40th Anniversary of Cornwall Curling Club being celebrated Saturday during closing banquet
By Bill McGuire
Development, Publicity Chair,
Cornwall Curling Club
To say that the Cornwall Curling Club got off to a bumpy beginning just over 40 years ago is actually very close to the truth.
Rupert Sweetapple was applying the first ever flood on that long-ago Saturday morning when he thought he saw the building shake and things start to move about. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
At 8:53 a.m. on January 9, 1982, the largest earthquake ever recorded in New Brunswick, struck between Newcastle and Plaster Rock. Natural Resources Canada reported it was a magnitude 5.7, the upper end of a medium strength quake, and was felt by people all over New Brunswick.
It was also felt across much of P.E.I. as the new Cornwall club was shaken to its new foundation. The club shook off that rocky start, and although there were ups and downs along the way, the club has thrived and remains a recreational centrepiece for the town.
The earthquake was one of the vivid early memories as three original board members got together earlier this month to recall the beginnings of the club.
Sweetapple, Roy Coffin and Ernie Stavert were reminiscing about how the idea of a Cornwall Curling Club got started more than 45 years ago, when serious discussions began in 1978 to build a recreational and social centre in the village.
Later this week, the club is holding gala celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the first complete curling season in Cornwall.
There is a special Founders’ Commemorative Plaque hanging near the entrance to the ice surface, “honouring the contributions, the hard work and determination of the above group of individuals whose vision led to the foundation of the Cornwall Curling Club. Unveiled at the AGM May 2009.”
The names of the founders include Wylie Barrett, Robert Burns, David Burt, Gary Cameron, Roy Coffin, Don Gorveatt, Gordie Hermann, Bill McLaren, Al MacCormac, Robert Perrin, Ernie Stavert, Rupert Sweetapple and Rodney Walsh.
Many of the surviving founders and original board members will be on hand Saturday at 1 p.m. during special ceremonies celebrating the 40th anniversary. The banquet is being held in conjunction with the annual Red and Blue Closing Bonspiel, which will also include a number of special guests.
There are 15 curlers who were members 40 years ago and who are curling at the club this year. They got together for a photo opportunity earlier this month to help kick off celebrations.
Coffin, the first president of the board of directors in 1980-81, said the municipality has been on board from the start and is a major reason why the club has prospered and been so successful. The other key reason has been the time donated by hundreds of selfless volunteers over the past 40 and more years. Stavert and Sweetapple also served as board presidents, closely following Coffin.
First known as the Cornwall Regional Recreation Association, the organizing group looked for support from numerous outlying areas surrounding the village. The Cornwall Curling Club Inc. was formally established in the fall of 1980.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the nearby Charlottetown, Belvedere and Crapaud curling clubs were all operating successfully, and for Cornwall to embark on building a new club was considered a somewhat perilous decision. But Stavert said a strong core of local curlers thought another club could survive and prosper. He credited Gordon Hermann as the driving force in getting the club off the drawing board and getting shovels in the ground.
Hermann was then a member of the famed Ted MacFadyen foursome out of Crapaud and had attended the Brier with him before spearheading the group dedicated to bringing a curling club to Cornwall.
“We all knew what we were getting into,” said Coffin, meaning the core group was well aware that fundraisers and finding dedicated volunteers were going to be their priorities for many years to come.
The initial plans were to renovate the ground floor of the Cornwall Civic Centre into a clubhouse, and construct a 160 ‘ x 70’ prefabricated steel building attached to the southern side of the facility. While the village was on board from the start, a number of nearby residents were not. Some feared a tax hike to pay for the club, while other residents and nearby churches were not happy about a licensed facility operating in the neighborhood.
Estimated costs ranged from $300,000 to $350,000, and by the time loans and interest were paid, that cost would reach $450,000. It was to be a multipurpose facility capable of holding dances, rentals and banquets. It was a daunting task some 40 years ago for a group of volunteers to take on that financial challenge.
The three founders remember that the earliest major fundraisers were two huge dances at PVI — both sellouts — after the legendary Tremtones were convinced to come out of retirement to play. What followed were more dances, lobster suppers, raffles and draws.
