It’s only rocks'n rings, but I like it: How Crokicurl came to Bowness Park

Look immediately to your left as you enter Bowness Park and you’ll see a functioning landscape art. Staged creekside, perfectly placed between picnic benches and BBQs, a fine wooden octagon frames colourful rings of ice and frozen steel posts. It’s a compelling curiosity at first sight called Crokicurl, an outdoor coupling of two indoor Canuck classics in one – crokinole and curling – and Bowness Park’s newest winter season attraction. Eager teams line up and gameplay is on, the resounding crack of stone on stone softened by a backdrop of spruce. True enough, it all looks like some blown up board game let loose under clear winter skies. The back story behind Calgary’s latest tweak on Canadian ice sports is kind of cool as well.

Back in 2015, Calgary Parks staffer Scott Penny cleared a narrow 50-foot lane of ice deep in the park’s west channel, spray painted rings and made curling rocks with coloured water in milk jugs for a weekend family bonspiel. Gameplay was decent and ended ceremoniously with the “Smashing of the Jugs.” For days after, those pockets of ice held the colours of the jug water and rings like a fond memory in a frozen pond. Cool. Next winter, outdoor curling relocated to the east channel ice, picturesque alongside the boat rental’s long wooden dock. This time, the rocks were cut from dead wood with a simple hook for a throwing handle. The display was open to the public and although gameplay was rustic at best, park patrons played it until the logs split and the handles broke. In 2017, coloured curling ring stencils frozen beneath the ice replaced the spray-painted rings, drywall trowels replaced the hooks for handles and again they played until it was in pieces.

In 2018, Bowness Park foreman Jerry Jaworski wisely invested in composite curling stones and installed real curling hacks, which greatly improved gameplay. Suddenly what started out as a little ice folly became a full-on hit and stuck with the public as the new rocks allowed folks to draw to the rings or throw take-out weight with real intent. Even a prominent slant to the northside of the ice late in the season impacted play only slightly as canny skips learned to factor it in, aim a little southerly and let those sweet stones slide sideways into the house. This year, the rink was bermed all around to reduce the slanting issue, hand floods replaced the hot water tank treatment and today - like skating and cross-country skiing at Bowness Park - outdoor curling is a fun, free, seasonal staple.

Most recently, when Parks superintendent and idea man Justin Brown gave the green light to a new winter hybrid of crokinole and curling dubbed Crokicurl - invented only three years ago by Public City Architecture - the icemaking crew at Bowness was ready for the rocks ‘n rings challenge. It was agreed by all to honour the original design and strive for top notch gameplay quality – a raised rink with level ice, solid frame, bright paint, strong posts, clear rules, game on.

Parks gardener Jeff Martin, a skilled landscaper and crokinole enthusiast, stepped up to create the outsize wooden octagon frame and place the massive plastic liner using good-old backyard rink fundamentals. Foreman Jerry found a welder willing to toil through the holidays and replicate the steel post assembly of the Public City plan. And on the day Parks equipment operator Albert Abboud trailered the large contraption into the park, his cargo could be heard chiming at a distance, steel pieces bouncing and clanging against the metal trailer as if announcing its own arrival. When colder temperatures finally kicked in mid-January, the steel post assembly and center hole were set in ice, the rings roller painted bold blue and red and frozen over. And Crokicurl, Calgary-style, opened to the parks-going public.

Of course, despite Crokicurl rules posted rinkside and clearly dictating proper gameplay, most people tend to just play it like they feel it. Kids swing off the posts and draw to the button on their hands and knees, teenagers throw hard takeout all day. Much like the curling rinks to the east, only the occasional group of sporting enthusiasts play it well and as intended. Hey, different strokes… what’s agreed is that the novelty of this game is not wearing off anytime soon. When Parks late shift attendant Ron Chiasson concludes his duties each evening, his last task is to gather and lock up the rocks from both the curling and Crokicurl rinks. Often, like a friendly barkeep at closing time, he must gently break up a lingering match playing out under Bowness Park Poplar trees. Almost as often, after some mild and polite protest, they put away the rocks for him. It just doesn’t get more Canadian than this!