Legal marijuana becomes truly Canadian with Wiarton's curling 'bongspiel'

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A Southwestern Ontario club plans a tournament next month combining one of the country’s oldest winter pasttimes, curling, with what’s rapidly becoming a new lifestyle choice, legal weed.

Forget the jokes about stoners and curling stones; the all-day event sold out within 24 hours, with calls coming in from across Ontario and 16 four-person teams signing up at $200 a team.

Music and munchies also are included. “There’s a real appeal with it. It’s very Canadian, the idea of combining curling and cannabis. After all, we are legal and we are leading the legal pack,” said Grant Nicholson, the event convenor. The Jan. 26 bonspiel will be held at the Wiarton and District Curling Club in Wiarton, northwest of Owen Sound, already famed for its annual Groundhog Day extravaganza featuring a woodchuck named Wiarton Willie.

The bongspiel — recreational pot use was legalized in Canada on Oct. 17 — might just overshadow the weather-forecasting rodent in putting Wiarton on the map this winter, however.

“I think that we are also trying to bring a little bit of admiration to something that’s always been secretive,” Nicholson said of pot-smoking.

Nicholson and co-convenor Ted Ratcliffe, of Wiarton, pitched the idea to the club’s executives in October.

The curlers won’t be allowed to toke while they play; smoking went out the door at curling clubs when Ontario banned smoking at indoor public places. Instead, cannabis curlers will have to indulge outside.

“They were shocked when I said I think it’ll be a more low-key and mellow bonspiel,” Ratcliffe said of the executives, noting there’s still a lingering stigma to the drug that Canada banned for 95 years.

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“I don’t think a lot of the executives understood,” he said. “They’re not familiar with marijuana and consuming it recreationally.”

Club president Gord Ironmonger said the club considered its legal responsibilities for holding such an event, but “over the course of that 20 minutes nobody could come up with a definitive reason why not.”

The bongspiel might even be a chance to promote curling to a younger crowd, he said.

“Up here, we’ve a lot more elderly people that may frown on this activity. (But) the younger generation is maybe a little more liberal with their lifestyles than the elderly,” he said.

The event will feature a DJ, a live band and meals prepared by volunteers.

Area cab companies have been alerted to help safeguard against drug-impaired driving.

Ironmonger said he’s “never been around a bunch of people smoking up,” but will be there — he’s concerned about potential falls on the ice, no different than from people drinking too much — to help supervise.

The bongspiel is an idea whose time has come, said Ratcliffe.

“There’s been an appetite for it, but until now it’s been kept quiet, under wraps and overshadowed by the drinking aspects of curling. So, now we can come out in public,” he said.

Curling Canada, an umbrella group for the sport, said it’s aware of the Wiarton bonspiel but had no comment, deferring to the Ontario Curling Association, whose executive director said it’s a first to him.

“As the organizing body for curling, we don’t control what each independent club does,” said Stephen Chenier. “We are the organizing body for the sport at the competitive level, but each club is run independently.”

Chenier said, however, that pot is still a no-no for Olympic-level curlers.

“If athletes are funded by the Canadian Olympic organization, that’s a banned substance still in the sport and we follow the banned substance rules,” he said.

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