Hope curlers return to the rink

Open night offered to offset drop in ladies league numbers this season

Seamus Shields (left) and Simon Woodward sweep their team’s rock across the hog line in Monday night men’s league action at the Hope Curling Club. The club is restructuring its Thursday night action to “open” competition

Where did all the curlers go?

Tuesday Ladies’ Night has been an institution at the Hope Curling Club since the club began — but when they did the count this year, they couldn’t get any more than four teams.

“And they weren’t even full teams,” said ice man Roman Petryk on Monday, “so they decided not to curl this year.

“It was a matter of time,” figured Petryk. “They’ve only had six teams for the past six or seven years.”

The new plan, to give women another crack at the game, is to turn the Thursday slot into an open night, where teams can be made up of any combination of players.

“It could be an all-ladies team, or three ladies and one man or whatever,” said Petryk. “We’d like to make eight teams and currently we have six. The Wednesday mixed league has eight.”

The challenge of low numbers is not just in the women’s ranks either, he added.

“I can remember when I started in 1979 or 1980, there were two draws each night — 16 teams — on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday… as well as Friday night drop-in. But there was lots of logging, mining and road construction going on. And that’s all gone now.”

The town’s demographics have changed over time to more empty-nesters and retirees and Petryk sees this reflected in the club’s membership.

“We’re not getting any younger,” he said, “and we’re having a lot of people going south for one or two months at a time during the winter.”

Some of the retirees stick around, though… and if more of them could embrace the sport as a way to stay active, the club could see growth from the golden agers.

That’s the way it was for retired pharmacist Jimmy Toy. The activity was the carrot — but it was the stick that brought him back to the sport a few years ago. The curling stick, that is.

“I was away from curling for maybe 10 years,” said the active 78-year-old on Monday. “I can no longer go down to deliver the rock because my knee doesn’t support me — but the thing that brought me back is the curling stick. After a few years, I’m getting used to it. I can still sweep as well as any of them.”

The stick allows the curler to stand upright and push the stone. A hinged fitting on the end provides an in or out-turn, as applied by the curler’s wrist action.

Like golf, curling is a life-long sport that can start at an early age and continue into the 80s. Or more? Toy may be the test case, as he is active in both sports.

“At this point in my life, I curl for the social aspect and the exercise,” he said.

“I started curling in 1949, when I first came to Canada from Hong Kong. I came in November, to Bowsman in northern Manitoba. My father was already there and he was a curler.

“The rink was indoors but naturally cooled. The walls were made of 1×8 shiplap and the fine snow could blow through the cracks on a windy day and cover the ice.

“When I was in high school, we’d play four games a week — plus bonspiels. Then, when I went to UBC, I continued curling and I used to come up to Hope for bonspiels. When I moved to Hope in 1961, I joined the club.”

There isn’t currently a curling program at Hope Secondary, though Petryk said the club welcomes school groups to make use of the facilities, which are available at no cost for students. Club members are also available to help with coaching.

Toy credits former member Mary Kirkland with getting his son Galen involved in curling.

“Mary used to take the junior curlers out and Galen enjoyed it. He’s one of the few of that group who continued in the sport.”

Galen represents the third generation of curlers in the Toy clan — and he is serving as club president.

For those who are interested in learning about the sport — or coming back to it — Petryk said the ice is open for practice on Tuesday nights, from 7-9 p.m.

Brooms and sliders are available at no cost, so the only start-up costs are the one-time membership fee of $75 and $230 for the season to take part in one of the leagues.

Drop by the rink on Monday through Thursday evenings, or call the club at 604-869-5119 for more information.