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The Long Slide towards Success

For the week of Monday, August 10, 2015

On August 12, 1904, James Kenneth (Ken) Watson was born in Minnedosa, Manitoba. He began curling in his mid-teens and won his first bonspiel at 21. Watson became a talented curling skip or team captain, and a successful promoter of the sport. He was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 1969, and received the Order of Canada in 1975.

Ken Watson performing his famous long slide
© Canada Sports Hall of Fame

A curling team is called a rink and the skip determines its strategy. To play the game, two rinks of four players slide granite stones over an ice surface towards a target area that looks like a bull’s-eye, but in curling is known as a house. Brooms are used to sweep the ice ahead of the stone to influence the stone’s path. At the end of each round, points are given to the stone closest to the centre of the house. The rink with the most points wins.

Watson skipped his Strathcona rink to the Grand Aggregate Championships in the Manitoba Bonspiel in 1939, and again each year from 1942 to 1947. He was the first person to skip his rink to three Brier championships; in 1936, 1942, and 1949. Watson’s rinks won 32 major curling tournaments in total.

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From left: C.H. Scrymgeour, Jimmy Grant, Grant Watson and Ken Watson of the Ken Watson rink showing their extensive trophy collection
© Western Canada Pictorial Index / 1942

His rink’s success can be attributed to talent, but also to Watson’s development of the long slide. Normal footwear worn by curlers prevented a good forward stretch, needed to deliver stones while sliding in a crouched position. Watson changed the sport by removing the rubber sole from the shoe of his leading foot, which allowed him to easily slide much further on the exposed leather under-sole. This innovation was quickly adopted by other curlers. Not only was the long slide pleasing to watch, it also fundamentally changed how the game was played.

Watson popularized curling in Canada. He wrote instructional columns and taught clinics, and his book, Ken Watson on Curling, covered strategies, techniques, and teamwork, and sold an impressive 150,000 copies. Junior curling advanced considerably through Watson’s enthusiasm. A Winnipeg high-school teacher by profession, he established the first high school curling championships in 1940.

The Royal Montreal Curling Club was designated as a National Historic Event in 1953. It is the oldest sports organization in Canada.

2015 is the Year of Sports! Beat the summer heat by reading about other winter sports: The Acme Skate and Canada’s Favourite Pastime, Hockey’s Holy Grail, and Canada’s Oldest Sports Organization in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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