Vice-Regal Patronage in Canada
Lord Dufferin and his family met the Canadian winter with enthusiasm and he became a keen curler and supporter of the game. In 1874 he built a covered curling rink as well as an outdoor skating rink and toboggan run on the grounds of Rideau Hall. He formed the Vice-Regal Curling Club so that he and his staff could play the "roaring game" he so enjoyed. (The Club was later renamed the Governor General's Curling Club). Lady Dufferin makes frequent references in her diary to her husband's skill during curling matches. ( My Canadian Journal ). The historian at Rideau Hall reports that "despite many political difficulties during his tenure (especially the Pacific Scandal which forced the resignation of Prime Minister Macdonald) the curling rink 'never lacked for use.'" (Mangan 156). In his book, The Cultural Bond: Sport, Empire, Society , J.A. Mangan considers Dufferin's choice of curling to be "an appropriate sport in Canada as a social vehicle for deliberate diplomacy. The sport had democratic traditions and an etiquette suitable for participation by all classes, even nobility, and later by both sexes." (159)
Dufferin also established the Governor-General's Trophy for a prestigious double-rink curling competition. The final match was always played at Rideau Hall until 1939, when the curling rink was removed in preparation for a Royal Visit. The Trophy is still in play today, with a team from the Governor-General's Curling Club entered in the competition. Until relatively recently in its history the Awards Dinner was held at Rideau Hall, with the Trophy winners and members of the Governor-General's Curling Club, resplendent in their red blazers, in attendance.
The Marquis of Lorne , who twice had been the President of the Royal Club, very naturally and very enthusiastically took up the cause for which Lord Dufferin, his predecessor had done so much. The very first year after Lord Lorne's arrival we find the Vice-Regal Club winning a royal medal from the Carilion Club, His Lordship, according to the report of the match, playing a fine lead." (Kerr 150) Later Lorne skipped many games and donated a Silver Cup "to be played for all the regularly organized Curling Clubs of the Dominion who desire to enter into the competition." (Mangan 165). Lorne and his wife, Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, were naturally at the centre of society and their curling, skating and tobogganing parties were splendid affairs.
Vice-Regal support for curling continued with Lord Lansdowne . In his book The Day Before Yesterday , Lord Frederick Spencer Hamilton, Aide-de-Camp to Lansdowne and a member of the Vice-Regal Curling Club, recounts a match he played in 1887:
"The Rideau Hall team consisted of Lord Lansdowne himself, General Sir Henry Streatfield...and one of the footmen, who seemed to have a natural gift as a curler. At a curling match against Montreal in 1887, a long-distance telephone was used for the first time in Canada. Ottawa is 120 miles distant from Montreal, and a telephone was specially installed, and each "end" telephoned from Rideau Hall to Montreal, where the result was shown on a board, excitement over the match running high. Montreal proved the victors.
On great occasions like this, the ice of the curling-rink was elaborately decorated with colours. It was very easily done. Ready-prepared stencils, such as are used for wall decoration, were laid in the ice, and various coloured inks mixed with water were poured through the stencil holes, and froze almost immediately on to the ice below. In this fashion complicated designs of roses, thistles and maple-leaves, all in their proper colours, could be made in a very short time, and most effective they were until destroyed by the first six ends." (178)
In a farewell speech to curlers Lansdowne spoke of his regret in leaving Canada and "the roaring game", for it was unlikely he would be curling during his next posting - in India! He had become a keen curler. The tradition of Vice-Regal support of curling had been well established.