This article is possible thanks to the notes and files of JC Smithson. His contribution to the Almonte Curling Club over the years is greatly appreciated.
The first curling club in North America was established in Montreal in 1807. Almonte’s curling club was founded in 1855 and at the time was the eighth curling club in Canada. The games were played in various locations on the Mississippi River, primarily near the fairgrounds on Water Street.
In 1894, James Templeton was honoured as Almonte’s oldest citizen and the oldest active curler in Canada. He was 90 years old.
A new two-sheet structure was built onto the end of the old hockey rink on Coleman’s Island. At that time 60-pound curling irons were used by the men and 32-pound irons were used by the ladies. This building was condemned around 1941.
A group of curling enthusiasts formed a club under the name of Mississippi Curling Rink Ltd. They raised funds, acquired a mortgage and built a new three-sheet rink on the “market” facing onto Brae Street, which they rented to the Almonte Curling Club (ACC).
During the curling season of 1953/1954, an Almonte rink traveled to a special Royal Caledonian Curling Club Bonspiel in Montreal and won the first prize of 16 curling rocks. Until now, the club only had an unmatched set of rocks.
Through donations from local business people, the Brae Street rink was renovated and artificial ice was installed. The renovations included three sheets of artificial ice, a new second storey club room with a modern kitchen for the ladies and a newly decorated men’s club room.
The curling club celebrated its 100th anniversary and curling granites or rocks were introduced at the club. The rocks were much lighter than the previous iron versions, weighing between 38 and 44 lbs. The club had 80 members (ladies and men) at the time.
John L. Erskine donated a matched set of rocks to the club. Now sheet 1 and 2 had excellent new rocks. Later, the club (ACC) purchased a third set of rocks that completed a matched set on all three sheets. After this, club membership increased to about 150.
Playing for a trophy donated by member Joe Harper, the Almonte Curling Club was successful in friendly com¬petition against the Rideau Curling Club. The ACC rinks were G. Scissons, J. P. Mc¬Gregor, B. Thurston, P. Martin; and D. McGregor, M. Stru¬thers, H. Walker, M. Comba.
A committee of ACC members, Dr. R. Bach, chairman, Don Green, Rocky Minille, Ed Douglas and Dalton Burns presented a report on improving the facilities to attract new members. The committee had visited other clubs and noted possible improvements to club rooms and the curling surface.
On February 18th at 2:00am, a fire was discovered in the front part of the curling rink. The windows over the ice area were damaged, but the general ice area or curling stones were not damaged. It was a disaster in that all the trophies, furnishings, etc., and all of the records onsite were destroyed.
During the summer, negotiations were continuing with the Mississippi Rink Co., Ltd. But, to the chagrin of ACC members, the company sold the property to a commercial firm and liquidated the Limited company. Therefore, there was no place for the members to curl.
After the fire in February of 1970, the remainder of Almonte’s curling season was played on Carleton Place ice. Over the off-season hiatus, arrangements were made for the ACC to curl with the Carleton Place Curling Club (CPCC).
During the curling seasons between 1971 and 1989, members continued to curl at Carleton Place or Pakenham. The ACC membership fee was still collected and the club name kept active because we remained an official member of the Ottawa Valley Curling Association (OVCA).
From 1967 to 1990, Jack (J.C.) Smithson held the office of President and was instrumental in keeping the club active and spearheading the drive for a new facility.
A new hockey rink and front hall was constructed on its present site. It was too great a financial burden at that time to build a four-sheet curling rink although it was in the plans.
The Richmond Curling Club borrowed the Almonte rocks with the agreement that they repair the handles that were damaged in the 1970 fire. Carleton Place were also loaned three sets of rocks while theirs were being repaired.
A group of curling enthusiasts organized an event and called it “The Hacker’s Bonspiel.” It was played on the ice hockey rink and later became “The Larry Guay Snowsuit Spiel” in support of the local Snowsuit Fund.
The Pembroke Curling Club borrowed the ACC’s fourth set of rocks while they overhauled their rocks, one sheet at a time.
A great deal of hard work, fundraising, public financial support and support from town council, local organizations and the business community finally led to the building of the present four-sheet curling rink, officially opened on Sunday, October 22.
The ACC purchased new molded handles duly numbered for all four sheets. The membership for the first years grew to around 190. Membership for a single curler (male or female) was $160, and for a couple (male or female) was $295.
