The 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta., marks the 35th consecutive year of Kruger Products sponsorship of the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship.
Kruger Products is the longest national corporate sponsor of amateur sport in Canada. It was in St. John’s at the 1981 Lassie that Scott Paper Limited officially made the commitment to the Canadian Curling Association (now known as Curling Canada) to sponsor the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship. Since then, the efforts of thousands of volunteers, along with the Curling Canada staff, have resulted in one of Canada’s best-known women’s sporting events — the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Over the years, the event has produced some of the game’s biggest stars, including the likes of Sandra Schmirler, Colleen Jones, Jennifer Jones and Rachel Homan.
The Scotties can trace its roots to the 1950s, when the Western Canadian Women’s Championship was formed, with sponsorship by the Eaton’s department store chain.
The formation in 1960 of the Canadian Ladies Curling Association would coincide with the introduction of an Eastern Canadian championship, with the Eastern champ (Quebec’s Ruth Smith) playing Western champ Joyce McKee of Saskatchewan for the first true Canadian title in Oshawa, Ont. — McKee’s team would prevail.
A year later, with sponsorship support from Dominion Stores, the first Canadian Women’s Championship was staged, following the same format as the Brier — provincial champs playing a single round-robin, with with no playoffs unless teams were tied for first place at the end.
Dominion bowed out in 1967, and the CLCA ran the championship for the next four years until Macdonald Tobacco — the longtime sponsor of the Brier — came aboard and, in 1972, the first Macdonald Lassie was played.
The Lassie era would begin with the legendary Vera Pezer of Saskatchewan winning in 1972 and 1973 to make it a three-peat, going along with her 1971 Canadian championship.
Macdonald Tobacco’s last year with the Lassie was in 1979 — the same year a playoff format was introduced that saw the first-place team from the round robin advance to the final, while the second- and third-place teams would meet in the semifinal.
The following two years saw the championship played with no sponsor, but talks were underway behind the scenes that would produce the best-known and longest-standing partnership in amateur sports in Canada. Those talks were spurred on by Robin Wilson, who, in addition to being a competitive curler, having won the 1979 Canadian championship playing second for B.C.’s Lindsay Sparkes, was a former employee of Scott Paper.
And in 1982 at Regina, Scott Paper — which would later become known as Kruger Products — debuted that familiar four-heart symbol that has become synonymous with women’s curling.
In assuming sponsorship of women’s curling, Kruger hoped to build awareness for both the company and the sport and to effectively merchandise curling across Canada. The logo for Scotties Tournament of Hearts is a cluster of four hearts, which represents the four curlers who comprise a team and recognizes the importance of teamwork. The hearts also symbolize the “spirit” of curling — the friendship that characterizes the sport. The logo has been fully integrated into all aspects of the event.
The first Scott Tournament of Hearts also marked the first national title for the legendary Colleen Jones. The Haligonian would go on to win the Tournament of Hearts five more times, including four in a row from 2001 through 2004.
For the first four years of the Scott Tournament of Hearts, the 10 provincial champions along with a Northwest Territories/Yukon team played. In 1986, an automatic berth was granted to the defending champion, which would compete as Team Canada, bringing the event to the traditional 12-team round robin.
That format stayed in place through to 2015 when, at Moose Jaw, Sask., for the first time all 14 Member Associations (representing the 10 provinces, Northern Ontario and the three Territories) were all granted separate, and equitable, access to the Tournament of Hearts. The event was preceded by a four-team pre-qualifying round to determine the 12th and final round-robin entry.
The 12 teams that compete in the main round robin each receive a gold chain and pendant in the shape of the four hearts while the provincial/territorial runners-up receive keeper trophies. In addition, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts teams are presented with a red heart crest to be worn on their team jackets.
All repeat Provincial/Territorial champions have a diamond added to their gold pendants. Since Kruger Products assumed sponsorship of the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship, Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones has distinguished herself as the “winningest curler” with four diamonds now adorning the pendant she won in 1982, a pair of diamond earrings to celebrate her sixth Scotties Tournament of Hearts win and a gold bracelet with six diamonds to commemorate her seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh Scotties Tournament of Hearts provincial championship titles.
While Colleen Jones is the only skip to have won four straight Canadian titles, Pezer and Jennifer Jones are not far behind with three apiece.
The Scotties Tournament of Hearts trophy has been specially designed in silver with four heart-shaped columns of varying heights rising from a teak base. Each member of the winning team receives smaller replicas of the trophy in addition to gold rings, in the four-heart design, set with a .25-carat diamond. The runners-up receive gold rings with rubies and the third place team receives gold rings set with emeralds.
Other awards presented at Scotties Tournament of Hearts include First and Second Team All-Star Awards, which recognize the best leads, seconds, thirds and skips.
Two Awards have been created in the memory of two very special individuals who passed away in the year 2000. The Sandra Schmirler MVP Award is presented to the top curler in the playoffs of Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Sandra died of cancer at age 36 after an incredible three Canadian and World titles and an Olympic gold medal.
The Joan Mead Builders Award recognizes the contributions of someone other than a curler to the advancement of the sport. Mead, the curling producer curling for CBC until her sudden death, was instrumental in many of the changes in television coverage. One of the most notable was the use of microphones on the competitors to allow the audience access to their on-ice conversations.
The sportsmanship award is presented to the curler who best embodies the spirit of the game. It has been named the Marj Mitchell Award in remembrance of the world champion curler, who passed away from cancer at the age of 35, in recognition of her many contributions to the sport.
Kruger Products, a division of Kruger Inc., is the leading manufacturer of Consumer and Away From Home paper products in Canada. The Canadian head office is located in Mississauga, Ont.
Kruger Inc. is a privately held Canadian company with operations in newsprint, ground wood specialties, coated paper, paperboard and packaging. Kruger Products joined the group of Kruger companies in June 1997.