by Bruce Cherney (part 2 of 2)
With New Brunswick skip Nick Thibodeau’s errant last rock striking one of the boards dividing the ice sheets at Winnipeg’s Amphitheatre Arena, Saskatchewan scored two and eked out a rather fortunate 11-9 victory. As such, Bill Dunbar and his Saskatchewan rink kept their hopes of winning the 1940 Brier intact, but they still had to rely upon a Manitoba loss in the final draw of the nine-game round-robin series. If they won and Manitoba, skipped by Howard Wood, Sr., lost their final game, it would necessitate a sudden-death tie-breaker to decide the Brier champion.
Saskatchewan’s last opponent was Bert Hall. The game was going Ontario’s way until the Dunbar rink scored a three in the ninth end to take a one-point lead. The rink from Saskatchewan then claimed another four in the 11th end, eventually winning the game 10-8.
“They (Manitoba) had visions, if they lost (to Cliff Manahan and his Alberta rink) of meeting Bill Dunbar and company once more (in a tie-breaker),” reported the Free Press on March 8.
The Winnipeg Free Press called the Alberta-Manitoba match-up a “ding-dong” affair that was all square at 6-6 in the sixth end.
“Wood and company, however, took advantage of every Alberta mistake to get a big four in the seventh, and the ball game was all but over. Manahan sneaked by a guard to get two in the eighth. Then came disaster. (Roy) Enman and H. Wood, Jr., set it up as the Manahan front end missed, all but one which lay as shot rock.Pollard missed taking it out by an eyelash but came in for second shot. Robinson, the Alberta third, blew his chance and Ernie Pollard produced the best shot of the night by squeezing through the narrowest kind of port to push out the shot rock, leaving the Wood rink laying four.
“Manahan then drew to the button with his first, but it was wide open. The Manitoba skip took the same route and buried the Alberta stone. On the last shot, Manahan was away short, giving Wood a big five and the Dominion title. The next two ends were inconsequential.”
Despite the last two ends being “inconsequential,” Brier rules stated that all 12 ends of a game, regardless of a lopsided score, had to be played out.
The final score ended up 17-11 in favour of Manitoba, and thus the Wood rink avoided a tie-breaker with Saskatchewan by finishing the round-robin with an unblemished 9-0 record.
The Dunbar rink was from Kinley, Saskatchewan, which boasted just 85 citizens, and four of their number from the tiny hamlet could now lay claim to being the second-place finishers in a Canadian curling championship.
“Strangely,” reported the March 8 Calgary Herald, “the Brier was won in the first round of play, on the last end and with the last shot of the Wood-Dunbar match. The unerring Wood drew to the ‘button’ with his final shot to defeat Dunbar, 8-6, on get-away day. That was the victory that clinched the national title for Manitoba.”
In the 11th end of the first-round match, Wood was up 7-6. But in the 12th, Dunbar had the equalizing stone solidly behind guards resembling “the rock of Gibraltar,” wrote Harper in his 1952 article.
“And it was here that the grizzled warrior of the ice lanes pulled off one of those famous shots of his,” which was a cold draw to near the button with his last rock to beat out the Dunbar counter, and prevent the game from going into an extra end.
Following their victory over Alberta, Wood told Harper: “I’m glad we won that game. We met Dunbar once and meeting a curler like Dunbar once is plenty.”
Alberta ended up in a third-place tie with New Brunswick, as both provinces finished with identical 6-3 records.
With Wood triumphant, A.E. Armstrong wrote in his March 8 Free Press sports column: “It just shows ... it isn’t a bad idea now and then to change your mind. Howard Wood Sr. exercised that privilege prior to the start of the Winnipeg bonspiel early in February. So did Ernie Pollard. Roy Enman and young Howard Jr. were on the outside fretting.”
Changing their minds and making a last-minute entry into the MCA Bonspiel was the fortuitous beginning of the Wood rink’s journey down the road to the Canadian championship.
Armstrong said that the Wood rink had curled superbly from start to finish of the nine-game round-robin championship.
Following the last draw of the Brier, Howie Wood told Armstrong, “He was so excited that he didn’t know what to say.”
Enman admitted to making some mistakes. “But I was trying all the time.”
“I’m glad for the boys’ sake (his son and Enman),” commented Wood, who attempted to be nonchalant about the Brier victory.
“Oh,” said Pollard, “I guess we just take these things in stride. But I’m sure glad for Howie and Roy.”
At the Brier banquet, Senator Haig said “Wood stands alone” as a curler.
In fact, “Pappy” Wood became the first curler to win three Briers: two as a skip (1930 and 1940) and one playing third for Jim Congalton in 1932.
But Wood replied that there were too many fine Manitoba shotmakers to select the best among the group. “Mac Braden, Frank Cassidy, Bob Dunbar, Gordon Hudson ... how can you call one of those fellows better than the others?
“I might beat Hudson one day and he’d beat me the next,” added Wood. “After years in the game, I suppose you get pretty good, but not better than the other fellow who has the eye and has spent almost the same period in curling that you have (Herb Manning, One Man’s Opinion column, March 8, Winnipeg Tribune).
W.J. “Billy” Findlay, a former sports editor of the Free Press and the skip of the rink from B.C., had high praise for Howard and his Manitoba rink: “I’ve seen Howard Wood curl for a long time, but I’ve never seen him curl as well as he did through the nine-game test we have just concluded. He had all the shots and the courage to make them. And that goes for the whole rink.”
Manning wrote in his column that Wood was the “master” of the draw game and quiet weight — just enough weight to edge an opponent’s rock out of the house or from being shot stone — and demanded the same from those on his team.
