The following newspaper article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Thursday, May 17, 2007:

Curling clubs join forces
Valour Road merges with Thistle at 280 Burnell St.

Thu May 17 2007

By Ashley Prest

VALOUR ROAD Curling Club has come to the end of the road and has merged with Thistle Curling Club.

Effective immediately, the two clubs have become one under the Thistle name and will continue to play in the building that used to bear the Valour Road name at 280 Burnell St.  The building has been home to Valour Road C.C. since December 1948.

Valour Road C.C. president Graham Grimes said his club sold the building two years ago to curling entrepreneur Arnold Asham and the club continued to exist under the same name.  At a meeting last week, it was decided "the writing was on the wall."

"It's unfortunate but the membership felt it was time, we had been growing smaller year by year, and it just seemed to us that if we wanted to keep curling at 280 Burnell, supporting Thistle was the right thing to do," said Grimes.  "We encouraged all of our members to join Thistle Curling Club (this fall) so everybody will still be curling in the same building, in the same league, at the same time, but instead of it being called Valour Road Curling League, it will now be called Thistle Curling League."

It costs $1,500 to be a charter member of the Manitoba Curling Association, which is not cost-effective for a club with a small membership.  Now, about 110 active members of Valour Road C.C. in the men's and senior men's leagues will join forces with about 120 Thistle members.

"We've been discussing this for some time. It's good for us, it's good for them, it's good for everybody," said Harvey Swain, Thistle secretary and past-president.  He said the Thistle club, founded on Oct. 27, 1887, is among Winnipeg's oldest curling clubs, so members were motivated to keep the name.  "We're definitely going to be better together."

Grimes said the Valour Road Past Presidents' Association will continue to direct any remaining club business and to manage its memorabilia.  He said the Thistle people have already offered space for a Valour Road historic display.  Former Valour Road members will register for MCA competitor cards through Thistle.

"Thistle has the best chance to be successful in that building so there was no point in two clubs trying to make a go of it when one strong club had a much better chance," Grimes said.  "Most of the fellows who were curling last year say they're coming back so not much has really changed except we're going to be members of Thistle Curling Club."

Grimes said the Valour Road club sold to Asham because they couldn't keep the building operating themselves.  The building needs major refurbishments, such as an upgraded ice plant and insulation, and will get that with the strength of membership under the Thistle/Valour Road merger.

MCA executive director Ian Staniloff called the merger of the two clubs "a fabulous idea."

"They've got a good strong base of membership in both clubs that are now binding together under the Thistle name, which is one of the original member clubs of the MCA," he said.  "Hopefully it will form one good, strong club and the membership will make it grow and thrive."

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Making of a merger

* June 1, 2005: Valour Road Curling Club turns over building at 280 Burnell St. to Arnold Asham under a management contract, building is renamed Asham Arena, Inc. Valour Road C.C. continues to operate by renting ice.

* June 10, 2006: Thistle Curling Club is destroyed by arson fire; Thistle members curl out of Asham Arena.

* April 1, 2007: management contract expires, sale of building at 280 Burnell St. to Asham is finalized

* May 1, 2007: Asham sells building at 280 Burnell St. to Thistle C.C., which used insurance money from the fire to purchase it.

* May 9, 2007: At a general meeting, Valour Road C.C. members decide to join Thistle C.C. and play out of the building at 280 Burnell St.

-- Prest


© 2007 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

The following newspaper article appeared in the Winnipeg Sun on Wednesday, March 21, 2007:

Thistle rises from ashes
Burned club reborn with purchase of Asham Arena
By JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

The Thistle Curling Club has risen from the ashes to take over Asham Arena.  Just as the Sun indicated it was planning to do in January, the Thistle membership used the insurance money after a fire destroyed its old club to purchase the facility from Arnold Asham for about $250,000.

"It's an extremely proud moment," Thistle president Fred Sutton said yesterday.  "You know, it's not even a year since that tragic fire ... and we've been able to come this far in securing a new home for the Thistle Curling Club."

