Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Northern Ontario and Ontario

This week, the Ontario women’s championship is being held in Espanola. For those living in the south, that’s a long, long way to travel for a curling championship. Of course it alternates every year between North and South so the travel is split evenly.
But it does beg the question of why there isn’t a Northern Ontario women’s representative at the Scotties. Or perhaps why there isn’t just a single Ontario entry at the men’s.
The history of a Northern Ontario entry at the Brier goes back to near the start of the event. In the early days of the Brier – we’re talking the late 1920s here – there were not only provincial reps, but also teams from Montreal and Toronto. The reason, really is simple. This was an easy way to bring together winners of significant championships. There were big city of Toronto and Montreal bonspiels, and there was also a big Northern Ontario championship and the winner received an invitation. There’s been a Northern Ontario entry in the Brier since the first one back in 1927. Montreal and Toronto were dropped, however.
Some people suggest that history does not reflect reality and that Northern Ontario should be folded into its Southern neighbours, but really, when you think of the number of curlers in Ontario – the province as a whole – you can make all sorts of cases for phasing out PEI or Newfoundland. There are more curlers in the city of Toronto alone than either province. Ontario easily has the biggest curling population.
Two regions makes sense and to be honest, I don’t know how the women manage it.
The distance travelled– as the women can attest – is a huge undertaking. Heck the Northern Ontario men’s playdowns alone are often a marathon in terms of distances. So why is it OK for the women and not the men? A legitimate question. My take is that there are far fewer women’s teams playing down – especially in the North – so two reps is perhaps overload.
The main case for ending Northern Ontario is that it isn’t a province but a region. That’s a fair argument, but it’s not the only region in the Brier field – the Territories is really an amalgamation of three different Territories (although as I understand it, only two enter teams). Those in favour of a single Ontario entry at the Brier would probably like the Scotties method of inviting the defending champion back. To me that cheapens the entry. I’ve always felt that allowing a team to go directly to the Canadian final is undeserving. If they win, I really think it’s only half-deserving.
I know why it was done in the women’s – because it felt having the defending champion in place meant a marketable team for the host site. That may have been necessary at one time, but I don’t think so any longer. The top women’s teams are as recognizable as the top men’s squads these days.
So not only do I think there should always be a Northern Ontario entry at the Brier, but I’d be in favour of doing the same thing at the Scotties and getting rid of Team Canada.

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