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History of the Brier

The Brier is probably the truest of any Canadian sporting championship. Twelve teams, representing each of the ten provinces, plus the Yukon/NWT and Northern Ontario, compete for the Brier Tankard, the refurbished silver trophy that was presented to the winners of the Brier during Macdonald Tobacco’s 50-year sponsorship. The trophy was re-introduced in 2001 in Ottawa at the first Nokia Brier, when the famed Labatt Brier Tankard was retired after the 2000 Brier in Saskatoon.

The Canadian men’s curling championship began in 1927 in Toronto and has been contested each year since, with the exception of the war years (1943, 1944 and 1945). After being held in Toronto from 1927-1939, the Brier went ‘national’ in 1940, staged in Winnipeg.

It has been held in every province at least once and in 31 cities from coast-to-coast.

Manitoba has won a leading 27 Briers, the last by skip Jeff Stoughton in 2011 in London; Alberta is next with 22 victories.

Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Yukon/NWT have yet to win.

In 1927, all games at the inaugural Canadian men’s curling championship were 14 ends. Two games actually went to a 15th end. Nova Scotia (skip Murray Macneill) won that first Brier in Toronto, in which eight teams competed, including ones from Toronto and Montreal.

From 1928-76, games where shortened to 12 ends and beginning in 1977, games were reduced to 10 ends.

More than 7,000 curlers attempt to qualify each year for the Brier through club, zone, district and eventually provincial championships, the latter taking place from late January through mid-February. Some of the provincial championships are sponsored…the Labatt Tankards (New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador and PEI), Keith’s Tankard (Nova Scotia), Kia Cup (Alberta), TSC Stores Tankard (Ontario), Dominion of Canada Championship (Northern Ontario), SaskTel Tankard (Saskatchewan) and Safeway Championship (Manitoba).

Currently, the 12 Brier teams play a round robin, which concludes on Thursday. The playoff format is the Page System, whereby, after any tie-breakers are required to determine the first four teams, the first and second place teams meet in one playoff game, while the third and fourth place teams meet in another game, both on Friday.

The winner of the 1 vs 2 match goes directly to Sunday evening’s final. The loser meets the winner of 3 vs 4 in Saturday afternoon’s semi-final for the right to compete in the championship final.

The loser meets the winner of 3 vs 4 in Saturday afternoon’s semi-final.

The semi-final winner then advances to the final as well.

From 1927-79, there was no playoff format.

The Brier winner was the leader at the conclusion of the round robin, unless there was a tie for top spot, in which case a playoff game ensued. Beginning with the first Labatt Brier in 1980, a playoff format was instituted, whereby the first place finisher at the conclusion of the round robin advanced to the final, while the second and third place finishers met in a semi-final, with the winner also advancing to the final.

This format was in place from 1980-1994, before the Page Playoff system was adopted in 1995.

Interestingly, since then, no team has won the Brier advancing from the Page 3 vs 4 game.

The Brier champion then represents Canada at the (Ford) World Men’s Curling Championship. Nineteen of the past 29 Brier winners…skips Rick Folk (2), Al Hackner (2), Ed Werenich (2), Ed Lukowich, Russ Howard (2), Pat Ryan, Kerry Burtnyk, Jeff Stoughton (2), Wayne Middaugh, Greg McAulay, Randy Ferbey (3) and Glenn Howard… have also won the world title.

The Labatt Brewing Company announced its sponsorship of the Brier in 1978, taking over from Macdonald Tobacco, which had sponsored the first 50 Canadian men’s curling championships. The first Labatt Brier was held in Calgary in 1980 and was won by Rick Folk of Saskatoon.

In 1982 in Brandon, Labatt’s extended its Brier sponsorship through 1989 and in Kitchener in 1986, the company announced a further extension of that agreement with the Canadian Curling Association for Brier and Tankard sponsorships through 1994. In November of 1993, Labatt signed a new Brier sponsorship agreement with the Canadian Curling Association, a three-year deal through 1997.

At the 1997 Labatt Brier in Calgary, the brewery announced a further three-year commitment to the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship, which guaranteed title sponsorship through the year 2000.

