Brier opens in London, Ont.

Tournament favourites Alberta skip Kevin Martin and Ontario Skip Glenn Howard greet each other...

Tournament favourites Alberta skip Kevin Martin and Ontario Skip Glenn Howard greet each other before the start of the Brier curling championships in London, Ont., March 5, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- For the first time since Kevin Martin was a kid, The Brier kicked off in London Saturday.

In a sufficiently loud opening ceremony for a marquee Roaring Game showcase, the Canadian men's curling championship kicked off in the southwestern Ontario city that last played host in 1974.

For local curling fans, it was worth the wait.

"2002 was when I first presented it to the (Canadian Curling Association), that maybe we could host a Brier in this area," said host committee honcho Peter Inch.

"To stand out there today, physically see that it's happened -- it's just an amazing feeling."

Needless to say the event's backdrop has changed considerably over the past four decades.

Unlike the relatively tiny London Gardens that housed the '74 event, this year's version opened Saturday in London's downtown jewel, the John Labatt Centre, and will be broadcast on national television all week.

Organizers, though, offered a classy touch that harkened back to the event's humble earlier days.

Warren Hansen, part of the Alberta squad that won that 1974 Brier in London, was part of the opening ceremony.

So, too, was the last London team to compete in the Brier: Skip Bruce Munro, third Bob Laidlaw, second Clive Bowden and lead Bruce Paterson, who qualified in 1982, threw the ceremonial first rock.

Led by a police colour guard and pipes and drums band, with bagpipes blaring, the crowd of more than 500 clapped in unison as the 12 teams vying for the national title -- and the right to go to the worlds in Regina next month -- were introduced.

The loudest applause was no doubt for Team Northern Ontario and the Ontario squad, the latter drawing an eruption from those in attendance.

That kind of passion, one sponsor told the crowd, has turned the Brier "into a cultural happening."

Organizers expect crowds as large as 8,000 to attend the later-round games as the week winds toward the March 13 final.


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