Skyline Bonspiel reaches 60th year
By Darren Lum
Published Jan. 29, 2019
Days before the Skyline Men’s Invitational Bonspiel, a small gathering of current and past Haliburton Curling Club members came together for a round-table discussion to talk about the 60th anniversary of the event.
David Gray, Don Popple, David Bishop, Steve Colliver, Wayne Hussey, Art Dawson, Dave Moss and Len Salvatori – the elder-statesman of the group at 89, who started curling at the Haliburton club in 1952.
Six decades have passed since the first Skyline Bonspiel and the common sentiment was how the event brought together a group of men from all over Ontario for friendship and a shared passion for curling.
There’s something in the water, Len Salvatori says with a smile following the meeting when asked about winning the Skyline Men’s Invitational Bonspiel in 1968.
(On close inspection of the event’s first Labatts sponsored trophy, Lou Consky of Molou Theatre fame has his name etched in a metal shield for winning during the second year.)
Salvatori’s rink was led by skip, Joe Iles and included Raymond Scott as vice, also known as Scottie to friends, and Ken Wilson, owner of Haliburton Lumber at lead. Salvatori was the team’s second and was the youngest of them all. Iles and Salvatori both worked at Curry Motors. Salvatori worked there for 45 years.
It has been a while since he last competed in the Skyline, but he remembers the team that won in the 1960s as playing well through at least five games over two days. Salvatori, Iles and Wilson were in their late-30s while Scott was in his 40s.
In addition to being strong athletes and highly skilled curlers, the team knew each other well.
The rink used their athleticism to their advantage, getting the most out of their old corn brooms sweeping on the natural ice surface.
Motivation to be the best was at the heart of competition for locals, Salvatori said.
“Haliburton teams always want to win. That’s the way we were,” he said. “It’s always been like that.”
Even alcohol took a back seat to winning.
“That was the secret. When we were curling, [no drinking] until we were finished,” he said. “Every time you got drinking too much before you never win. You can’t win.”
He said there was an understanding that any drinking would be permitted once all the games were completed.
Salvatori said ultimately it was always about the fun of it all for him.
“That was the main part of it [was] to have fun,” he said.
In those days with the natural ice, the outside temperature would affect the playing surface. This was an advantage to the home team. The ice had a way of changing a rock’s path. Curlers needed to “rocker” the rock so it would wobble its way to the house in a straight trajectory to the intended target.
Salvatori remembers how well each of the players knew each other from working together or having grown up together in the Highlands.
“We’re all good friends. Real good friends,” he said.
The Skyline was first held in 1960 and organized by Jack Robertson. It got its location from the location of the club, which was positioned at the base of Skyline Park, which had just opened.
The original trophy, broom and rocks from the era, as well as Scottie’s sweater with all the ribbons from past bonspiels, was on display at the club earlier this month. Organizers gave curlers an opportunity to have their photos taken with the memorabilia.
Salvatori and many of the men around the table remarked about the arctic-like conditions that often accompanied the Skyline, which was often preceded by a thaw to add to complications.
It was common in the days before block heaters for competitors’ cars to be stored at Curry Motors, which was at the corner of Maple and Highland streets at the time. Curry Motors also provided a boost to get the participants on their way.
Everyone laughs about the great atmosphere and the joy felt during the bonspiel.
Drinking alcohol was part of the event, but so was the live music led by Bev Smith of Oshawa and the high level of curling. Parties orchestrated by curlers from Oshawa were held at a nearby resort where everyone from the Skyline were invited to attend. It was a raucous affair that often went to 2 a.m.
Steve Colliver, a past winner and current member, who helped as a youth and continues to help run the Skyline as a committee member, said a lot of his life correlates to the event.
When he moved to the Highlands with his parents, he was 10 and so was the Skyline. Now he is 60 and so is the event.
“This was where I had my first job, at this club. I think I was probably 13 and I was out cleaning ice between the draws and [they paid] me 20 bucks for the weekend and I thought I was rich,” he said. “And then when I got old enough they actually let me play in it.”
His father was responsible for making the ice at the club’s old location for years.
Among the memories of the Skyline that stand out for him was how two curlers, each representing their respective clubs, Ted Gardener for Haliburton and Jim Youngman for Oshawa, annually held their own competition in the wee hours of the morning. This head-to-head game of one-upmanship often followed a few drinks and a rousing conversation.
“Invariably after all the lights had been turned out and we’re hoping that people would be going home, they would want the lights to be turned back on so they could have a [game based on a] gentleman’s bet about who could throw the draw closest to the button. It always, always happened after one in the morning. … In this day and age I wouldn’t have set them out [on the ice] without elbow pads and a helmet ... they were out there and it was Haliburton versus Oshawa. I don’t know how they were picked to do it, but it was invariably those two guys and they were out there throwing draws. Sometimes they wouldn’t wait for the lights to come on either,” he said.
Colliver said it was rewarding to win the Skyline.
Even if it was only once, he wants to do it again.
There comes a certain level of disappointment that has to be accepted though once you win.
“If you do this at the front end of your career it’s all downhill,” he said.
Colliver and his brother and their sons made up the winning team one year.
“For me and my brother, it was at the end of our career and it’s turned upside down for the two of them,” he said referring to their two sons.
Always with a smile, Don Popple, a past-president from 1981 to 1982, said, “It’s not easy to win, I can tell you that much.”
Popple was one of the owners of Curry Motors, who helped sponsor the event and curled in the Skyline. “Because of strong competitors. We talked about the partying and everything else, but they also come to curl. Mainly to curl,” he said.
