Calgary

90 years of curling history at risk as Alberta village faces big rink repair bill

It’s a long, cold winter in Rockyford, Alta., without curling, a mainstay of village life here for as long as anyone can remember.

Village of 375 needs help to keep the sport, community alive

Randy Melcher, president of Rockyford Curling Club for more than 30 years. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

It's a long, cold winter in Rockyford, Alta., without curling, a mainstay of village life here for as long as anyone can remember.

Rockyford, an hour northeast of Calgary, will soon celebrate its centenary. Ninety of those 100 years have involved curling. But for the first time the lights are off at the rink and this year's season is cancelled.

"Curling keeps the community together," said Randy Melcher, who's been president of Rockyford Curling Club for more than 30 years. 

Curling rocks sit unused next to the damaged rink surface in Rockyford, Alta. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

As well as the important social role it plays for residents, curling connects the community to its rural neighbours.

"I started when I was 10 years old. Rockyford used to have 32 teams, you'd come curl the men's bonspiel and you'd curl all afternoon," said Melcher.

Not any more.

The problem lies under the rink. The cement floor was built on soft, boggy ground on top of wood pilings and beams driven into the earth, which have rotted over the years, leaving the the rink slowly sinking to the point where it's now unusable, and with a big repair bill to fix it.

The rink surface has sunk as much as three inches in some spots, forcing the club to close until it can make major repairs. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"We're looking at about $380,000 right now. We need to take out the old floor completely, dig it all out down several feet and fill it back in, pack it and then cement the floor and hook the plant back up," said Melcher.

He's hoping the buzz around the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and people following Canada's high-profile curling teams on TV will help boost their cause, along with donations. The cause is also getting shared on social media as people with ties to the village try to get the word out that the rink is under threat.

"Curling goes back here 90 years. In this building and and in any other curling rink in the area you're going to see ghosts of people of yesteryear. Rinks connect our communities together," said resident and curler Bill Goodfellow.

Resident Bill Goodfellow says curling keeps him active and connected to he community. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"The curling club offered me what I needed: exercise, to meet people and to feel part of the community," he said. "This is part of being Canadian, coming out and getting into sports at any age, at any level is important."

The curling club just applied for a grant from the province to help with the repair bill and the municipality has also offered to help by offering a short-term loan.

"The rink here is important, it's a very important part of a community," said Rockyford's mayor Darcy Burke. 

"It's an attribute of a community and I don't think there's any consideration of it not existing here," he said.

Mayor of Rockyford Darcy Burke. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The club will now wait to hear back from the province to see if its application for a grant is successful. In the meantime it's also soliciting private donations through a GoFundMe page and looking into the possibility of corporate sponsorship. 

"If we can get a grant from the Alberta government I think we can make a go of it," said Randy Melcher. 

"We're rural town Alberta, we get things done. When something needs doing the community pitches in and we get her done," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is focused on the city’s diverse northeast quadrant and sharing stories from under-reported communities. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at Dan.Mcgarvey@cbc.ca.

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