London memories fond for Hansen

STEVE GREEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:24 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- In 1974, the London Gardens was the site of London's only other Canadian men's curling championship.

And 37 years ago to the day Wednesday, on the now-defunct Gardens ice, Warren Hansen celebrated his only Brier title as second for the late, legendary Alberta skip Hec Gervais.

"We won it on the last draw, which was unusual," he recalled Tuesday at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier, which is being played out at the much more luxurious John Labatt Centre. "We were playing Jim Ursel (of Quebec). We were 7-2 and Ursel was 6-3. Larry McGrath (of Saskatchewan) was also 7-2 and he was playing (Ontario's) Paul Savage, who was 5-4.

"Our game with Ursel ended -- we won 3-1, which was the lowest-scoring game at the Brier for a while -- and the McGrath-Savage game had just completed the 10th end (they played 12 back then). I remember Savage was three up playing the 12th end and had to make his last shot to win. Those were two ends of curling I wouldn't want to go through again.

"The first thing that goes through your mind is that you've actually won. It almost seems surreal that you've won an event you've been trying your whole life to get to and win."

The 1974 Brier and this one had at least one similarity -- frosty ice, at least for the opening weekend at the JLC until a de-humidification system was brought in. Back then, though, there was no such technology, nor were there the ice-scrapers every curling club has these days.

"Your brooms would get wet and you could only use them for two ends. The brushes they use today would be a block of ice after one end," Hansen said. "And because of the humidity, Marcel (head icemaker de Witte) drove the brine temperature down so low, the ice actually cracked."

Gervais, a big farmer from St. Albert, Alta., was known as the Friendly Giant. Hansen said that was a bit of a misnomer.

"He was a friendly giant to those who knew him, but he wasn't a friendly giant on the ice. He was a very aggressive player and when you played for Hec, he was the boss and you didn't ask questions. There were no community decisions," Hansen said. "I remember poor Darrel (lead Sutton) sitting in the hack one time -- Hec always just put the broom down and he rarely communicated what he wanted -- and he wasn't sure what shot Hec wanted him to play. Hec took that as a sign Darrel was questioning his decision and all you hear is this voice yelling, 'Just throw the rock, Darrel, and I'll do the thinking.'"

Sutton is at the Brier this week and the other surviving member of the team, third Ron Anton, lives in Chilliwack, B.C., near Hansen's home in Vancouver.

After his playing career, Hansen got involved with the Canadian Curling Association, for which he's now the director of event operations and media relations. In his time with the CCA, the sport has undergone a lot of changes.

Among the major ones, Hansen said, were Labatt taking over as title sponsor in 1980 and aggressively marketing the event, the huge increase in TV coverage, its full-medal status at the Winter Olympics and the move into big arenas, starting with the Calgary Saddledome in 1997.

"It really is two different eras," Hansen said.


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