This article is from the Highlands Historical Society Newsletter Volume 7, No.1, Winter/Spring 1996
It’s 75 years for our Thistle – Edmonton’s Oldest
-by Don and Anne McIntyre, Thistle Club Historians
It was the talk of the town back in December of 1920. The brash new city was to have two new curling clubs, and a little friendly competition was even extended to the opening. A group of men from the Highlands and Norwood managed to throw the first rock in the new Thistle a week before the folks across the river in the Strathcona area launched the Granite.
The first club was just four sheets of ice in the machinery hall at the Exhibition Grounds under the planned grandstand. Planning had begun that spring, when a group got together at Stirrock’s store on March 26, 1920, to begin the process of forming a club and finding a suitable site for a building There was talk of it becoming a curling and bowling club, but the bowling never materialized.
The first president was Alderman McClellan, with Highlands developer W.J. Magrath made honourary president. The club hired Scotty Sutherland for $100 a month to be both caretaker and icemaker. Men paid $15 in annual dues, with the “ladies” rate set at $3.
It cost the club about $500 to install the equipment and build a waiting room. The rocks were very expensive, purchased second-hand for up to $50 a pair.
The Thistle ladies started organizing their club when the rink opened. They were first invited over so the men could “assist the ladies in their game”. They started regular curling a few weeks later.
With men and women together the club’s social life picked up.
Moccasin dances on the ice were often held at the start of the season and a mixed bonspiel ended the season. A six-piece orchestra charged $23 in 1921 for the moccasin dance, and the ladies provided a cup of tea or coffee with a sandwich for ten cents.
During the Second World War the space was taken over by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The members continued to curl, but in reduced numbers, at the Edmonton Curling Club and later at the Alberta Avenue Curling Club. In 1945 male and female members returned to the Exhibition grounds.
Edmonton was in a construction boom after the war, and soon plans were afoot to replace the grandstands. And that meant that by 1952 the machinery building had to go.
A dedicated group of Thistle directors had already set the wheels in motion to find a new home. Mayor Bill Hawrelak, himself a Thistle curler, turned the first sod at the present location on 114th Avenue and 69th Street in early August 1952.
In October hurricane-force winds blew down a considerable portion of the concrete block walls, roof trusses and posts. Then a plumbers’ strike in November delayed some work. Still, curlers managed to hit the ice in the new rink on December 20.
The $85,000 eight-sheet building was state of the art, but still had natural ice. When an artificial ice system was installed in 1954 curlers were no longer at the mercy of the weather.
After more than 30 years the Thistle Curling Club was back close to the same spot where the Highlands Curling Club had originated in 1912.
The club was always a sociable place. In 1974 they obtained a liquor license, and were able to offer beer for 50 cents and cocktails for $1 in their new lounge.
In 1984 drainage problems caused a build-up of water over the summer, and the roof collapsed in September. The season was only delayed by a week.
This year the club finished installation of large mirrors across the whole back wall. It is now the only club in the city to offer excellent visibility of the far house from both ends of the rink.
The club also bought its first set of new rocks this year. In 1952 they purchased used ones from the Sportex on the Exhibition grounds to replace their original used sets from 1920.
Club members and guests enjoyed a day of celebration and fun on December 9.
(Historical note: Although its location changed, the Thistle is the oldest curling club still operating in the city. The Granite is older (only) if you’re looking for the club that has remained longest in its original location. The original Highlands Curling club, opened in 1912, burned down in 1917. The Magrath and Ash trophies from that club were loaned to the Thistle club in 1921. And they are still at the Thistle.)