The last time the Scotties Tournament of Hearts was played in Montreal, Colleen Jones was a teenaged second for a team skipped by Penny Larocque.
"Really kind of early, early days of women’s curling," said Jones as she prepared for her appearance with Team Nova Scotia at this year's Scotties. "It was primitive in comparison. Primitive in terms of what the arena looked like. Really different times back then. We played in Montreal and there were no fans in the stands except, maybe, 200 people."
The Canadian Curling Association is obviously hoping for a much better turnstile count than that as it heads back into a territory that is not exactly known for a feverish support of the roaring game, at least not on a popular culture level.
In making the announcement that next year's Scotties will be contested at the Maurice Richard Arena, the CCA and the local organizers of the event trumpeted the return of a national curling championship to Quebec. In a CCA media release, event Chair Greg Sleno played up the province's more famed players:
“Quebec has a presence on the national scene with several notable champions. We have Jean-Michel Ménard who won the Brier in 2006 before losing to Scotland in the final game of the World Men’s Championship. We also have Guy Hemmings, who made four Brier appearances, finishing second in both 1998 and 1999. On the women’s side, we have Marie- France Larouche who has made seven appearances on the national stage and placed second at the Scotties in 2004 and third in 2009.”
That is all well and good, however, Menard's win at the 2006 Brier wasn't a terribly earth-shaking event on the Quebec sports scene. As Menard told SunMedia's Terry Jones, the curling landscape in Quebec didn't change much after his win over Glenn Howard seven years ago:
“I hoped our championship would mean a lot, but it hasn’t changed at all. In fact, to be totally honest and truthful, I have to say it’s going down."
“When we won in 2006 we had 126 teams enter the provincial playdowns. This year we had 30 teams. It’s been a real struggle.”
Will sports fans in Quebec snap up tickets and fill the 4,750 seat arena? Can the province's (and the city's) illustrious curling history be brought back to life in the modern day?
As mentioned, it is a gamble. But a worthwhile one. Those of us who hold out hope for the eventual return of The Brier to Toronto, for instance, would love to see this be a huge success. A solid step into Quebec next year might be a small yet positive move toward more national championships in places that might not otherwise have gotten serious consideration.
“There is incredible excitement surrounding this announcement," said Sleno.
If he's right and that excitement holds and translates into bums in seats next February 1st through 9th, it might just signal that curling's renaissance is in a fuller bloom than many would have thought.