Wood frowned upon the long slide developed in Winnipeg by the Watson brothers, Ken and Grant, which was conducive to a harder hits and was enthusiastically adopted by younger curlers. “They skidded from hack to blueline with their rocks,” wrote Manning. “It was a spectacular thing, giving color to the game of curling ...”
Ken’s delivery of a curling stone became known as the “Watson Glide,” and was nicknamed “Mr. Curling.” Using his “glide,” Watson was equally adept at the draw and hitting game.
Watson and his brother, who curled out of the Strathcona club, used the “long slide” to win several MCA Bonspiel grand aggregate titles. In addition, Watson skipped three Brier winning rinks in 1936, 1942 (the last Brier during the Second World War; it resumed in 1946) and 1949.
Jimmy Welsh, another long slider, was noted for his knockout game. In 1937, he lost the Brier to Manahan of Alberta in a play-off. Both teams had identical 8-1 records after the round-robin series. Welsh’s only loss during the round-robin was 13-10 to Alberta, while B.C. handed Manahan his one defeat. In the tie-breaker, Welsh was humbled by Manahan’s rink, losing 19-7. But the Deer Lodge Curling Club skip rebounded and won the Brier for Manitoba in 1947.
“Wood, like many of the oldsters couldn’t see it (the long slide). He throws from the hack himself ... His son curls off a half slide. Howard has done everything to discourage lengthening it out,” commented Manning.
“I like to know the direction of my rocks while they’re running along the ice,” said Wood, “when to sweep and when to let them curl. With knockout weight, a bad shot is a bad shot. Using draw weight, you can often correct a misdirected delivery.”
It is hard to argue against Wood’s curling philosophy, which over the years had resulted in such great success on the ice, including the Canadian championship in 1940. The Wood foursome, born on February 5 just before the deadline for the 1940 MCA Bonspiel, won 26 of 28 games they played en route to claiming the national title. Their only two loses were in the MCA Bonspiel, the “grind”that Wood had initially wanted to avoid.
But his style of play was passed over when younger curlers, similar to Watson, became more proficient in using the long slide.
Today, it is necessary for the best curlers — all long sliders — to be able to accurately throw peel, normal, control, bumper, hack and tap-back weights, as well as place a guard or draw the button or a desired portion of the house at will. The four-rock free-guard zone has made it absolutely essential for successful curlers to possess a full repertoire of shots. No longer can a team score a point or two in the first couple of ends and then hit everything in sight for the remaining ends of a game in order to run another team out of rocks with which to score.
The Vancouver Sun on March 8 called the Winnipeg Brier, the “greatest ... ever held. Canada’s greatest curlers will not forget the wonderful demonstration made here by the people of Winnipeg. It showed what the curling game means in this province. The visitors were simply astounded by the large turnout.”
Many of the preliminary draws had 1,200 or more spectators in attendance at the Amphitheatre, but the packed house on March 7 truly amazed out-of-province curlers and visitors.
Armstrong termed the Winnipeg Brier, “a spectacular ... From the time the first rock was thrown until the conquering Wood rink was piped off the ice surface by the pipe band of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, it was entertainment of the highest order.”
The pipe band led all the participating curlers to centre ice where the medal presentations were made. Dunbar’s Saskatchewan rink received silver trays as the runners-up, while Winnipeg Mayor John Queen presented the two Woods, Pollard and Enman with gold medals as the national champions.
The presence of a pipe band at the Brier was another first and became a tradition that continues at major championships to this day.
Overcome by the moment, Armstrong said he would take the spectacle of the Winnipeg Brier over the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls of U.S. college football.
Armstrong said curling had arrived as a “big time sports attraction” with Winnipeg hosting the Canadian men’s championship and showing how the event could be staged on a bigger and better scale.
“Men who have been connected with the sport from anywhere up to 60 years, glanced over that great throng and with justifiable pride admitted it was really something which they had never dreamt of seeing. Talk to any of the visiting curlers and they readily attested to the fact.”
No one regretted taking the championship westward from the cramped confines of Toronto’s Granite Curling Club to the larger venue of the Amphitheatre Arena. Some may have had initial doubts about the wisdom of the move, but as people gathered en masse to watch the play on the ice, there was a consensus that host Winnipeg had demonstrated how Canadian curling at the national level was to be successfully showcased in the future.
Thomas Caverhill, the president of the Macdonald Tobacco Company, the official sponsor of the national title, said, “It was marvellous. I had always known Winnipeg was a curling centre but the spontaneous reception the visitor and home curlers received was a revelation to me. We’re certainly elated the 1940 championships were conducted in your wonderful city.”
George Cameron, the western Brier official, who hailed from Winnipeg and originally conceived of the idea of a national men’s championship in 1924, said the shift of the Brier from Toronto to Winnipeg was “a noble experiment” that proved to be a winner.
Peter Lyall, a trustee of the Macdonald Brier since 1927, a Montréal curler and an ex-president of the Manitoba Curling Association when he earlier lived in Winnipeg, who Cameron enlisted to help promote the concept of a national title, called the Winnipeg Brier, “the greatest spectacle in the history of curling.”
C.B. Richardson, the secretary of the Macdonald Brier trustees, said he had seen nothing to equal the turn-out at the Amphitheatre. “We had been assured that this might happen,” added Richardson, “but never did we believe it until we saw it with our own eyes. And that pipe band show, with the kind permission of my friend Col. Hugh MacKenzie, was the finishing touch in it all.”
Out-of-province curlers said they were overwhelmed by the local hospitality and the turn-out at the Amphitheatre.
By the end of Winnipeg’s tenure as the host in 1940, the Brier had been changed forever. It had, as Armstrong mused, entered the big time as a result of being staged for the very first time in a curling-mad city in a curling-mad province.
It was in Winnipeg that the Brier earned the status of a Canadian national sports extravaganza.