It was somewhat of a miracle that the recreation association could get a loan. Back then, interest rates were over 20 per cent and banks would not touch the loan application from the Cornwall club.
But David Burt, a Cornwall curling founder, was also manager of the Metro Credit Union which came through with a loan after the village backed the application, allowing for a lower interest rate from 21 to 17 per cent.
But even then, it took a $100,000 grant from the federal government to allow the final financial puzzle to fall into place, and for founders and members of the board of directors to pledge upwards of $1,000 each.
“None of us expected to get our money back and none ever did,” laughed Stavert.
Sweetapple recalls working as a bartender without pay and even turning the tips back in. “Every little bit helped.”
Sweetapple was also the first club manager — again without pay. All three original board members were quick to point out that everything back in the early years depended on volunteers. Stavert said no one was paid — not the ice makers, the manager, bartenders or custodians.
Coincidentally, the club got its curling stones from a club in Cornwall, Ont. The new P.E.I. club was able to purchase almost new rocks for $10,000. But even then, the board had to back the loan. Today, that cost would be approaching $60,000.
The three said there are so many volunteers to thank. After Hermann, they credited Gordie and Shirley Lank for stepping up when things got tough at the club. Other key people over the years included Wendell Sentner, Lance Lowther, Benny Grant, Paul MacDonald, John Berry and Al MacCormac and others too numerous to mention. Longtime corporate supporters included Kenmac, Hyndman and Co., and O’Connor Glass.
“The town deserves a lot of credit,” said Coffin. “When things got tough, the town stepped up to assume more of the operational costs.” Today, there is a close, mutually beneficial relationship between town and club.
Coffin recalled that getting members to renew their memberships sometimes meant a personal call from a board member — a suggestion from Hermann — that has paid dividends over the years.
The upstart Cornwall club was quick to seize whatever opportunity came its way. For example, when the Scotties Tournament of Hearts was held at the Charlottetown Forum in 1984, the legendary Shorty Jenkins was brought in to make and maintain the ice for the women’s national championship. The newly opened Cornwall club sent in volunteers to assist Jenkins who was happy to have their help and he was more than willing to teach them the basics of good ice making which paid dividends at the club over the years.
When membership started to dwindle, the addition of daytime curling in 1998 added scores of new members and changed the whole dynamics in the club, bringing new life, more money and more members. Before 1998, the club largely operated during the evenings and weekends.
The added option of stick curling has offered the opportunity for many curlers to take up the sport and for many seniors to play longer.
The three founders also credited the longtime close co-operation with the Crapaud Community Curling Club in helping Cornwall get started — such as being able to borrow their neighbour’s equipment.
Cornwall made a point of reaching out to the community, and the welcome mat was rolled out to everyone — town residents, farmers, fishermen, firefighters, road builders and service clubs etc. The club promoted itself as a fun place to curl, willing to accommodate whoever came knocking.
More members was a good thing but it came with higher costs said Stavert.
As memberships increased, so did the need to have a full-time, paid manager and ice makers. The work done by volunteers started becoming paid positions or through honorariums. But even today, much of the organizing and work done inside the club is handled by dedicated volunteers.
They also singled out the support from the North River Fire Department which has always been on hand to support the club, supplying a tanker truck to help with the first floods. “It would take a long time with a garden hose,” joked Coffin.
There is still a sand floor after 40 years because of the high capital cost of installing a concrete base. The immediate capital goal for the current board is a rock replacement program which just completed its second year of a five-year timeline.
From its early beginnings with less than 100 members, last season the club had 420 fully paid members and more than 525 regular users — almost full capacity.
While the future looks stable and bright for Cornwall, the recent closure of the historic Charlottetown Curling Club — along with Belvedere’s shutdown — give cause for concern.
“More clubs and more curlers are obviously better for the sport,” said Coffin. “Everyone lost something when Charlottetown closed. It doesn’t do anyone any good to see a club close.”
The three agreed that any new club in the capital area must have a close working relationship with the municipality in order to succeed.