I am continuing my series celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the City of Thunder Bay as our community’s name is front and centre at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
With Krista McCarville, Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala and Jen Gates representing Northern Ontario with pride, I thought it a perfect time to take a look back at the history of this national event and the various women from our community who have left their mark on it.
The hosting of a national curling championship for women in Canada began back in 1961 as the Diamond D Championship, named after its then sponsor Dominion Stores, and was overseen by the Canadian Ladies Curling Association (CLCA).
In 1972, the Macdonald Tobacco Company took over the sponsorship and renamed it the Macdonald Lassie.
When the federal government no longer allowed sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies, a new sponsor was sought, with the Scott Paper Company coming on board in 1982 leading to the creation of the Scott Tournament of Hearts, which became known as the Scotties in 2007.
In 1990, the CLCA merged with Curl Canada to become Curling Canada which has overseen the championship since that time.
Unlike the men’s national curling championships, which have had a Northern Ontario representative since its inception in 1927, it was not until 2015 that female curlers from our region were provided that opportunity.
Between 1961 and 2014 in order for our local women curlers to advance to the national level they had to beat out teams from all across the province.
Over the years a number of women from Northwestern Ontario accomplished the goal of skipping a team at the national championships.
The first skip from our region, and the first from Northern Ontario, to win the provincial crown, was June Shaw of Kenora who skipped Ontario rinks in 1966, 1967 and 1969.
Those 1969 championships were held at the Fort William Curling Club and Shaw’s rink of Shirley Wiebe, Faye Devins and Dorothy (Dot) Holmgren just missed out on the title with a close 6-5, 10th end loss to Saskatchewan, a rink skipped by Joyce McKee of Saskatoon.
In 1968 it was Dryden’s Peggy Wherrett rink of Shirley Lake, Doreen McKay and Audrey Tew that wore the colours of Ontario at the nationals championships held that year in Winnipeg.
The first women’s team from the newly named City of Thunder Bay to curl in a national women’s championship was the Helen Sillman rink from the Thunder Bay Country Club that included Norma Knudson as third and a front end of Marilyn Walker and Elaine Tetley.
Their first trip to the national championships took them to St. John’s, N.L., where they record of 5-4 saw them tied for second place, just missing out on a spot in the finals.
The following year the Sillman rink swept the Ontario ladies playdowns with a perfect 5-0 record to earn them a second trip to the national championships which were held that year in Saskatoon.
In 1983 our first representatives to participate in the event under the Scott Tournament of Hearts banner was the Anne Provo rink from the Fort William Curling Club that saw Lorraine Lang make her first of what would be many appearances, and front end players Marlene Delorenzi and Valerie Adams.
A few years later Lang would join forces with skip Heather Houston, second Diane Adams and lead Tracy Kennedy and go on to make history by claiming back to back Canadian titles in 1988 and 1989 and the World title in 1989. The Houston rink made another appearance at the Scott Tournament of Hearts in 1991 with Diane (Pushkar) Hogue taking over as lead.
In 1992, it was the Port Arthur Curling Club’s turn to represent Ontario at the national championships with Kim Clark skipping her rink of Tracy Kennedy, Patty Wilson and Peggy Barrette.
Since 2006 it has been Thunder Bay’s Krista (nee Scharf) McCarville that has dominated the history books with the most amount of appearances at a women’s national curling championship by a Thunder Bay skip, with 2020 marking her 8th tripin that role.
Over the years, in addition to her current rink, she has taken a variety of different players with her to the nationals including Tara George, Tiffany Stubbings, Lorraine Lang, Kari (nee: MacLean) Lavoie and Sara (nee: Lang) Potts.
Our communities’ involvement in the history of women’s curling in Canada will continue next February when we play host to the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, an event that was last held in Thunder Bay in 1996.
All-event tickets sales to the general public began on Friday and are available by contacting the Fort William Gardens box office at 625-2929 or ordering online through the Curling Canada website.
A call for volunteers will be taking place shortly, so if you don’t want to miss out be sure to register on-line with Curling Canada to receive an email alert about when volunteer registration is opening.
For further information you can also check out the Fort William, Port Arthur and Kakabeka Falls curling club websites.
Until next time keep that sports history pride alive.