Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/10/2018 (1116 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Just like so many of the very best ideas, the Margarita Curling Club bonspiel was developed by a few guys over-imbibing after a friendly curling game at a local club.
The welcomed hangover has lasted 26 years and counting.
Now, for the first time ever, the international bonspiel, featuring 64 recreational men’s, women’s and mixed teams from Canada, the United States and Europe, has put down stakes in Winnipeg — the venerable Granite Curling Club, to be precise — as nearly 300 curlers spend four days reconnecting with old friends, tossing rocks and making new memories.
"Absolutely, for me it’s a dream," said Markus Fischer, the Swiss member of the Margarita Club’s founding fathers. "To have 64 teams over here in Winnipeg is unbelievable. I was here for my first time in Winnipeg in 1995 (on his way to Brandon to watch the world curling championships) and I thought even back then, if we could have our curling tournament here that would be great."
Fischer distinctly recalls sitting with several fellows at Sina’s Pub in Wengen, Switzerland, during a Christmas ’spiel when the notion of a fun event for curlers far and wide was first discussed.
"It started on Dec. 28, 1992, with some good drinking of margaritas, and we said we wanted an international cup that we can go back and forward with over the pond. So, we created our club," he said.
The beauty of the Margarita Curling Club is that no headquarters exists. Each year, home is where the bonspiel is held and members plan their fall travel accordingly.
Last year, the city of Dumfries in south Scotland welcomed the committed constituents.
"I think it has been seven times for me," said Sarah Flueckiger, of Bern, Switzerland. "The first one was in Las Vegas (2012). Another couple called me and my boyfriend and said, ‘We could go to Vegas to play curling, would you like to come?’ Two seconds after that, we said yes! It was a little bit strange because you are there in the hot sun, you go inside with shorts and play curling where it’s cold. So, it’s really special."
Flueckiger and the rest of the Switzerland Bernese-Bears team have also participated in Fussen (Germany), Halifax, Les Contamines-Montjoie (in the French Alps), Denver and, a year ago, in Dumfries.
"There are so many crazy people. Every year, you meet more people and then you come back and it’s like a big family reunion. You can tell them a whole year of stories of what you’ve done with your life," she said.
The bonspiel flip-flops between Europe and North America. Plans are already in the works for the 2019 event in Italy. Curlers must participate at least once on either side of the Atlantic to qualify as a member in good standing of the Margarita Curling Club.
That’s really the only regulation enforced. The rest, Fischer says, is all fun and games.
"It’s about having a great time on the ice. There’s a lot of crazy people who always dress up. You will see a lot of that," Fischer said.
Gordon Gilchrist of Scotland didn’t waste any time with a little self-mockery, donning his kilt, a ginger-haired wig and "See You Jimmy" hat as he skipped Glesga’s Keystone Cops to victory in the team’s first game of the event Thursday morning.
Gilchrist has been a Margarita member for about a decade. He helped organize the Dumfries bonspiel, but is happy to play and party with the rest of the visitors this weekend.
"This is pretty special because it’s not like you’re seeing these people all the time at your local rink. This is just once a year, but they become friends for life," he said. "I remember one occasion, I was walking through the airport in Copenhagen and I hear, ‘Margarita, Gordon!’ That’s the last place you expect someone to be shouting your name. So, we have this to share with people all over the world."
About four years ago, a local group began promoting Winnipeg as a perfect Margarita-ville, as it were, says Sharon Trevena of West St. Paul, one of the bonspiel organizers.
"We knew Winnipeg could offer a lot of options for curlers and we could handle a big event with lots of out-of-towners, so we had to go around and do a little political working until we got somebody convinced," she said, with a laugh. "It’s great to show Winnipeg off, and the fact we have this great curling facility is a bonus."
Indeed, the ice at the Granite is far better than the makeshift outdoor rink used three years ago in Les Contamines-Montjoie. But it was impossible to beat the view.
"Usually, the temperature in October is around freezing, but it was 17 C and sunny that weekend. We were basically curling in water and it was tough to throw," Trevena said. "But you’re looking up at the French Alps, seeing the leaves changing and it’s absolutely beautiful."
Teams from far and wide have travelled to the Manitoba capital for the event, which wraps up Sunday.
"We have a fellow from China, others from Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Scotland, England and France, about 30 teams from the U.S. — Texas, California, New Jersey, Arizona, of course Minnesota — and, of course, from across Canada, from Vancouver to New Brunswick, and three Winnipeg teams," Trevena said. "It’s good competition, but it’s all about the party."
Shuttles run players between the curling club and their downtown hotels.
Gilchrist has plenty of fond recollections of being a Margarita, but one silly scenario stands out.
"I remember being caught in Vancouver (2010) in the ladies toilet and an English skip was taking off her kilt, which was the St. George flag, and I was taking off mine and we were swapping it when a couple of women came in and did not know what was actually happening," he says, chuckling. "A couple of shrieks went off on that one.
"Rumours were out there, but it was nothing untoward. My wife and mother were there, too."
Just some harmless Margarita fun. Expect some booze in the blender at the Granite this weekend.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).