Home of the Friendly Fort

History:
By R. A. (Dick) Johnston

In the early 1920’s, employees of the Canadian National Railways working in the depot (currently the VIA station at 123 Main Street) and the downtown area operated a curling League under the name of the Depot Curling League.  The league provided curling once a week at 5:30 p.m. at the Terminal Curling Club on Mayfair Avenue.  This building was taken over by the Grain Exchange Curling Club who eventually built their own building on Fort Street, and later by the T. Eaton Company at which time it was known as the Eaton Curling Club.  The building finally collapsed during a heavy snow storm and was dismantled.

Some of the more enthusiastic members of the Depot League were of the opinion that there were enough railway employees in the downtown area, Fort Rouge Shops and Transcona Shops interested in curling to support a Curling Club of their own with their own building.  Some of these employees, to name a few were: 

Harry Low – Freight Sales Department
Bill Hain – Local Freight Department
Fred Kerby – Baggage Department
Ross Black – Legal Department

The idea was promoted by this group and committees were formed, and in 1926, a general meeting of all interested employees was hed in the Hotel Fort Garry to discuss ways and means of financing such a project.

As they had no land or money, it was suggested at the meeting that the management of the Company be requested to lease to the proposed curling club, at a nominal charge, a piece of Company property located on the East side of Main Street between the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, suitable for a curling rink.  A limited company would be formed and shares with a par value of $25.00 be sold to employees.  This suggestion was adopted and the Company agreed to lease the property for the nominal sum of $1.00 per year plus local taxes.

Being assured of the land, the next step was to form a company, obtain a charter, and sell the shares.  A charter for Fort Garry Holding Company Limited was obtained from the Provincial Government on April 25th, 1927.  The charter was signed by the following employees as directors of the company:

E. Broderich – Right of Way Agent
J.B. Kerby – Baggage Department
W.F. Bemister – Survey Department
H.R. Low – Freight Sales Department
F.W. Tuxworth – Engineering Department

Mr. R.A. (Dick) Johnston was appointed Chairman of the Building Committee and he was requested to draw up plans and specifications for a six sheet curling rink with provision for an extra sheet on each side to provide for expansion to eight sheets at a later date, if required.  A concentrated drive was put on to sell shares to Railway employees across the system and the project was supported by the following:

Share Certificate No. 1 – Sir Henry Thorton, President of the Company
Share Certificate No. 2 – Mr. W.A. Kingsland, General Manager Western Region
Share Certificate No. 3 – Mr. G.M. Hair, Regional Counsellor
Share Certificate No. 4 – Mr. J.D. Fife, Personnel Department
Share Certificate No. 5 – Mr. F.S. Rose, Regional Auditor

Shares were also purchased by heads of departments, clerks, shop men, section men and trainmen.  In all, some 387 shares were purchased by 292 shareholders for a total of $9,675.

When tenders were opened for the construction of the building they ranged from a high of $23,975 to a low of $16,267 which was considerably more than the amount realized from the sale of shares.  In order to reduce costs, management was approached to see if the Company would agree to purchase the required lumber through the Company’s Purchasing Department on the understanding that the Curling Club would engage a foreman to supervise the construction of the building.  As the rink was for the use of Company employees, management agreed and a bill of materials for the required lumber was prepared and forwarded to the Company Purchasing Agent in Vancouver who purchased the lumber, F.O.B. the mill and the Company forwarded it to Winnipeg.  Some of this lumber came right out of the millpond. An agreement was signed with a Mr. Kellas on September 19th, 1927 to take charge of the construction.  As the lumber arrived in Winnipeg, the cars were spotted on the embankment and unloaded directly onto the site.  Kellas hired his men and started work on Wednesday, September 21st, 1927 and by Tuesday, November 1st, 1927, the building was framed in .  The electrical work was done at cost by Company electricians with assistance of J.R. Steinhoff of the Northern Electric Company who supplied materials and advice.  Jack Steinhoff was the father of Guy Steinhoff, a past President and Honorary Life Member of the Fort Garry Curling Club.  Guy’s father joined the Club in 1928 or 1929 and brought Guy into the Club in 1931.  The total cost of the building was between $12,000 and $13,000 which was paid off with the help of a $5,000 loan from one of our members.

The organizational meeting of The Fort Garry Curling Club was held in the Board Room, Union Depot on November 4th, 1927.  Present at this meeting were:  H.R. Low; W.H. Hain; A. Finnie; W.F. Bemister; J. Cook; J.H. Fenton; F.W. Tuxworth; J.B. Kerby; J. Milne

A Board of Directors of Fort Garry Holding Company Limited and an Executive of Fort Garry Curling Club were elected.  The first meeting of Curling Club Executive was held on November 11th, 1927 with the first general meeting of the club being held on November 18th, 1927.  The ice-maker started the same day and curling started around mid-December.  The rocks were privately owned by the members and were all shapes and sizes, varying in weight from 37 ½ pounds to 52 pounds.  Compared with today’s matched rocks, artificial ice and heated rinks, it is hard to imagine how skips were able to read ice with odd rocks on natural ice with varying temperatures.  During the early years, the Fort Garry Curling Club was a cold and drafty place to curl in.  However, as the Club became financially stronger, Dave Clark who was Secretary and Treasurer at the time would organize voluntary work parties and the interior of the rink was lined and painted, the foundation for the ice surface was dug out and leveled with sand, and walks were built around the interior of the playing area with used bridge stringers and boxcar siding.  Carpenter work was under the supervision of George Beach and painting by Billy Gibson, with electrical work being done by Jimmy Clark.  Among the navvies who did the bull work were Wally Batt, Gord Caslake, Gord Duthie, Jimmie Finnie, Harold Hultman, Dick Johnston, Charlie Macdonald, Stu McDonald, Cliff McMillan, Les McKibbin, Tom Martin, Vic Newman, Alex Pepper, Roy Powers, Verne Parr and Harry Tomkins.

Curling on natural ice was very uncertain and, in line with other City Clubs, the Club installed an artificial ice plant in 1959.  In order to finance the cost of the ice plant, it was necessary for the Club to purchase the land on which the building stood from the Company.  This, of course, cancelled the lease and made the Club independent of the Company.  In 1970, the club rooms were extensively renovated in order to qualify for a beverage license. 

On December 1, 1979, a fire demolished the clubrooms and approximately 30 feet out onto the ice room.  This was rebuilt and re-opened for the 1980/81 season.

Then more bad news.  The City of Winnipeg required the club property for the construction of the new Norwood Bridge Project.  Expropriation took place and arrangements were made with the Winnipeg Winter Club to accommodate the club’s complete operations for the seasons from 1995 through 1997.  The new club, a six-sheet facility, is located at 696 Archibald St. in St. Boniface and was ready for operation by the fall of 1997.

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