Chronicling 50 fun years of Briers

Larry Wood of the Tankard Times works during a Brier practice day at the John Labatt Centre in...

Larry Wood of the Tankard Times works during a Brier practice day at the John Labatt Centre in London on March 4, 2011. (MIKE HENSEN/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:05 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- You wouldn't want to suggest the colourful old chronicler of curling has been around for a while, but the guy travelled to his first Brier by train carrying a typewriter and filed by Morse code.

Larry Wood came into the business as a young scribe at the Calgary Herald, sitting on the press bench with the legends like Cactus Jack Wells, Breathless Bill Good and Don Buckets Fleming.

Saturday he begins coverage of his 50th Brier.

Now he is the legend.

This isn't the same Brier as the one back in 1960 where the former Herald columnist started out as a 21-year-old.

"Everything about it is different," said the Canadian Curling Hall of Famer who, for the past 22 years, allegedly in retirement, has written and edited the daily Tankard Times newspaper.

Heck, the town where he covered his first Brier doesn't even have the same name anymore. It was in Fort William. Now it's Thunder Bay.

"In one of my first Briers I took a cab to a train station to file my copy," Wood said.

"There was one little light on in the entire train station and a door slightly ajar. The telegraph operator was in there sleeping. I scared the living daylights out of him and he scared the living daylights out of me. Every night he sent my copy by telegraph using a transmitter key."

These days, the Brier wraps around two weekend. It didn't involve even one weekend when Woody came in.

"On Monday they'd start curling. They had five sheets of ice then and two draws a day, three on Thursday, playing 12-end games. It was over on Friday unless there was a first-place tie and a playoff game on Saturday. Most of the time it was done in five days."

The second Brier he covered was at home.

"That was the first one that Hec Gervais won. It was at the old Calgary Corral. I remember for the Thursday night game between Alberta and Saskatchewan people were sitting on girders inside the roof."

He remembers going to the media parties where local dignitaries would experience the flowers of Canadian sports journalism serenading them with their annual rendition of their song "London is a horsebleep town, horsebleep town, horsebleep town ...", the name of the locale changing every year, of course.

Woody says one of the great things about covering 50 editions of this celebration of Canadiana is that he got to visit all the horsebleep towns in the country.

"In the Macdonald Tobacco sponsorship days, David Stewart put a real emphasis on going to all the provinces and cities in the country and didn't really care that much about the size of the rinks they had," Wood said.

Times change. There didn't used to be a Tankard Times back then. And they used to broadcast the Brier games to local radio stations.

Today people can't conceive of curling play by play on radio. Chuck Pachkowski of Weyburn, Sask., was the last to broadcast the Brier from the bench about 16 years ago.

Most of the writers covering the Brier had their own deals with local radio stations, doing reports every three ends.

"In Quebec City in 1971, there was an unbelievable snowstorm which shut down the entire city," Wood said. "It was the worst weather ever for a Brier. The only way to get to the arena was by snowmobile."

The media elected to send one representative as a pool reporter.

"We drew straws and it turned out to be Laurie Artiss of Regina. That left maybe a dozen of us back at the Chateau Frontenac playing cards. Artiss phoned the hotel with the scores after every three ends so we could all do our radio reports. We spent two days playing cards and doing our radio reports like that because we couldn't get to the rink."

At one point during that Brier the lights went out mid-game and Matt Baldwin famously jumped over the boards and went to a bar.

Larry Wood can tell you stories.

"In Brandon in 1963, the ice was so bad that on one sheet by the boards if you threw the rock into the rings, it would go around and come back out.

"In Charlottetown in 1964, Ron Northcott was up 8-0 on Lyall Dagg in the first draw when the ice turned to water and Dagg ended up winning 9-8. And he later won the whole shebang.

"In Edmonton in 1973, the TV lights for the first Brier televised in colour resulted in the rocks melting into the ice. They called that one the 'Hot Rocks Brier.'

"In 1974, the last time the Brier was here in London, there was a nude streaking lady running up and down the halls of the hotel in the middle of the night.

"In 1977 they played the Brier at Montreal's Olympic Velodrome, the weirdest curling venue in history.

"The best party of them all was in Moncton at the 1985 Brier. The Beaver Curling Club never closed."

When you've covered 50 Briers you have a few stories to tell.

"Aw, 50 Briers is nothing," Woody said. "If there'd been 50 Silver Brooms in Europe ... now those produced some real stories!"

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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