ELORA – For the first time in the Strathcona Cup’s 120-year history, Elora had the honour of hosting a game on Jan. 13.
“It’s a very special day in Elora Curling Club history,” said Darlene Furlong, a curler who has volunteered with the club for about 20 years.
“It’s a milestone for the club and the players,” she noted, and a “real honour … that our little town gets to participate.”
The Strathcona Cup brought an assortment of Scottish traditions to Elora, including bagpipes, whisky, kilts, bunnets, singing, and the stacking of the brooms.
Five teams consisting of four Scottish curlers were welcomed to the Elora Curling Club by a “guard of honour,” featuring Elora curlers holding up their brooms to form an arch for the Scots to walk through.
“The canopy of brooms made me feel very welcome,” said Scottish curler Willie Paterson.
Furlong said a lot of work went into hosting the game but “it was worth every minute to see them pile in here.”
The two teams each sang their national anthems before they were serenaded by bagpipes played by the Fergus Pipe Band as they made their way onto the ice.
Elora curler Gerry Hill said being “piped onto the ice” was the highlight of the day for him.
“I’ve never had that before.”
The Strathcona Cup is regarded as the oldest international curling event in the world, dating back to 1902. Every five years curlers from Canada and Scotland play to determine the winner.
This year Canada is hosting the Strathcona Cup Tour, with three divisions – West, Central and East – hosting a combined total of 60 Scottish curlers.
Locally, the tour also stopped in Fergus on Jan. 13 and Mount Forest on Jan. 14. Other Ontario hosts included Port Elgin and Lindsay.
Hill said the Strathcona Cup game in Elora was “a lot of fun … better than I could have expected,” and he really enjoyed getting to know the Scottish curlers.
The atmosphere on the ice was exciting, with eight teams playing at once on the four sheets. The building was alive with the sound of curlers calling to one another, brooms sweeping and stones sliding.
John Stevenson, a Scottish curler, said the sport is known as “the roaring game.”
Paterson explained the nickname comes from the sound of the stones sliding on the ice.
About 50 people gathered in the heated lounge of the Elora club to watch the game, many sipping pints of local beer.
Midway through the game the curlers took a break to “come in for a wee dram,” as Wallace said.
Before getting off the ice the Scots showed the Elora curlers how to “stack the brooms,” by making an inverted cone shape with the brooms on each sheet and securing them together with a toque.
The Scottish curlers each had a shot of Forty Creek whisky from the Niagara region, while the Elora curlers drank Auchentoshan single malt scotch.
Hill said the break for whisky is a Scottish tradition. He chuckled as he noted “the Scottish players seemed to be playing better after the shot; I think it worked the other way around for the Elora curlers.”
Edwin Wallace is a local curler who has volunteered with the Elora Curling Club, which is volunteer-run, “on and off for over 50 years.” He said the Scottish curlers “fit right in” at the Elora club.
Furlong added “people who curl are very like-minded” and they choose “to do something physical and social in the dead of winter.”
She added, “Curling is a sport that has honour” and “embodies good sportsmanship,” noting it is tradition for the winners to buy the losing team a drink.
An Elora tour
With four of the Scottish teams competing, one team took the day off and was treated to a tour of the village by Ken McPherson, chair of the Elora part of the Strathcona Cup Tour.
They saw the limestone formations and the meeting of the rivers at Victoria Park, had a tour of the Elora Mill including the wine cellar, and visited the Elora Distillery and the Elora Brewing Company.
At the brewing company they were served poutine – a first for the Scots.
Stevenson said he “thoroughly enjoyed” the Canadian meal and would “certainly have it again.” Paterson agreed, noting the poutine was “very easily eaten.”
The curlers from Scotland will be in Canada for 24 days.
Paterson said the highlight so far has been the “camaraderie.” Stevenson added he has been impressed with the “quality of the ice” at the Canadian clubs.
This is the first time either has visited Canada and they are “enjoying every minute so far.”
Elora’s curling team won the game with 29-26. On Friday afternoon, with just seven of 350 games played in this year’s Strathcona Cup, Canada was in the lead 216-173.
Each Strathcona Cup game ends with the Scottish players gathering to sing a song of curling camaraderie to the Canadian team – to the tune of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).”
The Elora Curling Club surprised the Scots by returning the favour and singing a few songs in response.
The lyrics to the Elora team’s song include the lines: “With a dram of scotch and a pint of beer I guess I’m ready now / To face you Scottish curlers with confidence in my brow.”
The curlers then enjoyed lunch together at the Elora Curling Club before the Scots headed to Fergus for the second game of the day.