It simply never gets old.
Set your alarm for 7:30 a.m., any day from now until this Sunday so you can attend morning classes. Just what is taught? The main lesson is how to enjoy a delicious concoction composed of gin, fresh squeezed lemon juice, ice and club soda.
But jumping juniper ,what does this have to do with the Tim Hortons Brier?
To distil the story, it goes back to the Second World War. Brigadier-General Colin Campbell from Ontario led a group of Timmins miners in the British enclave of Gibraltar. They were digging a tunnel. Campbell found a novel way to boost morale by providing the departing morning shift with a gin-based tonic. The incoming shift got the same treatment.
Later Campbell served as president of the Dominion Curling Association from 1947 to 1948. Induction into the Curling Hall of Fame came in 1978. He introduced morning classes at the Calgary Brier in 1948. The tradition hasn’t stopped.
Because of the Northern Ontario connection, a group from the Fort William Curling Club in Thunder Bay and, in a twist, a couple from Limburg, Sask., now host the tradition. Fred Coulson, 73, who is celebrating his 22nd year with this institution of “higher” learning, is their spokesperson.
“First timers get a chance to win a diamond pin. We got a little slot machine there and a lot of them gamble. If they get three lemons, they get a chance to win a diamond pin.” Coulson said.
Everyone gets a souvenir as proof they attended school.
Roles are defined for the group. Someone pours. Someone squeezes the lemons. Someone works the ice.
“We provide it all but a tuition fee is expected to keep the gin on the table,” explained Coulson.
Fifteen men called the Hawknesters augmented the original morning class people in 1952-53. The men went to every Brier to help the local committee out. They saw kindred spirits in the morning class people and amalgamated. Eventually they sported plaid blazers that according to Coulson look like “’52 Ford seat covers.” The men still wear them today but the original ones are all gone.
Why were they called the Hawknesters? Simple — one day sitting in his backyard one member saw a hawk fly to a nest and coined the term then and there.
Morning class memorabilia decorates the room. The venue for this Brier’s edition of the classes is the second-floor Sunset Room inside Novotel at 33 Nicholas St. With a dry sense of humour, Coulson related how “Some days we almost see sunset by the time we get finished.”
School is in session until 9 in the morning daily. Asked about attendance Coulson said in Ottawa, “Its been a little quiet so far but usually it averages anywhere from 25 to 60 people.
“The highest number, of course, is on the east coast where people really like to party it up — about 125 people a day.”
There is no need to call ahead or make reservations. Anyone who has reached the age of majority is welcome — curlers, non-curlers, vegetarians, beefeaters — anyone.
The best part about this school is that recess is at the Brier. And there is no homework.
Highlight of the day
How hard the ice-makers are working to maintain the ice with the excessive moisture issues.
One way the committee hopes to reap rewards for local curling is by pocketing the proceeds from the 50-50 draws. Ticket peddlers sell until the conclusion of the fifth end. At this writing, $29,881 has been distributed with the largest purse won in the first draw. The winner happily left with $4,177.
Almost every other jurisdiction that stages a Brier is allowed to use electronic tote board for 50-50 draws. You can see them in action at Senators games, for instance. Their use allows sellers to use electronic hand held devices to print tickets and more importantly the sales total automatically updates on tote boards scattered around the building. This actually encourages sales. The Brier wasn’t allowed to use them because right now Ontario is testing them in only a few venues like Canadian Tire Centre. Timid Ontario.