The Howard brothers, Russ and Glenn, helped put Midland and Penetang on the map as they represented the region while winning provincial, national and world curling crowns.
The history of the sport runs deep in the area, prompting some to envision a time when the region is hailed as the ‘curling capital of the world.’
At a recent regular meeting of council, Penetanguishene Curling Club president Stu Spires outlined that vision as he provided an update on the membership, financial position, and opportunities for the historic club.
“Back in the 2019-2020 season, we had 160 adult members,” Spires explained in his presentation, calculating that Penetanguishene members amounted to roughly 65 per cent, Midland for around 20 per cent, and the remainder from elsewhere.
“We returned last season, 2022-2023, with about 130 adult members. A quick look would say we had 30 less; the rest of the story is that we had 30 new people, so from the three years previous we actually lost 60.”
Spires attributed the decline to the difficulties suffered since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but was quick to note that his impression from the community was “a post-COVID uptick” of general interest from people becoming members.
Following a reminder that the club was a fully-volunteer run organization, Spires stated that financially: “We’re currently surviving and our goal going forward is to thrive.”
“Between calendar year 2020 and 2023, we’ve had just about $370,000 invested in the building,” said Spires. He noted Ontario Trillium Foundation funding for ice-making equipment, club investment, and town assistance as contributors, but pointed out that upcoming roof repairs would need to be addressed, and the club’s Canada Emergency Business Account would need to be repaid at the year’s end.
“It was actually pretty good news that at 130 members we were able to make money last year – not a lot, but we didn’t lose money,” said Spires.
When looking at the future, Spires once again brought up the preliminary discussions between the Midland and Penetanguishene clubs as a cost-saving measure of roughly $130,000 between the two clubs.
“This is not a new initiative, this has been undertaken multiple times in the past; it hasn’t gone very far,” Spires admitted.
“Our vision, and this might sound a little crazy when you first hear about it, but we’d like to think that Penetang-Midland can become the curling capital of the world,” he said, adding that with prominent curlers like the Howards in its history, “as we look forward to the town of Penetang reaching out there to have an aggressive brand and looking to be successful in the future, we’d like to think that curling could be a piece of that story.”
Coun. Suzanne Marchand expressed interest in Spires’ claim to make the town a global capital for curling, saying, “I do like the idea of being a mecca.” As the club location at 8 Owen St. overlooks Penetanguishene Bay, Marchand asked about having the bar and patio more accessible year-round, but was reminded that the organization was volunteer-driven which presented an obstacle.
Following a question from Coun. George Vadeboncoeur about the efficiencies of the installed dehumidifier and other equipment since last year, Spires explained that utility costs were down with less maintenance and no issues in that regard.
Mayor Doug Rawson brought up the reminder that the 2015 Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts was hosted by Penetanguishene as a last-minute alternate location, and its benefit to the economy and town branding was well regarded. He then asked Spires what it would take to have the town on that global level from what was being pitched.
Spires replied; “It’s my belief that step one needs to be that we combine the curling clubs, and then as we work that process and get curling thriving and get some significant income flowing, we can look forward to what it takes and begin the planning process.
“We’d like to think that those Pinty’s events that are on TV throughout the year – we’d like to host one,” Spires added.
In conversation with MidlandToday, Rawson that the focus of the town becoming a global pinpoint for curling would still need to be filtered through a regional lens.
“If you think about North Simcoe, we have to look at the way we deliver recreational services across North Simcoe differently. Because we all can’t afford curling rinks or arenas, pickleball or tennis. I think we’re getting to a point where we just can’t keep affording to do this,” said Rawson.
“Does that mean, maybe, our town has curling, and another town has a pickleball centre, and another town has a baseball centre? I don’t know. But I think we have to look at it from that lens, and go: what delivers value to our end user?” he asked.
Rawson added that if the local clubs could realize the logistics, organizational structure, and what support would be required, he would do what he could to support their efforts.
The slideshow presentation from the Penetanguishene Curling Club can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.
Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.
By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 18, 2023