The Strathcona Cup

The origins for curlers from Scotland and Canada meeting lie in the 1902 Royal Club Annual General Meeting “…..and the following resolutions were passed.

First, that the Royal Club, taking into consideration the oft repeated invitation of brethren in Canada and the USA, is of opinion that the invitation should now be accepted, and decides to send out in the coming winter a representative team, in the name and under the auspices of the Royal Club, to play such matches as may be arranged, and to convey to curlers at the various centres to be visited the hearty congratulations and good wishes of the mother club.

Second, that a special committee be now appointed with full power to select the team and make all necessary arrangements for the Canadian tour.

Third, that this special committee be the committee of management, with power to add to the number, with the suggestion that such additions so made shall be fairly representative of the different districts and provinces of the Royal Club.

Fourth, that the Secretary of the Royal Club be authorised to grant the Special Committee (Canadian Tour) out of the funds of the Royal Club, if found necessary, a sum not exceeding £200 towards the central fund to meet expenses.”

From over 200 applicants a team of 25 curlers were selected to represent Scotland on the inaugural Canadian Tour led by the Rev. John Kerr of Dirleton. The itinerary for first tour was that the team would arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia around the end of December 1902 and travel through Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg before crossing the border to Minneapolis and St. Paul, Chicago and New York. The whole tour would take 40 days but allowing for ocean and railway travel it was anticipated that the team would be absent for about two months! “It will be seen that the programme is an ambitious one, but the committee felt strongly that if things were worth doing, it was worth doing well, and they have every confidence that the members of the team will prove in every respect worthy of the high trust committed to them, namely, that of upholding the reputation of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club”.

The success of the tour was reflected in a letter sent from Peterboro’ in Ontario to the Royal Club which stated, “I congratulate you in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club that this long expected visit has been so happily carried out, and I trust that in the years to come it may continue to be a fruit on both sides of the Atlantic……….”

Encouraged by such comment, the Royal Club at its Annual Meeting in July 1908 decided  “unanimously and enthusiastically to invite a team of Canadians to Scotland and to return if possible the hospitality shown by Canada to the curlers from the mother country in the winter of 1902. It was felt that notice given was very short, but the eager desire on the part of all concerned was that such a visit should come off during the year which Lord Strathcona was President of the Royal Club, his Lordship being such a unique connecting link between Scotland and Canada, so much honoured by his countrymen on both sides of the Atlantic.” Once news returned from Canada that the invitation had been accepted there was “unmingled delight as there was a general expectation that the visit of the Canadians to Scotland like that of the Scots to Canada would not only still further strengthen the bond of friendship between those who are kinsmen but……………. would handsomely avenge any defeat sustained by the Scots in their visit to Canada, which by some strange system of perversion had been very much exaggerated”!!!

That first visiting Canadian team was gathered in the space of two or three months and included representatives of every district in Canada from Halifax to Dawson City in the Yukon.

In Scotland invitations were drawn up and issued to Clubs and Provinces and “a most gratifying response to this communication was received by the Committee, for virtually the whole of Scotland was prepared to receive and offer hospitality to the Canadians”. The organising Committee had its main difficulty in the form of whether the matches would be played in the open, or in the covered artificial ice-rink at Crossmyloof in Glasgow which had been placed at the services of the Royal Club in the event of John (not Jack!) Frost not having the decency to provide natural outdoor ice for the occasion.

Apart from visits to the various districts of Scotland it was “in the trio of test matches arranged by the Committee that Greek would meet Greek, and the momentous decision be given on the blackboard as to whether Canada or Scotland held priority in curling fame. To this great arbitration keen zest was added by the presentation of the noble President, Lord Strathcona, of a handsome Challenge Cup …………. and which it would be averred is without a superior among curling trophies at home and abroad. This splendid trophy, which was selected in competition from a number of designs, is cup shape in form, with two handles. It measures about 20 inches in height and 14 and a half inches in diameter. The decoration, which is chiefly Celtic in character, is artistically applied. A band of Runic entwined work encircles the upper part, and is continued on the handles, whilst round the top is the wording in applied letters: ‘Presented by Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’. On the silver octagonal base of eight panels there are representations of a Scottish curling scene, a Canadian curling scene, and also views of Edinburgh and Stirling castles. Additionally other panels show a beaver, a maple tree and a scotch fir with a thistle in the foreground. Two panels have been reserved to inscribe the winners names and the other the inscription, which coupled with the inscription that the rim of the cup reads “Presented by Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal to The Royal Caledonian Curling Club to Commemorate His Presidency of the Club and of the First Visit of a Canadian Curling Team to Scotland, January 1909”.

