Pandemic or not, Dawson City's bonspiel rocks on

·3 min read
Members of Dawson City's original curling club played outside in April 1900.
Members of Dawson City's original curling club played outside in April 1900.

(Library and Archives Canada - image credit)

Dawson City's annual curling bonspiel that began on Thursday looks a bit different this year, courtesy of COVID-19 precautions that limit the event to local teams only.

But it's not the first time in 122 years that the bonspiel has changed.

The first recorded curling games in Dawson City took place on a frozen slough that used to run through the south end of town, said Alex Somerville, executive director of the Dawson City Museum. It was first organized in the Klondike by one Col. Rourke, whose first name is not recorded.

The first recorded curling games in Dawson City took place on a frozen slough that used to run through the south end of town, says Dawson City Museum's Alex Somerville.
The first recorded curling games in Dawson City took place on a frozen slough that used to run through the south end of town, says Dawson City Museum's Alex Somerville.

The first recorded curling games in Dawson City took place on a frozen slough that used to run through the south end of town, says Dawson City Museum's Alex Somerville.

"It was outdoors, you couldn't play after dark, it was deeply amateurish," Somerville said. "But the enthusiasm locally for competitive club curling propelled it, in the space of less than a decade, to positively dominating Dawson's largest indoor space."

That was the first Dawson City Amateur Athletic Association. A photo of the old building taken in 1909 includes 120 members. At the time, Dawson City was in the midst of a major population crash due to the decline of gold mining. The 1911 census listed Dawson's population as 615.

"It was the sort of thing that helped people socialize after work in a time when maybe saloons were embroiled in serious political controversy against the temperance movement," Somerville said. "Gentlemen would relax after work on the curling ice."

It wasn't until the 1920s that there was a separate curling league for women, Somerville said. These days, of course, the sport is fully co-ed.

'I decided just to keep continuity'

Akio Saito, president of the Dawson City Curling Club, said he's been curling in the Klondike since 1980. As long as he's been in town, the association has never missed a bonspiel, although the event did have to relocate back outside in the early 2000s.

That's when the Art and Margaret Fry Recreation Centre, which includes the current curling rink, was under construction. So curlers set up sheets on the frozen Yukon River.

"It was fresh, but with the sun shining and things, I mean, we were lucky," Saito said.

He said the curling association has had to adjust this year's edition of the bonspiel to conform with pandemic restrictions. There will be no closing banquet, no teams from outside Dawson, and curlers must limit the time they spend in the rink.

But Saito said it's important to keep the bonspiel going.

"I decided just to keep continuity and not to break the string of bonspiels that we've been able to keep together," he said. "It would be kind of a shame to lose a year."

The event runs until Sunday.

Dozens of members of the Dawson City Curling Club pose for a photo in March 1909.
Dozens of members of the Dawson City Curling Club pose for a photo in March 1909.

Dozens of members of the Dawson City Curling Club pose for a photo in March 1909.