By Martin Cleary
On an uninspiring winter day in 1980, 14-year-old John Shea decided to check out the neighbourhood City View Curling Club.
His father was playing one of his regular matches and he had never seen his father deliver a stone, handle the broom or strategize with his teammates.
Shea didn’t know it at the time, but it would become a life-changing experience for the Grade 9 St. Pius X High School student.
After watching a few ends, his dad introduced his son to noted Ottawa curler and ice-maker Dave Merklinger.
Shea thought making the pebbled ice was rather cool and being a teenager felt that was something he could do. Merklinger challenged him to give it a try. But there was one condition.
“Dave said if you work for me, you must curl,” Shea recalled in a phone interview earlier this week from Palm Springs, California.
Shea bought into that deal and instantly loved making ice at the three-sheet City View Curling Club. He also fulfilled his part of the agreement by becoming a junior curler.
“My Kodiak boot was my slider and my running shoe was the gripper,” he said proudly.
Ever since that introduction to curling, Shea has experienced one of Canada’s favourite winter sports from so many different angles – participant, organizer, administrator, sponsor, creator, promoter and captain.
On Thursday night before Canada plays Scotland during the world men’s curling championship at TD Place Arena, Shea will be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame and placed on the executive honour roll.
Ottawa’s Gerry Peckham, who will retire as the highly successful high-performance director with Curling Canada at the end of the season, and Jack Lynch, who was instrumental in bringing curling into the Winter Olympic program in 1992, also will be inducted into the hall. Peckham will enter as a coach and builder and Lynch, who lived in Montreal, will be inducted posthumously as a builder.
“I’m a little sheepish and humbled by it,” Shea said about his hall of fame selection. He also is in the Ontario Curling Hall of Fame.
“It’s a big accomplishment. But I know a lot of good people who haven’t got into the hall. I will definitely be raising a glass to Dave for making me a part of the sport.
“Dave became like an older brother to me. He taught me the value of curling and (the importance) of giving back in curling.”
For about 20 years as a junior and men’s competitive curler, Shea was part of some strong Ottawa rinks and found success at the zone level. Along the way, he played against and met many of the big names of curling in the 1980s and 1990s.
“But I never made it to The Show (Brier),” he added. “I never considered my career anything to write about.”
But everything that followed certainly had an impact on local, provincial, national and international curling.
At the 1990 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Canadian women’s championship), Shea was part of the ice crew at the Ottawa Civic Centre and watched Ontario’s Alison Goring take the gold medal with Ottawa’s Anne Merklinger as the alternate.
From that moment, he volunteered at almost every major provincial, national and international event in the Ottawa Valley. The most recent was the Ottawa Valley Curling Association-organized 2023 Strathcona Cup, where he was Canada’s team captain for matches against Scotland.
Shea also was a significant curling sponsor in Ottawa through his John Shea Insurance company. That also led Shea to develop the first comprehensive insurance program designed specifically for curling clubs.
He played a big role in creating the Dominion Canadian Curling Club Championship in 2009, which is now the Everest Canadian Curling Club Championship.
In 2016, Curling Canada welcomed Shea to its board of governors, where he served as finance chair for three years. He was elected board chair for the 2019-20 season, which also earned him a position on the World Curling Federation’s finance commission.
A member of the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club and the Governor General’s Curling Club, Shea is a former vice-chair and chair of the Ontario Curling Association.
Shea remains active promoting curling and currently is president of the Ottawa Valley Curling Association.
Peckham, who represented British Columbia at two Brier Canadian men’s curling championships, is the world-record holder for the production of international medals by one country. During his time focused on high-performance sport with Curling Canada, he saw Canadian teams win 26 world championship medals for men (15 gold) and 28 world championship medals for women (11 gold) as well as 54 men’s and women’s U21 (junior) medals (26 gold) and six world wheelchair championship medal (three gold).
After Lynch retired as technical director of the Canadian Olympic Association (now Canadian Olympic Committee) in 1988, he worked with the International Curling Federation’s Gunther Hummelt from 1988-91 to recruit the required 25 nations to have curling accepted into the Olympic program in 1992.
Ottawa’s Elaine Brimicombe, the senior vice-chair for the host committee at the 2023 world men’s curling championship, will receive the Ray Kingsmith Award for her volunteerism, dedication and commitment to curling.
Brimicombe has been a fixture at top competitions staged in Ottawa – the 2017 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials, the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier and the 2007 and 2015 Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships. She served as either chair or vice-chair on the host committees for those competitions.
She also is quite visible at local clubs as a volunteer in learn-to-curl programs for newcomers and those interested in the wheelchair discipline.
Brimicombe was the CurlON board of directors’ chair for three years and also has served with the Ontario Curling Council, the Ottawa Valley Curling Association and the R.A. Centre, which is her home club.
Jennifer Kjell of Whitby, ON., and Kristi Petrushchak of Etobicoke, ON., who are the respective senior events manager and event director for the Grand Slam of Curling series, will be honoured with Curling Canada’s Award of Achievement.
They are involved in all avenues of the series and have been instrumental in making the men’s and women’s tours equal in the number of competitions and the amount of prize money.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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