Road To The Olympic Games


Koe brothers renew sibling rivalry at Brier

Team Alberta skip Kevin Koe will look to remain undefeated against his brother, Northwest Territories skip Jamie, when they meet on Saturday night at the national curling championship in Brandon, Man.

Kevin and Jamie Koe set to battle each other Saturday night in Brandon

Alberta skip Kevin Koe, right, and brother and N.W.T. skip Jamie Koe play against one another during an afternoon page playoff draw at the Brier in Saskatoon, Sask. in 2012. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

BRANDON, Man. — When Jamie Koe steps onto the Brier ice in Brandon, Man. on Saturday night for his first game, he's going to be attempting to do something he's never done before — beat his older brother at the national curling championship.

It's a brotherly curling battle fans across the country revel in year-after-year.

Tonight marks the eighth instalment of the Koe brother granite battle.

The closest Jamie has ever come to knocking off Kevin came three years ago in Ottawa at the 2016 Brier, an extra end loss.

There's no question Kevin's teams have been far superior to Jamie's foursomes from the Northwest Territories over the years but every time they play it's competitive and dramatic.

"It's always fun," Kevin says. "When I get here I always hope my brother is here too. It's good for the family."

For as entertaining and enjoyable it may be for the fans, it's stressful for the brothers.

"It's enjoyable to be out there with him, but at the end of the day someone has to lose," Jamie says. "It's a tough game." Kevin shares his brother's stress.

"I don't like playing him in particular because one of us has to lose," says Kevin. "I want to see him do well and us do well."

Family affair 

In a lot of ways, the Koes have become Canada's curling family.

Kevin, a three-time Brier champion and two-time world champion who is now based in Calgary, competed in his first Olympics last February. 

Kevin could make some history this week with a Brier win. It would make him just the fourth skip to win four Canadian men's championships; Randy Ferbey, Kevin Martin and Ernie Richardson are the others.

His brother and sister, Jamie and Kerry, are both elite curlers who have represented the Northwest Territories at the Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for years. 

Their parents, Fred and Lynda, who are now divorced, introduced their kids to the sport early on.

Fred Koe prepares to cheer on his son Kevin at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. (Devin Heroux)

"I think at about eight or nine, Kevin really took it up. He always wanted to throw rocks," Fred says. "I always told him, before we throw rocks, we have to scrape and pebble the ice. We'd spend hours there."

Fred is unable to attend this year's Brier because of recent knee surgery. Lynda is in Brandon watching this week. So too is Kerry Galusha. She couldn't miss watching her brothers battle it out again on the Brier ice.

"I don't know how much longer Jamie is going to curl for," Kerry said. "I don't know if this is ever going to happen again."

Brier surprise for Kerry's daughter

And there's another family member in the crowd watching Jamie and Kevin this weekend. Kerry surprised her daughter, Sydney, Friday morning by waking her up and telling her they were getting on a plane from Yellowknife and traveling to Brandon for the weekend. 

"I woke her up at 3am and she was so excited," Kerry said. "Sydney has never seen her uncle Kevin curl live before."

They've been on the ice with Jamie before at the Yellowknife Curling Club. That's home for the family. But Kevin left to Calgary years ago and this marks the first time Sydney will watch him in person. 

"It's awesome," Sydney said. "Jamie is good but uncle Kevin is probably better. I'm cheering for Jamie because he's from our territory. I'm proud of that."

Northern Pride

There is certainly a pride this family exudes being from the north. Fred Koe is a residential school survivor. Not long after he started curling, he was ripped away from his family and placed in a residential school for 10 months.

"I was 11 years old and forced to move from Aklavik to Inuvik and spend a year in a residential school. It's pretty well documented that you lose your family. You're there for 10 months and come home for two months in the summer and try to reacquaint yourself with your family," Fred said. 

Fred still struggles to talk about the experience, and is not comfortable discussing details, but says it turned his life upside down. It was the end of his hunting and trapping life, and the beginning of years of hurt.

Fred didn't want what happened to him, that feeling of being cut off from his family after his residential school experience, to happen with his kids. He wanted to be the best father he could be, and found a way to connect with his three children through the sport that gave him such joy when he was young.

"I always knew where my kids were because they were involved in sports and usually in the curling rink," he says.

His kids are all together again in a curling rink all these years later. And now so is Sydney. The next generation of curlers from the north ready and waiting — just not before another Koe brother battle hits the ice. 

"It never ends for our family," Kerry said. "There's always something going on. Sydney is excited to be here and I'm so excited to be here with her."

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