Saskatchewan

Moose Jaw woman, 99, still confident at the curling rink

Moose Jaw resident Mickey Gower, 99, has curled for decades. She no longer plays in a league, but continues to play as a spare and is a familiar face at the rink.

She first experienced curling eight decades ago in her hometown of Central Butte

Mickey Gower has been curling for about 65 years. She says she's spent most of her life in a curling rink. (Kendall Latimer/CBC News)

Muriel "Mickey" Gower was surefooted as she sent a red stone down the curling sheet, using a friend's delivery stick to help with the shot.

A shadow of disappointment broke through the 99-year-old's confident expression as she chided the rock for not spinning enough before grabbing another.

"I like to win, but I'm a good loser," she often says.

She was interrupted by a hug from a curler on the adjacent sheet before throwing her final rock.

She put the her stick away and took rest with her rink friends at the table in the lobby. She beamed as they snacked on cookies and bugged her for rivaling the fame of Mac the Moose.

"Stay out of trouble, young lady," a passing friend warns Mickey as she exits the rink. 

Mickey Gower said she skipped a team for years and years, playing in countless bonspiels. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Gower's has spent decades in Saskatchewan curling rinks, having thrown her first rock 85 years ago in her hometown of Central Butte. She's particularly well-known in Moose Jaw. She's even nominated in the "role model" category for the 2019 Business Women of Moose Jaw Prism Awards, which will be handed out in March. 

She's on call as a spare these days. She's an avid fan of Moose Jaw's curling scene. Gower said she's enjoyed the small-town atmosphere for decades.

"I will never move, except to the cemetery," Gower said, eyes widening before she burst into laughter.

"I had a very good life and I've been very lucky. I've never lacked for food or shelter. I've just lived a normal life."

'Live with grace and effort'

Gower poured a cup of coffee and pointed out the window of her tidy, sunlit bungalow at her snow-covered car.

She still lives on her own. A sign hangs on the kitchen wall: "Grandma's kitchen. Kids eat free." She still drives, but the cold snap killed her battery. 

Mickey Gower, 99, still marvels about the first man to go to the moon. 'I look up at the moon and I think you know — they always said blue cheese — I think how could somebody get up there.' (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Gower credits her humble nature, in part, to the harsh conditions of the Dirty Thirties. She remembers blocking windows with damp sheets meant to protect the home from dust. It truly was a dust bowl, she said, and most days you couldn't see.

"And then of course the poor farmers too: no crops," she said. "Boy it was tough."

They leaned on free, home-grown entertainment, like creating plays and putting on local music shows.

That's also when Gower developed her passion for sports, like skating and playing ball. She curled a little bit in high school with her family's heavy rocks, but then she traded in athletics for nursing at 17. "We didn't have the opportunities that youngsters have nowadays. I probably would have gone on in sports if I had."

She married her "happy-go-lucky" late husband in 1934. He spent about five years with the Royal Canadian Air Force as an instructor, which meant they moved around often. They settled in Saskatchewan after the war.

Gower said she emerged from that time stronger.

"You learn to cope, and still enjoy life along the way."

Their happy life was not without challenges.

They had four children, but lost an 18-year-old son in a car crash. Gower delivered a stillborn child as well. She had to go back to work in her 60s, after about two decades of retirement, because her husband had gone blind. They also took on boarders to help pay the bills.

She was still able to curl, though.

Mickey Gower's husband entered the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939 for about five years. He gave Gower her nickname, and died in 1991 after five decades of marriage. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

"I always remember my mother saying to me if you take on a job: finish it, don't quit," she said.

That's been Gower's approach to life. She's added a bit of her own advice to what her mothers aid:

"At least give things a try. Even if you don't want to continue you should do it gracefully, so live with grace and effort."

Son says mom is his hero

Gower's competitive nature is evident in conversations about curling, crosswords or her biweekly bridge games.

"She's very competitive and so am I," said Gower's 66-year-old son Gregg.

Gregg said his dad was often on the road travelling for work when he was young. He remembers butting heads with his mom.

"I had to learn to be a gracious loser because somebody has to lose and somebody has to win, so as I grew older I got better at it," Gregg said.

Gregg Gower said he's hopeful he can follow in his mother's footsteps when it comes to living a long, happy life. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

He lives about two blocks away from her and still marvels at her independence. He thinks his mom's competitive nature has helped her in life.

"If you're a little bit stubborn you don't give up so easy," he said, adding one of the most important things he learned from her is "you fall off the horse you get back on."

Mickey Gower's dad (left photo) died at 59 because of heart problems, but her mother carried on running the telephone office in Central Butte. Gower's mother moved to Moose Jaw after later remarrying. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Mickey was often quiet about her wins. 

Gregg said she scored a hole-in-one at the Hillcrest Golf Course in Moose Jaw when she was 81, but she was too embarrassed to tell anyone because she used a three wood.

"She just doesn't like to brag," he said, noting she also once curled a "rare" eight-ender.

"I asked her how because that was kind of neat for me," Gregg said. "She went: 'Well, we had all biters around the rings and there was one out of the ring, but the other girl had to go through a hole to draw it in and she came out narrow and bumped it in for eight."

Mickey Gower said one of her favourite things to do is socialize with her many friends and acquaintances. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Gregg said his mom had a heart attack about five years ago, but that didn't slow her down.

"I think that's one of her secrets: she just keeps active. She gets up with the sparrows and by lunchtime she's done what most of us do the whole day," he said.

About the Author

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer began her journalism career in print as a newspaper reporter in Saskatoon and then as a feature writer in Bangkok. She joined CBC Saskatchewan in 2016. Latimer shares stories on web, radio and television. Contact her: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca