Could New Brunswick learn to love 10-pin bowling?

Candlepin bowling was more up the province's alley, but a Quebec company was rolling with plans to spend $45 million to build 16 new bowling centres in 1995.

Quebec company promised 16 bowling palaces, hundreds of jobs in 1995

A Quebec company announces it will invest $45 million to build 16 state-of-the-art bowling palaces in the province in 1995. 2:00

Jobs. Investment. Bowling. Ten-pin bowling! 

In January 1995, CBC's The National brought viewers news of a Quebec company's proposed venture to invest $45 million in the province next door by building 16 new 10-pin "bowling centres" in New Brunswick.

"It's one more sign that New Brunswick is on a roll," said host Peter Mansbridge, introducing a report by correspondent Kas Roussy. 

The province stood to gain hundreds of jobs with the initiative, which followed the success of Premier Frank McKenna in attracting UPS administration jobs to the province a week earlier.

'Bigger than basketball'

Sixteen 10-pin bowling centres like the sketch shown above were proposed for New Brunswick. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

Company backers were certain they had struck upon a successful plan.

"It's bigger than football. It's bigger than basketball. It's bigger than baseball or hockey," said Jean Labonte, a CBM Group spokesman, at a splashy launch in Fredericton.

Paul Lavoie, also of CBM Group, thought New Brunswick was ready for 10-pin bowling, with "the Fred Flintstone-type ball."  

"Any time somebody on TV went bowling, they went 10-pin bowling," he said.

State-of-the-art scoring

No more pencils and paper, or trying to remember how to mark a strike: the "high-tech" bowling centres had automatic scoring. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

The "high-tech" facilities would leave the Stone Age behind, though. 

"The bowling centres will be completely computer interactive, with automatic scoring and computerized instant replay," said Roussy, as a company video showed what the centres would look like.

Market research indicated New Brunswickers were ready for 10-pin bowling. But some residents weren't so sure.

Candlepins hard to upset

Candlepin bowling used a much smaller ball and a different type of pin, and was much more popular than 10-pin bowling. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

The province had just four bowling centres, according to Roussy.

Most popular was a century-old variation of the game, rarely seen outside the Maritimes, called candlepin bowling.

It used a "much smaller ball," said Roussy, who then picked one up to demonstrate.

There were still 10 pins, but they more closely resembled cylinders than the distinctive shaped bowling pins familiar to any viewer of The Big Lebowski.

'Why would I do that?'

Candlepin bowler Burton Springer was disdainful of 10-pin bowling, saying the heavy ball could blow out his shoulder. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

Burton Springer was not going to be a likely convert.

"Why would I do that?" he asked, with a dramatic grimace and a shake of his head. "I'm going to blow my shoulder out? Take a heart attack?"    

In July 1995, New Brunswick's Telegraph-Journal newspaper reported that the project was already "coming unravelled" at the launch shown in Roussy's report.

"At the last, last minute before the press conference, we were slapped with another $5 million in extra fees," Labonte told the paper.

He said the Toronto brokerage that arranged the financing had demanded its commission on the "whole package." 

Labonte scrambled to find more investors, but that failed. A newly formed company, Tek Sports, bought the concept from him and planned to see it through.

According to Bowl Canada, an association of bowling alley operators, there are currently three locations in New Brunswick offering 10-pin bowling.