John Frost did not oblige and the three test matches against Scottish Provinces were held at Crossmyloof Ice-rink with six rinks playing on each day. The first test match gave a score of 112 to 70 in favour of the Canadians and they followed this up with 29 shot and 30 shot victories in the remaining two to enable the Canadians to win the coveted cup by 101 shots. Philosophically, one of the defeated Scottish hosts remarked, “it micht have been better, but it micht have been waur”.

Scots returned to Canada in 1912 with the Canadians successfully retaining the cup although it was noticed that in the test matches, the loss per rink by the Scots was only on average one and a half shots per game. The Scottish team captain, Colonel Robertson-Aikman, further reported that in his opinion “this was a record that, I contend, after the performance of the Canadian curlers in Scotland three years ago we need not be in the least ashamed of”. He further claimed that the Scots were at a disadvantage in that the Canadians played short games of only 12 heads when normally the Scots would expect to play 16. The test matches however were over 18 heads but again the Scots wanted more – 21! Further handicaps noted were that they had to play on a 6ft. radius circle rather than a 7ft. circle! Other excuses used at the time included the fact there was a tremendous borrow sometimes as much as 8 ft. which in his opinion “the consequence of such a borrow is that the game is altered in its character. You cannot guard a stone as you do here.”

The final excuse used for the tour was “…..but the strongest man on a tour of two months must be below his best when continually travelling and banqueting”!!!

The First World War prevented any further tour that decade but in 1921 the Canadians returned to Scotland and on this occasion Scotland lifted the Strathcona Cup for the first time by a score of 3-2 over the 5 test matches. However two winters later Canada regained the Strathcona Cup, winning 5-0 in the test matches and by an emphatic 210 shot margin.

Canadian curlers returned to Scotland in 1926 where the home country were victorious by 4 to 1 in the test matches but that was the last tour for some 12 years until 1938, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, when Scotland crossed the Atlantic once more.

The War prevented any further visit until 1949 when Scotland won the Strathcona Cup in Canada for the first time. On this occasion there was a change from the normal format whereby all games in the tour, not just nominated test matches, counted to the overall result. One game was reported as “ keen interest was shown in all our games and at Nelson, B.C., we had a crowd of 2000 spectators watching us, although play did not start until 8.30 p.m. and continued until 1 o’clock in the morning!”

Subsequent tours reverted to the format of test matches deciding the destination of the cup with the home nation being victorious on each of these occasions.

However, this format was changed when the Canadian tourists came to Scotland in 1979 and from that tour onwards all games have counted equally to the eventual outcome of the trophy.

Canada regained the trophy on their visit to Scotland in 1998 and all was set up for a battle royal when the Scots visited Canada in 2003 to celebrate the Centenary of the first Tour. Under the Captaincy of Donald Whyte, the President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the East Tour started in Halifax, and the West Tour, captained by Ainsley Smith,started in Winnipeg. Perhaps because of the extra importance of the Centenary, the competition was fierce, and the Scots were delighted to prevail by the small margin of 108 shots – and this after 412 games! They were also thrilled to have the Strathcona Cup temporarily freed from its vault to meet them on their return to Edinburgh!

Somewhat naturally this defeat on home soil stirred the Canadians, made even more important by the fact that 2008 was their Centenary Tour. And how they got revenge! A triumph by 1459 shots to 1133 meant that they avenged the home defeat of 2003 and restored (as they saw it!) the natural balance!

And so to the 2013 Tour, where there will be 61 participants, led by the President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and non-playing Captain Bill Duncan with the remaining 60 tourists for the first time split into three groups of 20 curlers playing on each of the West, Central and East Tours rather than the previous two groups of 28 curlers touring the West and East of Canada. The non-playing Captain, having been a member of the 2003 Centenary Tour is ineligible to play on the 2013 Tour. The Strathcona Cup Tour is still the highlight of most curlers career and there was little difficulty in raising the extra numbers for this Tour, with over 30 applicants unsuccessful!

The West Tour will start in Vancouver and travel east through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, whilst the Central Tour will open their tour in Ottawa, moving on to Quebec and Ontario.  The East will start in Halifax, Nova Scotia and move onto Newfoundland (for the first time!) before returning to Nova Scotia and then on to Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, before all three tours meet up in Burlington for the final matches and the Closing Bonspiel . The 2013 competition will be played over 427 games!

Canada currently have 11 victories to 9 of Scotland but the Strathcona Cup is more than about winning and losing. The very essence of it is to ensure that curlers from Scotland and Canada have the opportunity to meet every five years on one side of the Atlantic or the other to further the friendship between curlers of the two countries and to uphold the traditions of the roarin’ game.

Having said that, the 2013 Tour are determined to regain the Strathcona Cup and are looking forward to the competition, friendship and hospitality for which Canadian curling is justifiably renowned.