There was a cancellation and no available spares at the 1994 Rotary Canadian and American (Can-Am) Bonspiel. But event draw master Norm Rhora had an idea.
He would fill in as the skip, despite not being able to physically bend down to throw a rock. Instead he walked out of the hack, his broom shoving the rock hard enough to cross the hog-line and down the ice of the Scarboro Golf & Country Club.
“It was the first time that anyone had attempted that, to my knowledge, and there was much furor over it,” said Rhora. “But I insisted, as draw master, that I was entitled to change the rules.”
Rhora said his competitors told him it was illegal and they were right.
“The rule book did say that the rock must be delivered by hand and must be clearly released prior to touching the hog line,” said Rhora.
After the event, Rhora said Eric Downer, a Scarboro curler who has since died, found out about the novelty and designed a stick with a handle-like attachment.
Bill Baker, a Toronto curler who played with Downer in the 1980s, said Downer’s stick had a spring that attached to a metal handle.
“Eric unfortunately died while curling at Scarboro while using his stick,” said Baker.
The Toronto curler said Downer created brooms in addition to his stick throwing aids. As his teammate, Baker even got to try out the new brooms Downer designed.
Baker said Downer “took the curling world by storm”.
“Unfortunately, Eric didn’t have the financial resources to patent his design,” Baker said.
Curling suppliers Asham and Goldline now sell multiple types of sticks, otherwise known as extenders.
Baker said he doesn’t know if Downer ever received compensation for his design other than when he sold his own models.
Downer did win the Don Campbell Award in 1999 though, for his curling contributions to the Scarboro Golf & Country Club and sport at large.
Rhora, however, has never been honoured for his innovative idea. He said he doesn’t tell many people.
“I’ve been happy that I came up with the idea because now there’s so many people that’re playing that would’ve never been able to play,” said Rhora.
Following a hip replacement a few years after the 1994 Can-Am tournament, Rhora started using a delivery stick permanently.
“The ‘stick’ has prolonged the curling life of many a curler,” said Rhora.
Story by: Maggie Macintosh