Local curlers made history in Manitoba

Joey Payeur

The impact of the sporting triumph of a group of fresh-faced Fort Frances curlers shook the foundations of youth curling in a whole other province.
Back in 1958, the curling quartet of skip Peter McLeod, third Leonard McQuarrie, second Art Berglund, and lead Bob Gratton turned amateur athletics in Manitoba on its ear with a legendary championship run that celebrates its 60th anniversary next year.
The local rink entered the 128-team Manitoba Schoolboys Curling Championships and took the train home from Winnipeg carrying the trophy after going through the event undefeated.
That feat also earned them a spot in this year’s induction class for the Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’d almost forgotten my curling years,” chuckled McLeod, a septuagenarian who became an accomplished doctor in Montreal, where he currently is living in retirement.
“It was a very positive thing to experience and a real pleasure that my curling team challenged for it,” he noted.
McLeod and his team weren’t shooting for the moon when they began the competition, but things changed after some early success during the week.
“All of a sudden, we were winning non-stop . . . 10, 11, 12 in a row,” he recalled.
“Halfway through, we said to ourselves, ‘Hmm, this is getting serious.'”
The rink also found itself falling out of favour with those on hand to witness their gradual march to glory.
“Suddenly, we noticed we were not very popular because we weren’t Manitobans,” laughed McLeod.
“We were not very well-liked at all.”
The team was so focused on piling up the wins, it was oblivious to the excitement it was creating back home.
“They were broadcasting the games on the radio in [Fort],” said McLeod.
“We had no idea that people in Fort Frances were following us until a couple of people in Winnipeg with Fort Frances roots came up to congratulate us after one of our games.”
The mounting pressure to keep their streak alive started to become more of a factor for the McLeod foursome.
“It was a lot to handle for young guys,” the former skip admitted.
“We evolved from small-town boys who felt overwhelmed and progressed to where people were critiquing us more and more,” he noted.
“But that just made us come together more closely.”
The local rink eventually made it to the championship game against a Winnipeg team made up partially of siblings.
“We really beat them handily,” McLeod said, though he couldn’t remember the final score.
“When it was over, we threw our brooms in the air and hugged each other, being very surprised because most people probably didn’t think we had much of a chance going in,” McLeod added.
Those overseeing the event were far less pleased–so much so that they brought in a rule for the 1959 championship banning all teams from outside Manitoba.
McLeod’s team went on to the national schoolboy championship in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where they did not win it all and for which McLeod could not specifically remember their results.
“I think we finished middle of the pack and won four or five games,” he guessed.
But an everlasting bond was created between the foursome, although McLeod admitted the team is not in contact with each other very frequently.
He also still has a fond place in his heart for Fort Frances.
“It was very special,” McLeod remarked. “I love that town and I hope I can get back for the induction.
“I’ve been very fortunate over the years of winning various things, but that was one of the most important things to me,” he added.
(Editor’s note: The second Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place Saturday, Aug. 12 at La Place Rendez-Vous.
Tickets cost $35 each, which are available at Taggs/Source for Sports or by contacting Barb or Terry Ogden at 274-5195 or missdaisymae@shaw.ca
Those interested in attending are urged to buy their tickets soon so organizers can more accurately know how many meals will be required).