One of the longest-standing sports traditions in the NWT touched down in Hay River last weekend, albeit with a much-reduced roster.
“We try to get everybody out, but it seems to be lower this year,” said Darryl Buhler of this year’s Territorial Firefighters’ Curling Championship. “It’s tough for teams to get down here, I guess, but we always want to see more of them out.”
The championship has been taking place for close to 50 years, according to long-time volunteer firefighter and curler Kirby Groat. It used to be a huge event, but has been whittled down to just four teams this year: two from Fort Simpson and two from Hay River.
Not only is the weekend a chance to get together and network, Buhler said there is also an opportunity to go to the national championship that follows. This year’s is taking place in March in Quebec, but even that, Buhler said, has been shrinking in recent years.
“It used to be this massive two-week Bonspiel and have guys there from all over Canada,” he said, adding that the cost of travel can be prohibitive for most departments.
But even if they do not go on to the national competition, Groat said there is value in getting together as volunteer firefighters and sharing experiences.
“Participation fluctuates from year to year,” he said. “But it used to be huge. I know cost of travel is a huge thing. It’s a trek from Inuvik, that’s for sure, but you expect it to grow again. It’s not just about curling.”
Buhler agreed, adding that he’s hopeful more teams will show up in the coming years. The championship is hosted by various communities, with participants’ hometowns entered into the rotation as they join. A Hay River rink won this year and will be moving on to represent the NWT at the nationals in Quebec next month.
“It’s all about the networking,” he said. “The biggest thing about the competition is the camaraderie, getting together, and meeting people. It’s just a great event.”