Wayne Hussey organized the Skyline for 25 years as chairman, starting soon after he moved to the Highlands permanently. (Hussey grew up locally and moved to Cornwall at 16.) He took over the organizing duties from Bob Johnson in 1991.
Despite moving away as a teen, he has competed in 50 Skyline bonspiels, likely more than anyone else. The first time he competed in the Skyline was in 1962. He still remembers how his father came to pick him up from Carleton University in Ottawa to bring him up to Haliburton. In those 50 years of competition, he only won twice. Once in 1966 and again in 1968. He acknowledges the effort of volunteers such as Scottie, who has since passed, and wife Bernice, also known as Bunny to friends.
He remembers how candles were left on a ledge by the window so spectators could see what was happening on the ice.
The aging demographic has created some challenges, Hussey said, with fewer curlers likely to stay up for late-night games or early morning parties. After band leader Bev Smith died, fewer Oshawa curlers have been coming up.
The field has been reduced from 32 to 24 teams.
“The reason it’s carried on so long is it’s a chance to see your buddies you met the last year before and you come back,” Hussey said, “There is a lot of camaraderie and friendship that has developed over the years just from that. I think we also see one of the big advantages is these people come up and they love Haliburton. They all of a sudden want to move up here or start a cottage or do something so it’s been a real good ... it’s a chance for them to see Haliburton and meet all the nice people.”
Hussey was a member of the Haliburton club from 1992 until last year. He lives in Oshawa, but also has a cottage here, as he has since 1974.
Current organizer Dave Moss took over the chairman job three years ago.
Curlers make the trip because of the high-level curling competition, the food and the live music performances. Last year, Haliburton’s Carl Dixon performed.
He said the event is possible because of the six-person committee (one of which is Colliver) and the more than 50 members of the club volunteering at least three hours. The volunteers serve, cook and host lunches and clean, and drive curlers to their weekend accommodations after the evening of curling, cards and live entertainment.
“It’s curling during the day and it’s a big social time at night and the return rate since we’ve started doing this has been phenomenal,” Moss said.
For the Saturday lunch, the Skyline includes “home hosting” when four teams will go to a member’s home for a provided lunch and beverages.
“They get to see another part of Haliburton. They get to meet some new people. They get to meet other people in the bonspiel they might not meet ... it’s very, very popular,” he said.
Out of the 24 teams, there are 21 out-of-town teams that were registered this year coming from Niagara Falls, London, Sudbury, Lakefield, Peterborough, Leaside, Oakville and Ottawa area. The reach of the event is attributed to these out-of-towners, who tell others.
Moss said having club members compete out of town helps with marketing Haliburton events.
“The clubs that are successful with bonspiels like this are clubs that also go out to other clubs and support their functions. This club is exceptional at that,” he said.
Moss said the weekend before the Skyline he curled in Utica.
“The clubs that we send people to, we also promote our bonspiels and you kind of throw out the old, ‘we expect a little reciprocation here.’ And it works. Once they come once they’re coming back again. They have such a good time,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we have been able to do it and keep it going all these years.”
The club’s success has also come from the community.
The sponsorship by local businesses has always been there.
The long-standing sponsorship started with Curry Motors in 1964. Twelve years later Home Hardware joined. In 1985, Haliburton Lumber joined. Two years later Dawson Insurance joined. There are four streams from A to D to compete in, each with a trophy and prizes for the winning teams.
This year’s $2,000 worth of cash prizes is owed to the sponsors.
David Bishop, a former member and a past winner of the Skyline Bonspiel with David Gray, knows full well the level of play required to win it all.
“When you get to the final game it’s competitive and you’ll use just about any little trick that you can in order to make sure you get just a bit of an edge and that’s all it takes sometimes,” he said.
Gray, a current member and past-president from the 1970s, joined the club when he moved to Haliburton from Toronto in 1969. He was also instrumental in establishing the club’s not-for-profit status. Bishop was a member from 1963 to 2000 and remembers the year he won.
He and Gray were behind by one point in the last end. He refers to a “biter” – a stone that just touches the outer edge of the circles – that became a deciding point in the final end.
“That’s what won it for us,” he said.
“Was that the rock you gave a kick to?” Popple asks, laughing.
“Any advantage you can get,” Bishop said, smiling.
He remembers telling the opposing skip he believed that rock was on. To the other skip’s detriment, it cost him the game. It wasn’t until the end he acknowledged the deciding point.
Art Dawson, now retired, spoke about the welcoming feeling he felt when he joined at age 23.
“Such a welcoming feeling right from the start as you walk in. Once you’re a member of the curling club you’re everybody’s equal ... Everybody makes you feel welcome. I’ve been curling for 44 years and spent 10 years as a lead so I know how tough it is to get up there,” he said.
Dawson is a past-president from 1986 to 1987.
The average age of curlers is going up. It’s a challenge for the Skyline and membership in general, Moss said.
“The curling demographic is an aging demographic. Particularly here in Haliburton, we have a very strong junior program, an incredible high school program and we welcome those kids to curl. Our high school curlers curl in our night leagues to give them more experience and more exposure to curling with adults, but when they graduate high school and go off to wherever they go most of them find careers outside of this area. This club isn’t growing with those curlers. Our average age here now is 67 years of age,” he said.
There are 280 members at the club.
Despite the challenges, Moss is optimistic about the Skyline’s future.
“I think it has a long, long life to go yet,” he said.