The club did not get sufficient funds to rebuild but it did get enough to pay Asham and to cover the costs of such planned renovations as a new ice plant, re-working the rocks and upgrading the insulation on the south wall before next season.  Garth Reimer will be the icemaker and the club hopes to lure back members who went elsewhere last winter.  However, about 20 men's teams did make the move and co-existed under the Asham roof with Valour Road members.  Although the club will be re-named the Thistle when the deal is finalized, it has yet to be decided whether it will absorb the declining Valour Road membership or if the latter will continue with its MCA affiliation in the same way that the Maple Leaf club does at the Grain Exchange.

The Thistle will maintain the major cashspiels, such as the WCT's Asham Open, and hopes to welcome back the rental leagues that were forced to leave last year.

Asham, who took over the Valour Road club two years ago, had offered to sell the facility to Thistle members.  "It was a pretty difficult venture for us so we approached them and told them if they were interested in buying, we would probably let it go," he said.  "We did lose a lot of money the first year.  We made a lot of renovations and put a lot into it.  This year, we backed off with employees and stuff and were only in it when we had to be, and we came close to breaking even.  In the end, it was a good deal for everybody.  It cost us maybe $60,000-$100,000 but advertising does cost money and having it called Asham Arena for a couple of years was wonderful."

But Asham, at least, kept the club alive.  "The facility is much better now than when we gave it to him," said Graham Grimes, Valour Road club president.  "We are happy with all the things he did for us.  He was our saviour basically."

The following newspaper article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Wednesday, March 21, 2007:

Thistle Curling Club rising from the ashes

By Paul Wiecek

The Thistle Curling Club is rising from the ashes -- and it’s giving another old inner-city club some new life at the same time.

Members of the Thistle, destroyed in a fire in June 2006, have agreed in principle to use about $500,000 in fire insurance money to purchase the Asham Arena (formerly the Valour Road Curling Club) and make some improvements.

The Asham Arena will be renamed the Thistle Curling Club and the new arrangement will give some much needed financial stability — not to mention an upgraded ice plant and insulation — to the money-losing Asham Arena.

The Thistle was also struggling financially when it was torched by an arsonist last summer and there was never any serious thought given to rebuilding it.

“We thought about it,” said longtime Thistle member Harvey Swain, “but there was no way. You’d be talking about something like $3 million to build a club today.”

The Thistle’s new location at Portage Avenue and Burnell Street is less than two kilometres from the site it occupied on Minto Street for more than 80 years.

“It’s better to have one healthy club,” said Bob Picken, “than two struggling ones.”

Picken joined the Valour Road club in 1949 — one year after it opened — and said his club will continue to exist in name, much like the Maple Leaf Curling Club lives on at Grain Exchange decades after it closed its Machray Avenue location.

Valour Road gave up its naming rights two years ago to curling entrepeneur Arnold Asham, who rescued the club and lost about $100,000 running it and making improvements in the first year.

Asham said the club came close to breaking even this last year. Asham said the money he is getting from selling the club to the Thistle members won’t cover his investment, but he’s OK with that.

“We were able to do what’s right for curling,” Asham said. “And it was called Asham Arena for two years, so that’s worth something.”

With the Thistle not being rebuilt, Winnipeg now has 17 curling clubs, including West St. Paul. That’s still more than any other city in the world and the executive director of the Manitoba Curling Association agreed the loss of a facility isn’t necessarily a bad thing in an era when many clubs are struggling for members.

“In this day and age, that’s probably right,” said Ian Staniloff.

All the memorabilia of the Thistle was wiped out by the fire, but the club has commissioned five new club trophies and named them after past club presidents.

Fred Sutton, a past Thistle president, told a news conference Tuesday that in addition to other improvements, the club will either pay to refurbish the old rocks at Valour Road or simply purchase new ones.

Valour Road was best known as the home of Lloyd Gunnlaugson, who won three consecutive Canadian senior titles in the 1980s and also represented Manitoba at both the Brier and the seniors in 1983.

Thistle was never home to a Manitoba men’s or women’s champion, but was the home of Joan Ingram, a Manitoba senior women’s champion.

Picken said the Valour Road senior men’s league will keep that name. He said the club’s other members will have to vote on whether they want to keep their club’s name and rent ice from the Thistle or simply agree to become Thistle members.

