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From Pebbles to Boulders: Annandale, not in anyone’s shadow

Just east of Toronto, and in the shadow of Canada’s largest city, is the thriving multi-cultural community of Pickering.

Not only is Pickering a bedroom community for thousands of people who commute to Toronto for work every day, it is home to one of the largest power generating plants in the country, the Pickering Nuclear Power Station. Pickering has another distinction: it’s home to one of Ontario’s busiest curling facilities, Annandale Golf and Country Club. At Annandale, members enjoy their golf club in the summer and curling club in the winter – and I can tell you, they like to curl in the winter, taking every opportunity with whatever ice time they can find.

Little rocks lined up and ready for action (Photo J. Mills)

Squeezed into the busy curling schedule is a Little Rock program creating on-ice fun for kids of the area. From 8:00am to 9:30am on Sunday mornings, 32 Little Rockers hit the ice for their dose of curling excitement. This shows exactly how busy this club is: the youth curling program for the week is placed early Sunday mornings. After Little Rocks, the focus shifts for an hour to Curl Ontario’s Skills Award Program, which is a development program requiring young curlers to demonstrate certain skills at progressive levels, earning them crests for each level completed. Bantam and Junior curling take to the ice after that, until 1:30pm.

Annandale has been offering Little Rock activity for over 20 years. Youngsters from the age of 7 to 12 years begin their on-ice day with 15 minutes of skill development. This is followed by house league curling games using the tag draw format. A few years ago, the club converted its supply of rocks to the new Lite Rock, which the young curlers throw the full length of the ice.

“We are able to effectively care for the kids on-ice with four to six volunteers,” notes Lori McMulkin, coordinator of the program. “Plenty of success has been enjoyed in watching the curlers develop, as a result of the attention provided by the volunteer instructors during the 15-minute coaching session which starts each curling day, followed by the game. The instructors stay on-ice with the kids the whole time.”

During the coaching session, the younger curlers are separated from the older curlers, receiving advice and guidance on the slide and delivery technique at different levels. After the coaching session, the curlers are brought together and organized on teams to play a supervised game of curling for the rest of the morning program.

Over the course of the season, the program offers various fun events to keep life interesting: Crazy Hat Day, parents vs. kids curling, and something called, Elf Yourself. Apparently Elf Yourself is held prior to the Christmas Break and involves the curlers dressing up as Elves or wearing Santa hats and/or costumes, or covering themselves with tinsel. Now that sounds like loads of fun.

Every November the club hosts a Little Rock Bonspiel, which fills all eight sheets of ice with one draw. Two games are played over the day. Teams are attracted to the spiel from clubs in the Greater Toronto Area, but some have traveled from as far away as Cambridge. The spiel has been named the Dave Edgell Memorial Bonspiel, in memory of longtime Little Rock volunteer and Little Rock coach, who donated his time and effort to the program for many years. Even after his own boys graduated to Bantams, Dave continued to be part of the core instructors, helping the curlers every Sunday morning.

Lori recalls, “Every week when you walked into the club at 7:45am on a Sunday morning, Dave would already be there with a Tim Hortons coffee and a smile, ready to go. He strongly believed in the development of the youth curling program.”

Dave passed away unexpectedly in March 2010, and for his outstanding contribution to youth curling, Dave Edgell was recognized by the Toronto Curling Association.

The folks at Annandale have a very good program which has been time tested. Annandale curlers may live in the shadow of Canada’s largest city, but this club can take pride in knowing that it is a leader in the curling community, doing its share to advance youth curling – in the shadow of no other.