A visitor to our city discussed the history of our clubs and how frequently Winnipeggers represented Canada in both Bowls and Curling competition. He was impressed and asked if there was a reason that Toronto, with so many more clubs, wasn’t the more likely source of champions. Although I gave an answer, I gave it further thought and later came up with this possible explanation.
The climate in Manitoba is such that most of its commerce is focused in Winnipeg—in fact, about 60% of our population lives in Winnipeg, the 7th largest city in Canada. There aren’t many recreational activities geared to our two extremes of temperature so that curling and lawn bowling emerge as practical solutions. For the younger crowd, hockey and baseball use up their energy but our population is largely into retirement. Our provincial healthcare is particularly suitable to seniors also.
Why there aren’t more lawn bowling and curling clubs remains a mystery for someone else to investigate but I suspect both economics and ethnicity are involved. For now, we have a fairly low-cost year-round diversion for those of the seniors who have either chosen to or are obliged to live in Winnipeg and area. More of them curl than bowl, perhaps choosing golf over bowls as their sport of choice in the summer, but there remain barely a dozen locations that advertise lawn bowls.
Those bowling locations that have survived for decades did so with a lot of maintenance, our winters being long and severe. Only those with dedicated membership support Bowls Manitoba, the lawn bowls association that relies on funding from Sport Manitoba and from the recreational budget of the City of Winnipeg. Currently seven lawn bowls clubs fit into that category—Norwood and Tuxedo clubs, with about 80 members each, being the largest. And perhaps their being less than four miles apart gives them a huge advantage over comparable sized clubs in other provinces.
Many of Manitoba’s bowlers have won Championship medals—some of them with multiple medals over the years. A growing number of members have one or more international medals as well. By itself, this is not a remarkable announcement because other provinces can make similar claims. The remarkable part is that these are from a provincial membership of about 320 in Manitoba compared with thousands in other provinces.
So how does that benefit anything? Well, if you’re a Manitoba member you’ll play an average of fifteen games a month and these medal winning players will be either with you or against you during these games. Once a week many players will compete in InterClub and League matches with other Manitoba players, again sharing experience. Because most club games are randomly drawn teams without prizes or cash for the winners, coaching is constantly ongoing and first year bowlers are playing alongside national champions.
Compare that with a club in Vancouver or Toronto. A club may have a couple of medal winners, if they are fortunate. Their other provincial medal winners are spread over hundreds of clubs and might only be seen in competition at district play-downs once a year. Members must be content to play with other average players. Clubs where these rare medalists play have waiting lists for membership. The chances of the same players representing their province again are slim due to the numerous levels of competition in which they must succeed to reach the top of their province’s play-downs.
That’s just one opinion, but there has to be a reason.