in 1847, according to the papers of Robert Reid, of the London Life insurance company. According to the minutes of the first meeting of the club, the idea for it came about from a conversation between a Dr. Wanless and the club’s first secretary, F.B. Beddome. Dr. Wanless described the game of curling to Mr. Beddome, and Mr. Beddome replied that a curling club should be formed immediately; it was, later that same day, and gained eleven members before days end (as well as eleven pounds sterling). The Manitoba experiment of using iron rocks was replicated in the early days of the London Curling Club, since a source for granite rocks could not be easily found.
The first few years of the club were not what one might call an instant success. A few matches were played in that first year, but notes from the minutes indicate that those who came out to watch the first match didn’t bother to show up for later matches, on average. Without much interest in the sport, the club found itself without much to do, and in 1850 the minutes referred to the club as “defunct”, with ownership of the club’s rocks devolving to the club’s secretary. 1851-1853 saw an attempt at getting some interest going, but the minutes again referred to the club as “defunct.” 1854, however, saw the effort in previous years at laying the groundwork for the club pay off. Growth continued from there, and the club managed to dig itself out of the debt that the early investments had created. A won medal is mentioned for the first time in 1858 and a second local club, the Thames Curling Club, in 1864. By the end of the 1860s the London Curling Club was traveling to and hosting clubs from Toronto, Guelph, Burlington, and Chatham. The Thames Curling Club and the London Curling Club formed a single club in 1872, the Union of London, although it reverted to the London Curling Club in 1879 for an unknown reason.
Today, the London Curling Club is a building as well as a club, located on the east end of Downtown near the Western Fair District at 377 Lyle Street. The club has six regulation-sized sheets of ice, kept in perfect tournament condition by a state-of-the-art facility. In addition to the play surfaces, the club also features separate locker rooms divided by sex, a small lounge and bar that overlooks the play area, and an upstairs dining lounge designed for hosting meetings and celebrations by the club. Full membership carries a yearly rate of $525, although there are other options for youth and part-time members. For those under the age of 30, the rate drops to $440; with a valid university ID card, it drops to $240; high school student membership is $125, and children from 8 to 12 can get a membership at only $105. There are 19 leagues that club members can join, depending on who they want to play with and when they want to play; members can join a single league if they want to avoid the full membership fee, and only pay $380.
Curling is both a physical and a social sport, and the London Curling Club provides both for its members. With any number of combinations of play available depending on the individual’s desire and time constraints, it’s easy enough to find something that works for you. The club keeps quite an active social calendar as well, so if your love of sporting often overlaps your love of social engagements then the London Curling Club is a great place to get everything you’re looking for.