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The Last End: London’s past Brier – 1974

It’s been 37 years since the Brier was last held in London, where some interesting official changes were made that first week of March in 1974.

The hogline rule had been up for discussion for a couple of years and a number of members of the Canadian Curling Association felt it needed to be changed, but others weren’t so sure.

The contentious part of the rule stated that “In the delivery of his stone, no part of the curler’s body or his equipment shall go beyond the nearest hogline in uninterrupted motion in delivery of the stone. In the event of an infraction, the stone shall be removed by the playing side or by an umpire appointed for the purpose of enforcing the rule.”

And lo and behold, in the fourth end of the opening round of the London Brier, the rule was enforced and a stone thrown by Ontario skip Paul Savage was removed. The stone’s removal had no great bearing on the game, but it delivered a message from Bill Leaman, chairman of the Canadian championship committee.

The hogline rule had been a source of controversy for years and in 1973 the CCA’s rules committee had proposed an amendment that stated that a stone had to be clearly released by the time the curler reached the hogline, with no restrictions on how far the curler could slide. Not all members were on side with the amendment, which Leaman supported. By having Savage’s stone removed he was making a point: If you aren’t prepared to change the rule, then you better be prepared to enforce it and here’s what enforcement looks like — not pretty.

Leaman’s strategy worked. At the CCA’s Annual General Meeting, the new rule received unanimous endorsement for the 1975 season. So, when the final stone was delivered at the ’74 Brier, it was the last time that a Brier competitor would have to stop the motion of his body at the hogline after releasing the stone from his hand.

I think it was only fitting that the final stone to be delivered at the Brier under the old rule was thrown by Paul Savage in his last-round game against Saskatchewan’s Larry McGrath.

Ten teams competed in the Brier until 1951, when Newfoundland joined the fold to increase the number to 11 (one from each province plus Northern Ontario).

Representatives from the Yukon and the Northwest Territories had been knocking on the door for a number of years with little success. Both territories had teams capable of competing. The Yukon champions had been playing in the B.C. championships and the Northwest Territories winners had taken part in the Alberta playoffs.

That situation also was changed at the ’74 AGM, with the CCA voting in favour of a combined Yukon/Northwest Territories entry for the 1975 Brier, bringing the total number of teams to 12.

In the 1960s, the CCA purchased a set of the best blue hone granite stones available for use at the Brier only. It was back in the days when the governing body was known as the Dominion Curling Association and a distinctive “DCA” was inscribed on the striking band of each rock.

Somewhere along the way a number of the stones became pitted — probably from being left to sit warm on ice surfaces — resulting in constant complaints by Brier participants. In an attempt to solve the problem, the running edges of the stones were sharpened after the 1971 Brier but the stones were not used the following year.

They re-appeared at the 1973 Brier in Edmonton and about seven of the stones were known to have problems. Following the ’73 Brier, further adjustments were made. But after only a couple of days of play in 1974, it was evident that the problems still existed. The curlers in the ’74 Brier held a mid-week meeting and a petition was drawn up that every team signed before forwarding it to the CCA. The CCA accepted the petition and agreed to take action before the 1975 Brier in Fredericton.

In the summer of ’74, the stones were sold. Strangely, the second running edge on the stones was never even used because no one wanted to run the stones on the second side because the engraved DCA would have been upside down.

For the past 37 years, the CCA has not owned a set of stones until now. It recently purchased the stones that were used at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Although they won’t make their debut in London, the stones will be put into use in next year’s Season of Champions.