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Public curling swept from the North Shore

Curlers swept aside for hockey unless enough join Winter Club

Two grand old Canadian sports have been pitted against each other at the North Shore Winter Club with hockey potentially poised to bodycheck curling out of the facility for good.

The private North Vancouver club recently announced that it will scrap public curling altogether in April of 2015 and will eliminate its curling rink entirely - turning it into a hockey rink - if it isn't able to sign up 360 curlers to a limited athletic membership by Nov. 15.

The decision seemingly puts an end to an agreement hatched in the late 1990s between the Winter Club and the North Vancouver Recreation Commission to provide a space for public curling following the rec commission's decision to replace the curling rink at Harry Jerome Recreation Centre with the Flicka Gymnastics Club.

The Winter Club says it has been losing money on the deal despite fees it collects from the rec commission. The club argues it is subsidizing public curling at the expense of its members, only a handful of whom actually use the curling facility.

The athletic membership now being offered to curlers includes an initiation fee of $900 plus monthly dues starting at $113, prices that the club is calling affordable. North Shore curlers, however, say that's a huge jump in price from what they are paying to curl now. As of Friday, not one of the more than 500 registered curlers on the North Shore had accepted the new membership offer.

"It'll kill public curling on the North Shore," said Bruce Beveridge, a curler and league organizer who has been playing the sport on the North Shore for the past 27 years. "(The club's offer) is not going to be accepted by the curlers. They won't come close.. .. Curlers won't come in and pay that kind of money. That's just not the curling fraternity out there."

Regardless of whether the club signs up enough members or not, the change would spell the end of public curling on the North Shore. The only other curling facility on the North Shore is at West Vancouver's Hollyburn Country Club, and its regular leagues are only available to members.

Heather Turner, director of recreation and culture for the North Vancouver Recreation Commission, said she knew that the Winter Club was considering changes to its curling programs but was surprised at the timing of the move and the tight deadline that has been placed on curlers to sign up or ship out. The current agreement between the club and the rec commission to provide public curling runs until June of 2016, but can be terminated at any time simply by giving 90 days notice.

Turner wasn't optimistic about the future of public curling in North Vancouver.

"I don't really see an easy solution to this at all," she said. "I'm trying hard to not throw North Shore Winter Club under the bus. I kind of get that this is their decision and their strategic plan that they're implementing.. .. They're a private club."

Though no one has signed up for the curling membership yet, the Winter Club is still hoping enough curlers will come on board to keep the program running beyond the end of this season, said Kevin Dancs, past-president of the club's board of directors.

"The offer was well thought out," he said, adding the deal being offered includes other perks of being a limited Winter Club member - curlers will have access to many of the club's amenities although some, like tennis, hockey and swimming, are not included.

"I know it's more expensive than what they're currently paying," said Dancs, "but if they have to start travelling and doing gas money and all that sort of thing, if you include the value add (of the club's other amenities), it actually does make good sense to stay and join and curl. It seems like a win-win for everybody if they do join."

If they don't reach the goal of signing up 360 new curling members, the club will start the process to transform the rink from curling into hockey, said Dancs, adding that the club must work to keep member satisfaction high while also considering revenue streams. Only 25 members of the club take part in curling, and the revenue from that ranges from negligible to negative, he said.

"If it was converted to a hockey rink, then we know that projections are the revenue streams are going to be quite high, plus we have a big component of our membership who are hockey members. They're going to be very happy that they have more ice time for the kids."

The potential elimination of curling from the club would be a monumental change as it was one of the original sports offered when the club opened in 1958. The club has played host to several major competitions since then, including the 2012 B.C. Scotties women's provincial championships that saw Kelly Scott become the first-ever female skip to win five B.C. titles.

The move will also mean major changes in the local curling scene, said Beveridge, who took part in the 1967 Brier and currently plays in two weekly public leagues at the Winter Club.

"It's emotional that that's the end of public curling on the North Shore, if this goes through," he said, adding that while some die-hards will find new places to play off the North Shore, many others will just quit altogether. "In our society today I just think that's not good. It's a very basic sport across Canada. It's not a booming sport, but it's an important sport with a big following, and it would be a shame if there's no public curling on the North Shore."

If the drive to sign up 360 curlers is unsuccessful, the Winter Club will refund the initiation fees for all of the curlers who do sign up.