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The Curling Rink Burns

Some Research by Ken Balstadt

Curling Rink Burns

 That's a pretty sensational headline, isn't it? Well, most people, even some of the older retired curlers in the city, don't know that it happened more than once here.


Of course most of us know that Soo Curlers on Gouin Street burned in 1965 but they don't know about the much earlier fire, so here is a bit of history about curling in the Sault.


        The Sault Star was only a weekly paper at that time ~ and the copies at the library began in 1901. The first curling news I saw was in January 1902. Of course they depended on natural ice in those days. Dave Sagle, who was like a curling God at Tarentorus Curling Club, says there was even a curling rink in Sault Michigan at that time. In any event Michigan was represented at spiels around here. People from here were featured in a story about a spiel in Duluth in 1902. The paper of Jarn. 30, 1902 wrote about an upcoming spiel in Thessalon where teams played from Sault Michigan, Mattawa, North Bay, Sturgeon Falls and Sudbury.


         The story about the fire in November, 1910 was very interesting. The skating rink and curling club near Gouin and Bay were attached. The fire was referred to as "mysterious", but I didn't see any reference to arson. I thought of this because there had been another fire in the west end at Halloween which brought up controversy about having another fire hall in the west.


The annual curling club meeting was held at the TownHall the evening before the fire. Dr. McLurg was on his way home at 2 A.M. when he saw the smoke.and gave an alarm.


At the same time, on night duty, Constable Fortune heard an explosion. The brigade was on the spot quickly and they saved the Collins block, west of the rink. The fire had started in the skating rink but it couldn't be stopped from spreading and taking the curling club. The heat was intense and the roar of the fire sounded like a cyclone.


A cabinet shop of a Mr. Parrish caught fire and was destroyed.


        The financial loss sounds like a joke these days. It was a stunning $25,0OO. Only $9,000 was insured. About $3500 of the damage was to the cabinet shop. Eighty pairs of curling stones, every last one in town, were destroyed. They were worth an amazing $18 a pair and who could imagine the value of all those brooms. The current price of two stones is $lOO0, partly due to the scarcity of the rare type of granite used, which only comes from Scotland.


The fire happened on Tuesday and the club already had a meeting on Thursday to discuss a new rink on property they owned on Bay Street. A month later, in December, 1910, they secured the use of a new large shed at the New Ontario Dock to accommodate 3 sheets. In December 1910 someone was also planning a large outdoor skating rink opposite the Court House to also accommodate one curling sheet. I don't know if it ever happened.


        March 22, 1912 the Annual Smoker of the curling membership was held, something which would happen now without the smoke. They discussed the saving strategy for a new rink. March 28, 1912 they were selling shares for a new ice rink 80 x 200’ to seat 3,000 & also to include 5 curling sheets and club house to start building in the Spring, 1912.

  The cost of the second fire was much different. It happened on July 2, 1965 and destroyed the curling rink and the Sea Cadet Barracks at damages of $500,000, Shortly before the fire, a large truck had pulled down some wires near the main fire hall on Bruce Street messing up the traffic signals and causing a delay in getting to the fire. The fire was spectacular and very dangerous. The City Hall and Library nearby on Queen Street were prepared for evacuation of valuables.


Bullets in the Navy Barracks were exploding and the ammonia tank  In the curling rink also. The gas station at Queen and East raised the alarm. A U.S. Coast Guard fire boat cruised the river to  lessen the threat from the large oil storage tanks located on Bay Street at that time.


         The fire started in the old hockey rink which is where the Navy League barracks was. This was also the site of senior hockey where the Greyhounds played at the time they won the Allan Cup in 1924. At one time, they could sometimes draw 2500 people. Much of the damage was to material belonging to Stedmans which was about to open a store in the west end. It was stored on the curling ice surface. There was also goods from another store in the Navy barracks. All of the rocks in the club were destroyed.

As a result of the fire there was no Soo Curling Club in 1965-1966 season. Even though there was still lots of construction to be finished the ice was ready in November 1966 and the first ceremonial rock was delivered on November 24.


        People must have been hungry for curling because there were 48 teams entered for the opening mixed bonspiels on the  November 26 weekend. One of the really, really old ,old curlers from this club, Pentti Tyynela, won the first bonspiel. You can imagine that he must have had a very talented vice skip and a flawless team.


Ken Ballstadt