At the 2000 Brier in Saskatoon, the Canadian Curling Association announced that Nokia, the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile communications, had signed a four-year deal to become the new title sponsor of the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship, beginning with the first Nokia Brier in Ottawa, March 3-11. Labatt became an official supplier to the Season of Champions.

The winning team was also presented (beginning in 2001) with the refurbished Brier Tankard, the original solid silver trophy first unveiled in 1927 at the inaugural Macdonald Brier.

Nokia decided not to renew its Brier sponsorship agreement at the conclusion of the 2004 championship. A new title sponsor, Tim Hortons, the largest quick service restaurant chain in Canada, was welcomed in a three-year agreement, beginning in 2005, with a three-year option. The first Tim Hortons Brier was staged at Rexall Place in Edmonton and produced a record attendance of 281,985.

Edmonton’s Randy Ferbey entered the record books in 2003 by winning his fifth Brier, the only player to do so.

He won in 1988 and 1989, as third for Pat Ryan, then skipped Alberta to a record three consecutive Brier triumphs in 2001, 2002 and 2003. He added another in 2005 to join Saskatchewan’s Ernie Richardson of Regina (1959, 1960, 1962, 1963) as the only skips to win four Briers – at the same time notching a record sixth Canadian men’s curling championship title.

In 2009, another Edmonton skip joined this elite group when Kevin Martin defended his 2008 title to add to previous championships in 1991 and 1997.

Four players have won the Brier three times as skip: Ken Watson of Winnipeg, in 1936, 1942 and 1949; Matt Baldwin of Edmonton, in 1954, 1957 and 1958; Ron Northcott of Calgary in 1966, 1968 and 1969; and, Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton in 1996, 1999 and 2011.

Russ Howard, formerly of Midland, Ontario – now residing in Moncton, New Brunswick – holds the record for most Brier appearances as skip with a total of 14. He claims the record for most games won at the skip position with 113 victories to his credit.

Howard’s former third, brother Glenn, entered the Brier record books on two counts in 2012 – representing Ontario for a seventh consecutive year and competing in 182 games at the national championship, more than any other curler in the history of the game.

Fifteen teams have gone undefeated in the Brier, the last to do so being Kevin Martin of Alberta who accomplished the feat back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. On the other hand, 18 teams have failed to win a game during Brier week, the latest being Northern Ontario (Robbie Gordon) in 2006 in Regina.

The Brier attendance record is 281,985, set in Edmonton in 2005, eclipsing the 248,793 mark established in Saskatoon in 2000. Those numbers are followed by Calgary (245,296 in 2002) and Edmonton (242,887 in 1999).

Among Brier records, the highest score for one team is 30, established in 1957, when Saskatchewan’s Garnet Campbell defeated New Brunswick’s Ken Everett, 30-3.

That game is also among three games with the highest total score, joining Ontario’s 17-16 win over New Brunswick in 1932 and Prince Edward Island’s 17-16 victory over Newfoundland in 1968.

Five games in Brier history have resulted in one team being shut out, the last in 1998, when Manitoba’s Dale Duguid defeated Prince Edward Island (Garth Mitchell), 8-0.

The lowest combined score for both teams is 3, all resulting in 2-1 victories. It has happened three times, the latest in 2000 when Manitoba (Jeff Stoughton) edged Prince Edward Island (Andrew Robinson).
The highest end score (count or steal) is seven. It’s happened on five occasions, the last being in 2000, when Prince Edward Island (Andrew Robinson) stole seven against Nova Scotia (Shawn Adams) en route to a 12-2 win.

There’s been one four-way tie for first (at the conclusion of the round robin), in 1993 in Ottawa, when Manitoba, British Columbia, Northern Ontario and Ontario finished on top with 8-3 records, prior to the playoffs.

Manitoba’s Kerry Burtnyk is the youngest winning skip, when his team took the 1981 Labatt Brier in Halifax. Burtnyk was 22 years (and four months) old. His team is also the youngest to win the Brier, averaging 22 years of age.

At the first Brier in 1927, six provinces were represented – New Brunswick, Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan, along with teams from Toronto and Montreal. In 1928, Alberta and Manitoba joined the championship. In 1932, city representation was dropped, but in 1936, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia were added, followed by Newfoundland in 1951 and Yukon/Northwest Territories in 1975.

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