An agreement was signed between the town of Mississippi Mills and the Almonte Curling Club allowing the ACC to administer the curling club facility, including the rental of the ice and the lounge. The agreement began as a one-year trial and continues to this day.
The Curling Club hired its own icemaker. This marked a new era for the ACC and we continue to have excellent ice.
The Almonte Curling Club celebrated its 150th Birthday with a dinner with Guy Hemmings, skip of the Quebec team in the 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2003 Briers, as guest speaker. At this time, the club was the 7th oldest in Canada.
In-house and local fundraising allowed the club to purchase new intermediate rocks; supporter’s names were engraved on the handles.
With help from the town, the ACC bought a new Ice King (ice surfacing machine). The Club also received an Ontario Trillium Grant to purchase new equipment.
Thanks to excellent coaching, our Little Rocks, Juniors & Bantams showed great results. The Elementary School Team placed at the top in the “Tim Bits” Bonspiels. Bantam skip Lauren Horton earned gold in the Ontario Winter Games.
The Almonte District High School bantam curling team (formerly R. Tait McKenzie School team) were undefeated as they won the Tim Hortons Timbits Provincial Championship with team members Derek, Allyn, Jack and Karlan, coached by Carolyn and Gord Mountenay.
J.C. Smithson was celebrated as one of the founding fathers of the modern Almonte Curling Club with the establishment of the annual JC Smithson Award recognizing the member who demonstrates enthusiasm and dedication through practice and demonstrates outstanding skill.
A grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation was used to purchase new curling stones for the club. These new rocks will ensure great curling at the club for many years to come.
In its on-going efforts to introduce curling to more community members, ACC brought in a Learn-to-Curl program developed by Curling Canada, and more than 30 new curlers signed up for the 12-week program of skills development and fun. Many went on to curl in the regular club leagues.
The club continued its efforts to increase opportunities to bring curlers together. Member Art McKay initiated the Ottawa Valley Lefties Championship, where all curlers have to deliver the rock with their left hand. Teams from all over the Ottawa Valley have participated. The club, led by member Ian MacLellan, also held its inaugural Almonte Cup, a friendly rivalry between two 25-member teams playing games of ladies, men’s, doubles and skins curling for bragging rights and beer glasses.
The club’s outreach to Almonte schools continued, with all local elementary schools and the high school participating in introductory sessions led by club member volunteers.
The club brought in doubles curling once a month for members to gain new curling experience and skills.
Once again the club’s U13 team had a great year, culminating in a first place finish at the Hogline Curlers Proshop Little Rocks Regional Bonspiel. The team – Thomas, Kaisa, Rachel and Nora, coached by Rod Stoddart - won all of their games and came out the champs with some fabulous shots by all team members.
The ACC continued with its spirit of contribution to the community. The Little Rocks league initiated a food drive, with club members donating almost 200 pounds and $200 to the local food bank.
The club once again demonstrated its community spirit during the annual Almonte Cup. Through registration fees, auctions, and a call for donations, ACC members contributed $3,000 to the Almonte General Hospital’s important initiative to bring state-of-the art diagnostic imaging, including a CT scan, to the hospital.
The ACC participated in the inaugural “President’s Cup” initiated by the Huntley Curling Club in Carp. Teams from Almonte, Carp, and Richmond participated in seniors, ladies, men’s and mixed games, with Huntley coming out on top.
In early 2020 a new virus, COVID-19, spread around the world. To limit the spread, self-isolation became the norm and everyday activities were cancelled. The ACC curling season came to an abrupt end on March 13 when the town of Mississippi Mills shut all municipal facilities.
Over the summer the club established a COVID-19 committee to review information provided by medical experts, Curl Canada and Curl Ontario, and develop guidelines to allow for a safe return to curling in 2020-2021. Registration proceeded in September 2020 but unfortunately the club did not reach its registration goal and the ACC curling season was cancelled. Some members were able to curl with local clubs that did open, although curling seasons for all clubs were shortened due to COVID-19.
With the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine and detailed safety protocols, the ACC was able to hold a regular 2021-2022 curling season. Protocols were updated several times to comply with changes to provincial, Curl Canada or Curl Ontario direction, and there were fewer bonspiels and social opportunities, but members appreciated the opportunity to get together to curl. As the season went on the club was able to resume some activities such as the L2C program, the Presidents’ Challenge bonspiel, the Little Rocks’ food drive, and raising almost $5500 for the Almonte General Hospital Foundation at the annual Almonte Cup bonspiel.