History of the Canadian Juniors

Only the Brier, which began in 1927, has been around longer than the Canadian junior men’s curling championship.

The first officially sanctioned (by the Dominion Curling Association) national schoolboys championship, as it was known then, was held in 1950 in Quebec City. Ten teams participated: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Team members all had to attend the same high school or they were ineligible to represent a province.

The inaugural ‘Canadian schoolboys’ was won by Saskatchewan, skipped by Bill Clarke. In fact, Saskatchewan won the first three ‘Schoolboys’, including back-to-back victories by skip Gary Thode in 1951-52. After Ontario took the 1953 renewal, Saskatchewan proceeded to win three in a row again, with Bayne Secord joining Thode as consecutive two-time winners, in 1954-55.

From 1950-57, inclusive, the teams played for the Victor Sifton Trophy, named for the Canadian publishing magnate whose Sifton newspaper chain was the event sponsor.

In 1958, Pepsi-Cola became the title sponsor and Newfoundland joined the competition. The championship became known as the Pepsi Schoolboys from 1958-75, before morphing into the Pepsi Juniors in 1976, when the competitors age limits were changed to reflect the guidelines adopted by the World Curling Federation for the world junior men’s curling championship, which had begun a year earlier in 1975.

Meanwhile, in 1971, the inaugural Canadian Girls Curling Championship was held at the Vancouver Curling Club, under the direction of chairperson Nellie Hrdlicka of Calgary, who had been the driving force behind creating such a national championship. Only four teams [British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon (Territories) and Nova Scotia] participated in the event, which was won by Alberta’s Shelby McKenzie.

Beginning in 1972, the event was organized officially by the Canadian Ladies Curling Association. Eight teams participated at the Rossmere Curling Club in Winnipeg, as host Manitoba, skipped by Chris Pidzarko, won the championship.

In 1980, Pepsi-Cola Canada Beverages also assumed sponsorship of the junior women’s championship, which continued to be held in a different city than the men’s championship each year. However, in 1987, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the Pepsi Junior Men’s and Women’s Canadian Curling Championships were combined for the first time under one roof and have remained together ever since. Pepsi continued its long-time sponsorship of the Juniors through 1994, a period spanning 37 years.

In 1995, the Canadian Juniors became a key component in curling’s ‘Season of Champions’, a new marketing concept that combined all of the televised national and international curling championships. Maple Leaf Meats came on board as the title sponsor for 1996-97, followed by Kärcher, the world’s leading manufacturer of pressure washers, from 1998-2005.

Beginning in 2006, M&M Meat Shops, Canada’s largest retail chain of specialty frozen foods, assumed title sponsorship and has subsequently extended its involvement through 2014.

Over the years, several changes have taken place to the championships. For example, beginning in 1996, representation was expanded to include single entries from both the Yukon and Northwest Territories for both men and women, making it a 13-team draw. Prior to that, only one team had represented Y/NWT in the traditional 12-team draw.

For 2013, all 14 of the CCA’s Member Associations were represented for the first time in a round robin draw which saw the teams from each gender seeded 1-14 based on their previous win-loss record for the last three years of the Juniors (2010-2012), then compete in a round robin in two seven-team Pools, prior to a four-game Championship Round amongst the eight qualifiers to determine the three finalists.

Alberta has won a leading 16 Canadian junior men’s titles since 1950. Saskatchewan is next with 14.

Thomas Scoffin holds the record for most appearances as skip: seven, six with Yukon and last year with Alberta, He’s also the youngest to ever skip at the Juniors, as a 12-year-old in 2007 at St. Catharines, Ontario. Prince Edward Island’s Brett Gallant holds the record for most games won as a skip, 48, which eclipsed the previous mark of 41 held by Quebec’s Martin Crête, in 2010.

Only five teams have gone undefeated: Saskatchewan in 1952 (9-0), 1962 (10-0) and 2011 (13-0), Alberta in 1963 (10-0) and Manitoba in 1986 (12-0). Every province/territory has won at least once, except Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

However, just one winning junior men’s skip, Kevin Martin, has also gone on to skip a team to victory at the Brier. Martin won the 1985 Pepsi Juniors and has since captured four Briers (1991, 1997, 2008, 2009).

Saskatchewan leads all provinces with 11 junior women’s crowns, followed by Manitoba with nine. Every province has won at least once. Only Northern Ontario, Yukon and Northwest Territories are winless. Four teams have gone unbeaten during the championship: Saskatchewan in 1975 (10-0), Alberta in 1978 (10-0), Manitoba in 1989 (11-0) and Ontario in 2010 (13-0). Yukon’s Sarah Koltun currently holds the record for most appearances as skip, with seven, while Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Gaudet owns the record for most wins, 49.

Skips who have won both Canadian junior and Canadian women’s titles include Cathy King (Borst), Alison Goring, Julie Sutton, Jennifer Jones, Kelly Scott (MacKenzie), Amber Holland, Heather Nedohin (Godberson) and Rachel Homan.

When the world junior men’s championship came into being, the scheduling was such that it was impossible for the Canadian junior champion to represent Canada at the world event in the same year. Therefore, it was decided that the Canadian champion of one year would represent his/her country at next year’s world juniors.

Thus, 1974 Canadian junior men’s champion Robb King played in the inaugural 1975 world junior men’s, held in East York (Toronto), finishing second to Sweden’s Jan Ullsten.

Similarly for the women, when the first world junior women’s championship was held in 1988 in Chamonix, France, it was Julie Sutton, the 1987 Canadian champion, who represented her country (and won). This arrangement continued until 1994, when the CCA’s competition schedule allowed the current national junior champions to compete at the world juniors the same year.

However, Alberta’s Colin Davison, the 1994 Canadian junior champion, represented Canada at the world junior men’s that year only because 1993 Canadian champion Shawn Adams had been suspended. However, 1993 Canadian champion Kim Gellard still represented Canada at the 1994 world junior women’s and, like Davison, also won.

For 1995, at the Canadian Juniors in Regina, the CCA had to come up with a plan to amalgamate the women’s winner from 1994 with the finalists in 1995, in order to determine who would represent Canada at the world juniors a month later.

Jennifer Jones, who had won the 1994 Canadian Juniors, arrived for a sudden-death four-team playoff (two semifinals), joining three other teams that had qualified during the week. Jones lost that one-game playoff to Manitoba’s Kelly MacKenzie, who subsequently defeated the other semifinal winner, Ontario, skipped by Kirsten Harmark, in the final.

MacKenzie would then go on to win the world junior women’s title in Perth, while Chris Galbraith, winner of the 1995 Canadian junior men’s championship, finished third in the world junior men’s. Ever since, the winners of the Canadian Juniors have represented Canada at the World Juniors in the same year.

Overall, Canada has won a leading 18 world junior men’s titles since 1975 and 11 world junior women’s crowns since 1988.