EMC Sports - Twenty-four of Ontario's top wheelchair curlers came to the North Grenville Curling Club (NGCC) last week to compete in the Dominion Wheelchair Provincial Curling Championship from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.
After three days of exciting curling, the Ilderton Curling Club led by skip Mark Ideson beat defending champion Chris Rees of the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club. Ideson's team will join the top team from Northern Ontario as the province's entrants in the national wheelchair curling championship in Thunder Bay in March.
NGCC president Barbara Gour welcomed the curlers to North Grenville last week. "We're trying very hard to make our club as accessible as possible, though there is work to be done," she said at the opening ceremonies on Jan. 31.
"As we throw rocks at one another, may we do it with joy - may we do it with passion," said vice president Ralph Taylor as the curlers tucked in to a catered lunch before testing out the club's five sheets for the first of three days of round-robin play.
Wheelchair curling came to Canada in 2001, with the first Dominion-sponsored provincial championship held in 2005. There are no sweepers in wheelchair curling, but it's still very much a cooperative effort. Before the curler launches a rock, using a long pole to grip and guide the handle, a teammate gets in position to hold their wheelchair steady, allowing the curler to put all their strength into the throw.
Mayor David Gordon thanked the Ontario Curling Association for holding the tournament at what he called "the best darn curling club in North Grenville," and praised the "hard work and dedication" of NGCC volunteers.
Like any major bonspiel, the championship has an economic spin-off, said past NGCC president Bill White, as curlers from Bradford, Toronto and Ilderton stayed, ate and shopped in North Grenville.
White said that the OCA has previously invited NGCC to host the national wheelchair championship, but the club must first install an elevator to its second-floor banquet area to accommodate the numbers of curlers and fans.
The club's application for a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to help offset the elevator's hefty $100,000 price tag was denied, but NGCC will reapply with the municipality's support, White said.
"Our responsibility now is to make sure that this is an accessible building to enhance the experience for all curlers," he said.
Nancy Fischer and Amanda Burrell from Community Living North Grenville were on hand to wish the participants luck. Because it allows for the "participation for all involved," wheelchair curling "tears down barriers and promotes community spirit for all," Fischer said.
Curling is a sport enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Even the legally blind can play by throwing their rocks at a flashing lit target. In North Grenville, the seniors and mixed adult leagues are bustling, while children and youth pack the rink each weekend for the Little Rock program.
The social aspect of the sport is paramount. The club is completely volunteer-driven, save for one paid staff member who maintains the ice.
The municipality owns the building, but the club covers all costs. Heating the clubhouse and cooling the rink eat up most of the budget, White said.
On top of paying their dues, many members make sandwiches and man the canteen, adding to add to the communal experience.
Though curling's popularity is reflected in the large crowds that come out for weekly games, the club is always recruiting new members. NGCC has a standing offer of five lessons for $20, with the fee put toward membership should the newcomer decide to join a league.
This was NGCC's first time hosting the provincial competition, but the club is no stranger to wheelchair curling, which was first introduced by past president Brian Cassidy.
Today, two adults and one youth curler use wheelchairs, which club secretary Sandra Tobin calls an example of the sport's inherent "inclusivity."
"Everybody supports everybody else in curling. It really is about teamwork and camaraderie, and it's just so positive," she said.