Ryerson curling: The forgotten past

Bradley Sumner still curls today at the Royal Kingston Curling Club. Bradley Sumner

Bradley Sumner still curls today at the Royal Kingston Curling Club.
Bradley Sumner

Like most competitive curlers, life got in the way for Bradley Sumner. A successful career in financial planning, getting married, having kids — all things that lead even the top curlers to walk away today. He could have continued for the fun of it, but he wasn’t interested in the camaraderie.  If he couldn’t put the time in, it wasn’t worth it.

“I didn’t curl for about 30 years,” he says.

“I decided to come back a couple years ago for the exercise and I was surprised that my old moves were still there. When I get on the ice, people can see that I’ve curled before. Then we get into a conversation about it.”

It’s in this conversation that members of the Royal Kingston Curling Club learn about Sumner’s past as a hotel administration student at the underwhelming and unappreciated Ryerson Institute of Technology. What surprises them, however, is learning about his 1961 Ontario Intercollegiate Athletic Association (OIAA) curling championship — the second of back-to-back curling titles that cemented him and the school as a curling powerhouse in the early ’60s.

Sumner’s road to Gould Street didn’t begin in as much glory as it would end in. He had been a student at the University of Alberta before failing his junior year.

“As luck, or bad luck, would have it, if you didn’t pass, you weren’t allowed to apply to any other universities in Canada,” he says.

“I wanted to continue studying somewhere so I got together a bunch of catalogues, and through my family, Ryerson (which didn’t have university status at the time) popped up as a good alternative.”

When he got to Toronto, Sumner began curling at the Tam O’Shanter Curling Club where he met Tom Howat, another Ryerson student. After talking and realizing they both had the same idea, they made the decision to form the two teams required to compete at the provincial championships. Sumner would skip a team with Jack Ward, Lorne Ogmundson and Jim Lusby while Howat would play second on the other rink alongside Grant Bailey, Dave Brown and Don Mackey.

With little practice and no support from the school, Ryerson won back-to-back Mutual Life trophies — with the second coming over their inner-city rival Varsity Blues.

As surprising as it may seem to members of the Ryerson community, this marked only the beginning of a historic curling legacy at the school. Howat would finish runner-up at the 1966 Brier where he represented Nova Scotia. The most notable, and surprising, alumnus is two-time world champion Ed Werenich,  who curled for Ryerson in 1969 as a business student.

Sumner, Howat and Werenich were all part of a larger movement of western Canadian curlers moving to Ontario in the ’50s and ’60s. While the game was booming out West, the lure of secure jobs in eastern Canada brought the competitiveness, experience and interest of the game to Toronto.

In 1962, the owner of the Mutual Street Arena spent $3 million to renovate the old home of the Toronto Maple Leafs into a three-floor parking garage, roller rink and 24-sheet curling facility. Renamed The Terrace, it was located only a few blocks from campus and Ryerson faculty, staff and students were casual members who would curl in league games away from class.

“It shows you the connection Toronto and Ryerson had to the game,” says Sumner.

“At the same time, we didn’t get much attention for our win in Kitchener (in the early ’60s). I think The Ryersonian wrote something about us. The school was more into basketball, hockey and baseball. We really just did it for our own satisfaction.”

Not much has changed in the 52 years since. The OIAA lasted until 1971 when it was dissolved as a competing league. Since then, Ryerson has been a member of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) where it is still searching for its first team title. While the school still technically recognizes Sumner’s curling championships, there’s no visual evidence on campus. The only avenue for the teams to be honoured is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“If someone wants to nominate them, I think they would eventually get in,” says Ivan Joseph, director of athletics at Ryerson.

“A committee will meet and discuss any nominations. If they deem the nominee to be honourable, they would get a letter in the mail inviting them to the Hall of Fame celebration.”

Today, the interest in curling that blossomed at Mutual and Dundas Streets no longer remains. Ryerson is one of only four schools in the OUA without a curling program. While universities continue to produce world-class curlers — like former Laurier Golden Hawks John Morris and Brent Laing — there’s been no interest expressed to the athletic department in recent years. At the club level, no funding is provided by the university, which makes it difficult for students to finance expensive ice rentals. In addition, varsity teams are only partially funded if they place in the top half against other universities.

Despite this, Ryerson remains a part of the sport’s recent growth. With the backing of a Ryerson graduate, Sportsnet created an events division that would allow the country’s No. 2 sports network to broadcast Grand Slam of Curling events.

While a student in the late  ’80s, George Karrys looked briefly into reviving the school’s curling program before deciding to focus on his studies in journalism. Nine years after graduation, he would go on to win the silver medal in curling at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and is now the owner of The Curling News.

“I went to the top guys at Rogers media a few years ago,” he says.

“I said, ‘you’ve bought the Jays, you’re buying the Leafs and you’re in a media war with TSN. You should get back into curling.’ So I consulted with them for the next year and a half and just made it happen.”

Ryerson’s influence on the curling world both past and present is coming full circle with the return of high-level competition to the city. The Players’ Championship will take place at the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the end of April when Sportsnet will broadcast all six days of the event. While the sport isn’t a mainstay among the university community anymore, the Players’ presents an opportunity to relive and honour the curling talent that is a part of Ryerson’s history.

“I don’t know what they have planned for opening ceremonies, but I’m thinking of calling the event managers up to invite (Ed) Werenich and Bradley (Sumner) to come in last minute,” says Karrys.

“I know the organizers really well and it’s tradition to honour curlers where the event is being held.”

The 1960-61 championship teams went their separate ways and lost touch after graduation. As for Sumner, his slide isn’t as long or as low as it used to be, but he continues to be an active member of the curling community. He doesn’t hold any hard feelings about the past and is open to returning to the place that witnessed the height of his curling career.

“I think it would be good to get us all back together and see who they could find,” he says.

“I’d be willing to donate any championship letters or awards I still have to the school. They really have no use to me anymore. I think it would be a revelation to them in many ways.”

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