Simcoe curlers cheer return of Scottish-Canadian exchange program

Anna Martin had barely crossed the threshold of the Simcoe Curling Club before someone handed the curler from Perth, Scotland, a nip of Scotch.

When she was offered a refill shortly thereafter, Martin began to suspect a plot.

“They try to fill us with as much food and drink so we’ll be absolutely useless on the ice,” she said with a smile. “And we do the same when they come back to us.”

Martin led a group of 16 Scottish curlers in a bonspiel against a team from Simcoe on Thursday in the latest edition of the Scotland Canada Rotary Curling Tour.

The exchange started in 1958 and usually runs every two years, with the host nation switching each time.

The group from Scotland, who spent the day in Norfolk County on Thursday lunching on Lake Erie perch in Port Dover and touring the Simcoe legion after the bonspiel, was supposed to come in 2020, but the pandemic put that plan on ice.

As team captain, Martin raised yet another glass of whisky during the opening ceremony, this time with bonspiel organizers Jim Simpson and Margaret Bancroft of Norfolk.

“We haven’t seen these people for four years and it’s like we just saw each other yesterday,” said Bancroft, who belongs to the Rotary Club of Simcoe.

“Curling’s the reason for (the exchange) and we get a little competitive out there, but it’s really about the friendship.”

Bancroft and Simpson were the two Norfolk Rotarians who joined a 22-person team from Ontario that visited Scotland in 2018.

“Once you’ve had the privilege of doing that, then you get the work of preparing for the visit incoming,” said Simpson, a member of the Rotary Club of Norfolk Sunrise.

“Rotary is all about service, so to me that’s part of the service,” Bancroft added.

Simcoe was the third stop for the visiting curlers, who will play at 16 clubs in just over three weeks, travelling from London to Kingston and as far north as Peterborough, billeting with Rotarians in each community.

“We’re just here for a bit of fun and fellowship,” said Graham Toth, who hosted Canadian curlers on the last two Scottish instalments of the exchange and was delighted to be taking part as a visitor for the first time.

“I’m getting hosted back by a guy I hosted in 2018, so it was nice to see him again,” he said.

Before Thursday’s competition began, curlers applauded the work of icemaker Kevin McLaren and bagpiper Brad Smith of the Paris Port Dover Pipe Band, who led the group onto the ice with a rendition of “Scotland the Brave.”

The biggest cheer was saved for bartender Nancy DeMille, who made sure the bar was well-stocked with her guests’ drink of choice.

“They’re a good bunch of people. Curlers are always fun,” DeMille said. “This is a big deal for our club. It’s a prestigious event.”

Martin and Bancroft both noted the benefits of meeting Rotarians from across the pond and comparing notes on how other chapters of the international service club operate.

The two nations compete for a ceremonial corn broom and three trophies that cross the ocean after the tour to await the next tournament. But more important than the final score is the chance to make memories with fellow Rotarians.

“That’s what makes it really special,” Martin said.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator