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A Proud Brier History

Well if the 2021 Scotties is any example, it would appear that the great curling bubble experiment is working quite well as Canadians got their fix of curling this winter in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that the women have cleared out of the Markin MacPhail Centre at Calgary Olympic Park, it will be the men’s turn with eighteen teams taking to the ice at the 2021 Tim Horton’s Brier being held from March 5th to 14th. Although we don’t have any local curlers in the event, Thunder Bay’s Rick Lang will be in the bubble as the coach of Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs Rink, adding to his amazing record of Brier attendance which includes having been on all 3 of Thunder Bay’s Brier championship rinks. With the Brier set to get underway, I thought this is the perfect time to take a look back at the history of our regional curlers at this popular national event,

The event has a long history with our countries very first national men’s curling championship taking place 94 years ago in 1927 in Toronto. That year it was known as the Macdonald Brier, named after the Macdonald Tobacco Company which went on to sponsor the event up until 1979 when Labatt’s took over, followed by Nokia in 2001 and Tim Horton’s in 2005.

It was not until 1948 that a team from Northwestern Ontario made it to the Brier with Jimmy Guy skipping his Kenora Curling Club team of Bill Johnson, George Holmstrom, and Jack McLeod. During those early days, and up until 1979, there was not a playoff format like there is today, with the Brier winner being the leader after round-robin play. Guy’s 6-3 record at the 1948 Macdonald Brier earned him a third-place finish amongst the ten participating teams. Guy returned to the Brier in 1952 when it was held in Winnipeg, where he led his team of Jack Pike, Leo Fregeau, and Ray Parnell to a 3-7 finish.

The following year it was Thunder Bay’s turn to send their first representative to the Brier, with the Port Arthur Curling Club’s Grant Watson rink of Don McEwen, Frank Sargent, and Archie Grant making the trip to Sudbury. The PACC made a return trip in 1957 with Don McEwen taking over the skip position joined by Jim Simpson as vice and a front end of Don Smeaton and Bill Tetley.

In 1958 Kenora’s Ron Redding took his team of Jack Kostick, Bill Sawkins, and Al Hansen to the Brier in Victoria. The end of the decade would see the beginning of a long history of Brier involvement for the Fort William Curling Club with Darwin Wark skipping his team of Dennis ‘Ken’ Stephen, Les Sutton, and Jack Jones to a 6-4 finish in 1959 in Quebec City, in the clubs first Brier appearance.

The 1960s belonged to teams from throughout the region, with the Kenora Curling Club again sending the Redding rink in 1962 and the Terry Johnson rink of Jack Thompson, Grant Green, and Gord Peterson in 1969 with the Geraldton Curling Club team skipped by Herb Pile and comprised of Len Tremblay, Ross Davis and Wayne Downey making the trip in 1968.

It was also during the 60s that we hosted our first and only Brier, which was a combined effort between the Cities of Port Arthur and Fort William. The event welcomed over 26,000 spectators to the Fort William Gardens and saw the famous Richardson rink from Saskatchewan, which was skipped by Ernie Richardson and included his brother Garnet and his cousins, Arnold and Wes, emerge as champions.

Since 1970 it has been all Thunder Bay, with rinks from the Lakehead competing in 20 Canadian Men’s curling championships since that year. Tom Tod and his FWCC rink kicked off the run in 1970 with Jim Carson, J. Carle Whitfield, and Bill Hallinan curling to a 5-5 record in Winnipeg. In 1971 Bill Tetley let the curling world know he was a force to be reckoned with skipping his Thunder Bay Country Club team of Sandy Sargent, Jim Sargent, and Eric Knudsen to runner-up honours.

Four years later Tetley returned to the Brier with a different team and representing the FWCC. As the rink made its way up through the various levels of competition it underwent a few changes in composition with the final Brier squad consisting of Rick Lang as vice and a front end of Bill Hodgson Jr. and Peter Hnatiw. Their 6-1 showing at the Northern Ontario playdowns saw them advance to the 1975 Brier in Fredericton where their 9-2 round-robin record earned them Northwestern Ontario’s first-ever Brier title and ended Northern Ontario’s twenty-five-year drought as national men’s curling champions.

In 1976 Lang made his first Brier appearance as a skip leading his FWCC rink of Bob Nicol, Al Fiskar Jr., and Warren Buttars to a 5-6 record in Regina. In 1979 the Larry Pineau rink of D. Scott Hamilton, George Campbell, and Cliff Campbell had a great run representing the Thunder Bay Club with their 8-3 record seeing them tied for second place with Saskatchewan’s Rick Folk rink.

The 1980s provided Thunder Bay curling fans with lots to cheer about with the foursome of Al Hackner, Rick Lang, Bob Nicol, and Bruce Kennedy providing much of the early excitement. Runners up at the 1980 and 1981 Brier, in 1982 they won it all claiming the national title and the Air Canada Silver Broom as world champions. In 1985 Hackner and Lang were joined by Ian Tetley and Pat Perroud and repeated as national and world champions.

Since that victory in 1985 rinks from Thunder Bay have competed at the Brier a total of eleven times, with nine from the FWCC and one each from the Thunder Bay and Port Arthur clubs. In addition to the names I have already mentioned, the curlers and alternates from Thunder Bay who have left their mark in the history books of the Brier include Jack Kallos, Brian Snell, Ray Skillen, Jim Adams, Doug Smith, Bill Adams, John Salo Scott Henderson, Ross Tetley, Art Lappalainen, Jack Kallos Jr., Brian Perozak, Brian Adams, Gordon Tribe, Charles Salina, Aaron Skillen, Bruce Melville, Rob Sinclair, Dale Wiersema, Larry Rathje, Ernie Surkan, Bryan Burgess, Joe Scharf, Mike Assad, Marshall Bagdon, Mike Desilets, Tim Lindsay, Jeff Currie, Mike McCarville, Colin Koivula and Jamie Childs.

Given the high caliber of curlers produced in our neck of the woods, there will no doubt be many more names added to our already impressive list of Brier competitors in the years to come.

Until next time keep that sports history pride alive.

Originally Published in the Chronicle Journal March 2, 2017

Left: 1953 Brier Representatives for Northern Ontario – Archie Grant (lead) Grant Watson (skip) Don McEwen (third) Frank Sargent (second) who represented the Port Arthur Curling Club.

Right: Jimmy Guy (right) skipped his Kenora Curling Club team of Bill Johnson, George Holmstrom and Jack McLeod at the 1948 Brier, the first time a team from Northwestern Ontario represented Northern Ontario at the national event.

Left: Al Hackner skipped a total of 9 rinks at the Brier, winning his first of 2 Brier titles in 1982 alongside Rick Lang (third), Bob Nicol (second) and Bruce Kennedy (lead) and Al Fiskar Jr. as alternate. The team went on to claim the 1982 Air Canada Silver Broom as World champions.

Right: In 1985 Rick Lang won his third Brier title while curling with Skip Al Hackner and front end Ian Tetley and Pat Perroud, with the team going to win the 1985 Air Canada Silver Broom.

Left: The Bill Tetley Rink won Northwestern Ontario’s first Brier title in 1975 with a 9-2 record. Members of the team included (left to right) Peter Hnatiw (lead), Bill Hodgson Jr. (second), Rick Lang (third) and Bill Tetley (skip).

Right: In 1960 the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur joined forces to host the Macdonald Brier with over 26,000 fans taking in the action at the Fort William Gardens.

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