100th Meiklejohn Bonspiel celebrates rich curling history

By Patrick Raftis in Community, Health & Fitness
Kim MacKenzie, left and George Bridge, of the Harriston Curling Club pose with the historic Meiklejohn Trophy. Patrick Raftis photo

Kim MacKenzie, left and George Bridge, of the Harriston Curling Club pose with the historic Meiklejohn Trophy. Patrick Raftis photo

A century of curling tradition will culminate in the 100th Anniversary Meiklejohn Bonspiel next ,month.
The “Meiklejohn Trophy” was first played for in 1912 and was won by the Fergus Curling Club team consisting of T. J. Hamilton, J. B. Bayne, John Graham, and skip John Mennie.
From its’ beginning, the Meiklejohn Bonspiel was always the highlight of the Harriston Curling Club’s season. Teams came from all across Ontario by train and brought their own curling stones to compete with. Ward’s Livery Service would deliver the stones to the “Palace Rink” from the train station. The competitions ran over a six-day period so competitors booked room and board at local hotels for $1 per day.
The curling competitions continued day and night, as bonspiel games were all 12 ends long. Hotel staff often had to waken curlers at 3 a.m. feed them and send them on their way to the rink. There was no club house at the “Palace Rink” so curlers would return to the hotels between games to swap their stories.
The runners-up at the Meiklejohn Bonspiel have been awarded the “Chambers Shield” since 1917 and the first winner of this award was also a Fergus team. The first and second place presentations-tradition has carried through to present.
John Meiklejohn, donor of the trophy, club founding member, avid and skilled curler was among the Canadian Curling Team who travelled to Scotland in 1921. The “Stirling Observer” in Scotland, reported on January 1921: “The Canadian Curlers at present in Scotland played two matches against Stirlingshire players at the Haymarket Ice Rink Edinburgh, and had handsome victories in both cases. Mr. John Meiklejohn of Harriston, Ontario skipped the Canadian Team.
One hundred years of tradition hits the ice this February 25, 26, and 27, when one of the longest running bonspiels in Canada celebrates its 100th running. The weekend will be filled with highly skilled competitions, great prizes, food, entertainment and plenty of sage analysis of the play. The club is planning a 24-team format, but entries were filling up fast as of The Rural Route press deadline, with the final entry date set for January 17. Entry information can be found at www.harristoncurlingclub.com.
Prior to the event, a historical display will be set up in the window of Davie’s Antiques in Harriston. The display will be moved to the Harriston Community Centre Auditorium a few days before the bonspeil. In addition to the competitors, club officials are preparing for plenty of visitors who want to take in the event and absorb the atmosphere, beginning with the opening ceremonies on Friday night.

First Meiklejohn Bonspiel winners from the Fergus Curling Club

First Meiklejohn Bonspiel winners from the Fergus Curling Club

“People can come down and relive it. It’s for the competitors, but it’s also for the community,” stated Harriston Curling Club president George Bridge.
Past champions are being invited to attend the bonspiel, which Bridge expects will include some top flight curlers. Other special guests include members of the Meiklejohn family, who will stay at their family’s former home, the historic Meiklejohn House, which is now a high-end bed and breakfast establishment.
The first stone will be thrown on Friday night as part of the opening ceremonies, with curling competition continuing through Saturday and Sunday. Entertainment and a social time will be held in the Harriston Community Centre auditorium, Saturday night, with the public welcome to attend.
Bridge says the Meiklejohn Bonspiel is among the most prestigious in Canada, with a rich history that includes much interesting lore. The Meiklejohn Trophy is a massive creation, which has grown over the years as the base has been extended to accommodate the names of more champions. In the early days, when teams were travelling by train, one rink is said to have stopped at a tavern in Neustadt on the way home after winning. They left the trophy in the bar, where it was shoved in a corner and left until the following year, when the team picked it up on the way back to defend their title.
While he’s participated in many Meiklejohns, Bridge has had his name engraved on the trophy only once, in 1992.
“For me, it was like winning the Stanley Cup,” he recalls.
After some years in the doldrums, curling is enjoying something of a renaissance locally. Bridge says the Harriston club’s membership has doubled this year, a trend he attributes at least partially to interest created by the sport’s popularity at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The fact that while, “not everyone can play hockey, anyone can curl,” also makes the sport accessible, notes club member Kim MacKenzie.
Historical information for this story was provided by Kim MacKenzie