Gatineau River DIY bonspiel
Cascades man curls on natural ice
Doug Taylor took his curling career into his own hands.
Last year he built his own curling stones and this month he created his own curling sheet on Gatineau River near his Chelsea home.
“There’s rinks all up and down the Gatineau River as you know, this is the only one I’ve seen with a curling sheet,” Taylor told the Low Down.
Taylor, a retired federal government employee who has lived in his Cascades home for 42 years, has cleared snow from the river ice outside his home for over 12 years so he can skate.
“My grandkids use it a lot so that was a driver as well,” he said about clearing the ice.
But this is the first time he’s used the ice for curling. Taylor curled when he was a child, but started up again about three years ago when Curling des Collines opened in Chelsea.
When the curling facility was closed because of COVID-19 health restrictions last year, he built six curling stones.
“They work quite well,” Taylor said.
They are made of two metal mixing bowls filled with concrete and bolted together. Galvanized steel plumbing pipes serve as the handles. He even added colour to the handles to differentiate between each teams’ stones. The edges of the ‘stones’ are wrapped with an old garden hose.
“They’re about the same weight [as regular stones],” Taylor said.
This month he cleared off a large section of ice so that he can curl in the middle and his grandkids can skate around the outside of the curling sheet.
“[It’s] lots of fun, [and] a lot of work,” Taylor said.
It takes about an hour to clear the snow off the ice with the used snowblower he bought eight years ago or a couple hours the classic way - with good old snow shovels.
“It’s a labour of love,” Taylor said.
He said that if Curling des Collines reopens before the ice becomes unsafe to curl on, he’ll shut down his home sheet in favour of the indoor one.
Like a good wine, the ice is alive. It’s subject to the harsh elements and the whims of Hydro-Québec that opens and closes dams up and down-river, which can cause the ice to sag, crack, or overflow with water.
“The river changes frequently and the ice changes frequently, so it’s always a challenge to figure out how [the outdoor curling sheet]’s going to work,” Taylor said.
But it also has an advantage. He doesn’t need to finely mist the ice with water to achieve the “pebbled” texture that indoor curling sheets strive for.
“That’s one of the advantages of natural ice — you don’t need the pebbler. It’s naturally pebbled,” Taylor said.
He said that he wants to continue curling on the river as long as mother nature allows. Right now the ice is between 18 and 30 inches thick.
“If it cricks and cracks, don’t worry. You’re not going through,” Taylor told the Low Down while walking on his rink.