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History of early curling in Aylmer
As remembered by Bill Cresswell to the best of his ability
October 29, 2005
In 1953 when the Campbell’s and Richardson’s were emerging as a curling dynasty in Canada and a lot of publicity was being generated, Aylmer caught the bug and in the spring of 1954 Jack Rice, Curly Giles, Syd Glover, Morris Kennedy, Stu McBrian, Harvey Balfour, Red Cassils & myself (& I think Bill Sapalec) met upstairs in the relatively new Aylmer & East Elgin Arena. Syd was chairman of the arena board and I was President of the fair board. We negotiated an acceptable rent for ice time if a club could be formed.
It was decided to go ahead and form the Aylmer & East Elgin Curling Club with Jack Rice as the first president. Arrangements were made with the arena for 5 sheets to be painted and circles, lines, etc. and we started with 25 or 30 neophyte curlers.
We did not have many experienced curlers at that time. The ladies had Jean Mann, Iola Miller and a couple of RCAF ladies while the men had Red Cassels, Harvey Balfour, Frank Findlay and a couple of RCAF men. We had a very basic but adequate lounge under the seats at the back of the arena. Drinks were .25¢ on the honour system. (Oh for the good old days.)
We found out that the Dundas Curling Club with Ted Walker who volunteered one of his trucks. We paid I think $200 or $400 for 5 sets of rocks. They were odds and sods but we matched them up and numbered them and got along fine. Curly went to Hamilton and bought a load of curling brooms which were sold almost at cost.
The second year on arena ice came and an interest increased in this funny game. We then had 2 draws and as was bound to happen a movement to get our own club was started. Phase 2 as we will call it commenced and after some discussion, a 3 sheet club was found to be affordable and at the time adequate for our needs. We assembled the original hardy souls and more recruits as ambassadors and bond salesmen. The bonds were in $100 and $1,000 denominations with no interest. Not really attractive as an investment. We had determined by building it a the fair grounds and making it a fair building we could get capital grants from the Federal Gov’t of 50%, a Provincial Grant of 25%, the hook being that all the bills must be paid and receipted before grants were to be paid out.
I will mention at this time that a Mr. Floyd Lashley who was the Director of Rural Fairs for Ont. Was very partial to Aylmer Fair and helped us a great deal. The bonds of $100 and $1000 as I have said and were redeemed by lottery. All were redeemed within 2-3 years with exception of Times Journal & Labatts and they said they were grants not loans and did not want them back as it would confuse the bookkeepers. The money being raised, it was now time to start building. A great hold was dug 45’ wide and 150’ long and 6’ deep. Then the wall (footings) were put in and then load after load of first course stone then finer stone then sand were put in by a myriad of local truckers who were wonderful as they all took the first $1000 as a bond and got paid for the balance at the time. Russell McKibbon, Mayor of Aylmer was seconded by the curling club to count the loads and record who brought them. Which he did very accurately and faithfully.
Trusses were purchased from Tecumseth for $11,400 and installed on 3’ centres. The shell was them completed and we had the biggest indoor gravel pit around. Stu McBrian and Morris Kennedy had been busy making the alterations to the arena ice plant to handle the curling club and with a wonderful set of valves and switches the refrigerant was delivered to the south west corner of the curling club. Plastic pipes were installed on the sand and barely covered.
Back to the financing. The curling club had a great cash short fall so we got thinking who has some money? Well Don Robinson was going to start his house in the fall of 1957. I knew he had a lot of his money saved up. Well nothing ventured, nothing gained. My partner Dr. Geo. Harrison and I visited Don and with our assurances that he would receive all his money back in June of 1957 he put up the necessary cash on a hand shake and a promise. (Pretty good friends I would say)
To complete this epistle we how had almost 75 curlers and a curling club but not lounge. So for $5,000 more (not grantable) bath rooms and a dance area were built on the ground floor level with a lounge and bar upstairs and we had a new curling club.
There are so many nice and funny stories regarding this club we could go on much longer but I will quit now as we have you in the new curling club in the fall of 1957.
The New Aylmer Curling Club
Sometime around 1978 or 1979, a curling club in Windsor collapsed due to the snow load on the roof. The government inspected all curling clubs to determine their safety. The Aylmer Curling Club was deemed unsafe and we had to either reinforce the roof or rebuild. Steel strapping was applied tom the exterior of the roof, but it was determined to not be enough to prevent a collapse due to snow.
A general membership meeting was called and it was decided to build a new club just east of the first structure. The original structure still stands and is used only in good weather. The government offered grants to replace the 3 existing sheets of ice. The Aylmer club members raised enough money through fund raising ventures as well as member loans to complete the 4th sheet of ice as well as the club house.
The new curling club was open for business in 1980. Membership is currently around 180 members with active leagues for juniors, seniors, mixed, men and women. In 2010 the board of directors applied for a Recreational Infrastructure Grant (Rinc) to make improvements to the club. Over the next 2 years renovations to both the men’s and ladies washrooms and change rooms, and a new entrance to the men’s change rooms that leads directly to the ice surface were completed. New lighting was installed over the ice area and a special insulated ceiling was put in as well.
In 2015, the Aylmer Curling Club hired on a new Ice Technician, Mark Phillips, a man with over 30 years ice making experience. Mark has continued to make improvements to the ice surface including overseeing the addition of a Jet Ice System. In 2016, the Members all pulled together to raise over $55,000 to purchase 4 brand new sets of curling stones. These additions to our club have made the Aylmer Club a first rate facility for curling.