For over a decade, youth have found a house away from home thanks to junior curling programs at the local club.
The Collingwood Curling Club is a volunteer-run organization with programs running out of the six-sheet rink on Hume St. in Collingwood. The club was founded in 1881.
“We like to think of ourselves not just as a sports club, but a community club,” said Bob Riches, former president of the Collingwood Curling Club.
Riches is a long-time member of the club and has been involved with curling in some way for most of his life. He now runs the junior division for participants 8 to 18 years old. “I think it’s important for youth to get involved,” he said.
On top of day-to-day programming, wheelchair curling, and corporate curling, the club offers two different programs for youth.
The school program takes place on Friday mornings from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. over the course of the school year and is offered to Grade 7 and Grade 8 students at all five elementary schools in the region. Each school has been allotted three Friday mornings to learn how to curl, where teachers can bring up to 48 students per week.
“We usually end up with around 250 Grade 7s and 8s learning to curl every year,” said Riches.
The second program is offered on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. until noon for youth between the ages of 8 and 18. The junior program typically starts mid-October and runs until the end of March. It costs $75 per youth for the entire season and includes shoes and instruction.
“It really is a sport you can do from childhood to old age,” said Mariane McLeod, one of the volunteer instructors for the junior program. “It’s quite challenging if you want to do it well, but it’s easy to learn.”
Both Riches and McLeod grew up curling and said the sport has given them so much, they simply want to encourage as many people to get involved as they can.
“Historically in Canada, you could go to the curling rink in any town and find all walks of life. The pharmacist plays with the farmer and you never know who is going to win,” said McLeod. “That’s the story of curling across Canada. It’s a great equalizer.”
It’s also very inclusive, said Riches.
For kids who don’t ski or snowboard, play hockey or any other winter sports, they can do this, he said. And once they know how to do it and like it, they can do it well into their 80s or 90s.
“To me, it’s to get them off the couch,” he said. “To have success and have fun doing something is important. Especially for kids who aren’t winter athletes… They can still do this.”
As volunteer instructors, it is rewarding to watch how much the kids grow and improve over the course of the season. Both Riches and McLeod have endless stories about youth they’ve seen step on the ice and completely transform.
“You can see them, so pleased and proud, it just makes the whole week worth it.,” said Riches.
“You can have the worst week but then you go and play a game and you make that one amazing shot and the whole week is better,” added McLeod.
The junior program has been running strong for over 10 years despite having to pause for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are still in the process of rebuilding the program in the aftermath, and both instructors are excited to watch it continue to grow.
“A lot of kids don't even know that this program exists,” said Riches. “And it’s amazing how good they can get with not a lot of practice to the point where you can perform very well at a decent level.”