Curling’s roots in Minnesota “go back to [the state’s] territorial days when settlers from Canada and the British Isles brought their stones, brooms, and the game they loved to their prairie homes,” according to the official history of the St. Paul Curling Club, “100 Roaring Years of Selby Avenue.” Transplanted Scots, in fact, are said to have played matches on the Maple River in Mapleton, south of Mankato, during the winter of 1856–57, using wooden blocks and simple straw brooms.
It’s possible curling migrated to St. Paul as early as the 1870s, but no documentation exists until Christmas Day 1885, when the then-brand new St. Paul Curling Club took to the icy Mississippi River near Raspberry Island for the city’s first official curling match. Weeks later, in January 1886, teams from Canada and across the upper Midwest competed at the state’s inaugural Winter Carnival. There they played in the shadow of Minnesota’s first Ice Palace. Almost ever since, curling tournaments, or “bonspiels,” have been a staple of King Boreas’ annual festival.
Historical curling photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Curling enjoyed another boost when, in 1893, a journalist from Harper’s Weekly attended the Northwestern Curling Association’s first-ever Winter Bonspiel on the Mississippi River, again near Raspberry Island. Hundreds of spectators reportedly lined the riverbanks to watch matches on 25 outdoor sheets and five indoor ones. With that kind of turnout, it was apparent that curling “reached beyond the city’s elite and was enjoyed by men of all income levels,” again according to the St. Paul Curling Club’s official history.
Even in curling’s earliest days in Minnesota, curlers were known as a good-natured group who welcomed potential members warmly. That reputation survives today, especially at the St. Paul Curling Club, located since 1912 at 470 Selby Avenue. Not only is it Minnesota’s oldest surviving club, but with 1,200 members, it also boasts the largest membership of any club in the U.S.
One of curling’s greatest traditions, which no doubt explains both the St. Paul Club’s longevity and the popularity of new clubs throughout the state, is for winning curlers to buy a round of beers for their opponents after a match. A custom like that ought to make any novice, no matter how unskilled, eager to return.
The new Chaska club doesn’t have the long history enjoyed and celebrated by curlers in St. Paul and other such established clubs. But by drawing on the game’s wide appeal and reputation for good sportsmanship, it’s already laying the foundation for future generations of curlers in Minnesota. And given the initial interest shown by sportsmen and women in the West Metro, it would seem there will be no lack of bonspiels in the years to come.
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