Carried same name in numerous locations

The Thistle Curling Club, destroyed in a fire in June 2006, has a new home.  Members of the club have agreed to use $500,000 in insurance money to purchase the Asham Arena a few blocks away on Burnell Street, rename it the Thistle and make some much-needed improvements.

This will be the seventh different location at which the Thistle has operated since it was founded Oct. 27, 1887 by curlers who separated from the Granite Curling Club.

The previous six locations at which Thistle has operated:
* The Royal Rink on Market Avenue
* The Brydon Skating Rink on Princess Street
* Alexander Avenue East
* McDonald Street
* Civic Auditorium on York Avenue
* And, from 1921 until the fire, at 754 Minto St.

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© 2007 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

The following newspaper article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Tuesday, January 9, 2007:

Building gone, but Thistle lives on
Club alive and well with members throwing rocks at Asham Arena

Tue Jan 9 2007

By Chris Cariou

FRED Sutton and his team are curlers without a home to call their own.

But the 59-year-old skip says the historic Thistle Curling Club lives on even after the building that housed it burned to the ground last June, turning to ashes more than 100 years of irreplaceable pictures and melting trophies and all 83 granite curling rocks.

Sutton and his team of third Kelly Williamson, Barry MacDonald and lead Ken Meakin will be carrying the Thistle banner into their first game of the 2007 Safeway Select men's city zone playdowns Tuesday night vs. the top seed, Kerry Burtnyk of Assiniboine Memorial.

And Sutton said Monday he wouldn't have it any other way.

"The building itself no longer exists but the Thistle Curling Club still exists," said the skip, who started curling at the Thistle in 1979 and served on its executive, including a term as president in 1985-86. "Regardless of where you throw rocks, the club still exists and is still intact."

On the morning of June 10, members were to meet at the club at 754 Minto for Thistle's annual golf tournament. But the club was no longer there.

"It was hugely disappointing to stand there and to look at the club with only a couple of walls that were still standing," Sutton said. "It was heartbreaking to see that. And nothing saved. Everything gone.

"We had all kinds of old pictures and memorabilia there from the 1930s, pictures of guys that curled with the club before it even existed at that location, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were pictures there that were 100 years old. All that was lost in the fire."

The golf tournament went ahead that day. "There was nothing people could tell us or nothing we could do to change what happened," Sutton said. The fire was said to have been purposely set in a wooden garbage enclosure at the rear of the building next door. The fire spread to the Thistle.

The insurance money they received following the fire wasn't nearly enough to consider rebuilding. Businessman/curler Arnold Asham offered the Thistle the same men's night and time as before at his Asham Arena -- the old Valour Road C.C. -- and that's where the Thistle curlers are throwing rocks.

Sutton said discussions are being held with Asham about a more permanent arrangement for Thistle members. But he knows one thing: he misses the old building he called his curling home.

"In the wintertime when there was work parties organized, we were down there working. And if we weren't there working, we were there curling. And if we weren't doing that, we were socializing upstairs. There was always things to organize and things to do there.

"It's a huge loss in that we don't have our own building," he added. "That's the big thing. We have no sense of belonging. The status right now is we're basically renters at the Asham Arena. Yes, we're still the Thistle Curling Club and we still affiliate with the Manitoba Curling Association, we're still recognized as a club, but we don't have our own barn."

Some of the provincial championships won over the years by teams from the Thistle Curling Club, which was affiliated in 1888, the same year as Granite C.C., the two oldest clubs in Winnipeg (skips only listed):



* 2000 -- Dot Rose


* 1993-- Joan Ingram

* 1992 -- Joan Ingram

* 1990 -- Joan Ingram

* 1989 -- Joan Ingram


MCA Bonspiel Grand Aggregate

* 1920 -- F.L. Cassidy

* 1918 -- F.L. Cassidy

* 1917 -- D.J. Rochon

* 1915 -- D.J. Rochon

* 1913 -- D.M. Braden

* 1912 -- D.M. Braden

* 1911 -- D.M. Braden

* 1910 -- F.L. Cassidy

* 1907 -- D.M. Braden

* 1906 -- D.M. Braden

© 2007 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

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