High school bonspiel once ruled holiday sports


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Right after Christmas, from the late 1940s into the middle of the 1970s, the Manitoba high school curling bonspiel was a major sporting event in Winnipeg.

Four times during the 1960s, the competition often called the Christmas bonspiel attracted a record total of 312 rinks. The Winnipeg Free Press sponsored the main event and the Winnipeg Tribune the second event, so the bonspiel received extensive coverage on the sports pages of the dailies.

Downtown hotels such as the Marlborough and St. Regis would be filled with high school boys from throughout the province. Curlers carrying brooms would be riding buses and street cars to rinks throughout the city. Country boys would discover that the Valour Road Club was on Burnell Street, not Valour Road, and that the Fort Garry rink was on Main Street, not in Fort Garry. Photos of the top teams in the papers showed curlers in matching wool sweaters borrowed from members of their local curling clubs, often wearing fedoras or tams.

<p>Winnipeg Free Press archives</p>
                                <p>Brian Clapham’s victory at the 1967 provincial high school curling championship was given plenty of coverage in the <em>Winnipeg Free Press</em>.</p>

Winnipeg Free Press archives

Brian Clapham’s victory at the 1967 provincial high school curling championship was given plenty of coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press.

The 28th Manitoba high school bonspiel, played in late December 1966, was a special one for two reasons. It was the final year the provincial high school champion would be determined by the top eight bonspiel teams. For the 1967-68 season, the champion was to be be decided in a playdown of four teams from the bonspiel and 12 Manitoba high school zone winners. Second, the bonspiel winner, and provincial representative, would have the opportunity of winning the Canadian championship right here in Manitoba.

A total of 256 teams curled in the 1966 bonspiel. Brian Clapham and his Daniel McIntyre team of Ken Clapham, Tom Will and Jim Sproule won the Free Press event, defeating John Rigby of Churchill in the final. The other events winners were Jimmy Johnston of St. James Collegiate, Barry Fawley of Grant Park, Doug Harrison from Carman Collegiate, and Jamie McTavish of Miles Macdonell. The top eight teams from the ’spiel then competed in a playdown for the right to represent Manitoba in the 1967 Canadian championship. In the final played at the Granite club on Dec. 31, Clapham edged Johnston 5-4.

The 1967 national high school championship was held from Feb. 20-24 at the Whitney Forum in Flin Flon, the home of the Bombers, who were in first place in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) at the time. Local fans supported the event with crowds estimated as large as 1,500.

Defending champion Stan Trout, from Ross Sheppard Composite High School in Edmonton, retained the title after completing round-robin play with a record of 9-1. Clapham gave him his only loss 8-7 in round 8 by playing what the Manitoba skip called “a garbage game.” Manitoba, with a record of 8-2, had the bye in the final round and had to watch Trout and company clinch the championship by hammering Nova Scotia 10-4. B.C.’s Jim Armstrong also finished at 8-2, but Clapham’s victory over Armstrong gave our province second place.

Three members of the Clapham team were back on top provincially the following season. Brian Clapham had graduated so Ken took over as skip of the Daniel Mac team and Wayne Ardron joined as lead. Clapham won the Pepsi-Cola event in the high school bonspiel while Johnston’s St. James Collegiate team won the major Free Press event. In the provincial, Clapham won five straight games and beat Brian Paquin of Glenlawn in the final. The Glenlawn foursome had eliminated the favoured Johnston in the semi-final. The Daniel Mac squad finished third in the Canadian championship played in Fort William.

Winter was a busy time for Johnston. In late January 1967, he was the top scorer on the Deer Lodge Community Club team that won the city midget hockey championship, The next season he moved up to junior with the St. James Canadians, who won the Manitoba championship, but lost in the western quarterfinals. The right winger later played for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, who won the NCAA championship in 1973.

T. Kent Morgan

T. Kent Morgan
Memories of Sport

Memories of Sport appears every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Kent Morgan can be contacted at 204-489-6641 or email: sportsmemories@canstarnews.com

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