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Open House: Canada and the Magic of Curling

by Scott Russell

If it seems as if there’s less of a sense of community among Canadians because of technology, regionalism, or urban/rural divisions, author and CBC broadcaster Scott Russell argues in Open House that the curling club is the de facto town hall that unites millions of Canadians. Curling is the perfect game for a country that’s sparsely populated and frozen over for about six months of every year. It draws people together, fires the competitive juices, gives Canadians a modest athletic workout, and, perhaps most important, provides a reason to have a couple of cold beverages.

Russell journeys to several curling clubs from B.C. to the heart of the Prairies to the Maritimes and points in between to talk curling strategy, ice-making, and club history with the locals. It’s a sentimental journey, to be sure, filled with colourful characters and sepia-toned photographs on wood-panelled walls, but it’s difficult to argue with Russell’s thesis.

Curling does bring men and women, young and old, white collar and blue collar together as equals. It’s a social game that has none of the elitism or expense of, say, golf. It’s a team game where opponents shake hands before and after competing. And even if they’re world champions, Russell points out, curlers have day jobs. The game’s the thing. It’s about bragging rights and the spirit of amateur sport.

Open House also covers the men’s national championship, known as the Brier, up-and-coming Canadian curlers such as 2001 world junior champion Suzanne Gaudet, the 2002 Olympic trials and the tournament itself, and the restorative effects of curling on a slumping National Hockey League team coached by a Manitoba native who knows his way around rocks and brooms.

Having covered pro hockey and its attendant millionaire players, agents, front office types, and self-absorbed parents of the Next Big Thing for several years, Russell takes a deliberate step away from hockey’s tainted innocence with Open House. He admires curling’s etiquette, respect, self-policing, and tradition, qualities that are sometimes sorely lacking in our other national obsession. The book is in many ways Russell’s absorbing reassessment of his own assumptions about athletes and sport.