The Tim Hortons Brier is coming to London, Ontario in March, and curling fans couldn’t be more excited! Everyone is looking forward to the festivities, including watching the best men’s curling teams in the country – and having lots of fun at the Brier Patch (more on that later…).
Budweiser Gardens will be the venue for the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, and it’ll be held from March 3-12, 2023. It’ll be an event to remember – for curling fans and those new to the sport alike.
New to curling? Read on to learn more about the sport, the Brier and what to expect in London in March! How do teams qualify? What makes the Brier so unique among Canadian sporting events? And what the heck is the Brier Patch ...?
Curling’s roots in Canada
It’s no secret that curling and Canada go hand-in-hand. Perhaps it’s our long winters. Regardless, Canada is thought to be the country where the sport is the most popular in the world. Certainly, there’s a rich history of curling in Canada, a sport that was brought to the country by Scottish emigrants.
Just how far back are we talking? The Montreal Curling Club was established in 1807 – and it’s considered to be the oldest sports club still active in North America. The sport began outdoors on ice and then moved inside to covered rinks. The equipment has changed over the years – in shape, size and material. Did you know curling stones, for instance, were originally made of irons before changing to granite?
Today, the sport is played everywhere in the country. There are nearly 1,000 curling clubs in Canada!
The birth of the Brier began with the same aspirations for the game itself – to bring people and communities together. It was the dream of George J. Cameron, a curler out of Winnipeg. The W. C. Macdonald Tobacco Company of Montreal helped make it happen.
A national men’s curling championship was created in 1927, and the first Brier was held at the Granite Club in Toronto. Why the ‘Brier’? It was the name of a tobacco brand sold by the Macdonald Tobacco Company. Despite several changes in sponsors over the years, the Brier name has stuck.
Beginning in 1940, the event started being hosted at different clubs across the country. Over the years, the Brier has been held in every province at least once and in more than 30 cities overall. Calgary, AB has hosted the most times (eight).
The Brier is sanctioned by Curling Canada. What is the equivalent for Canada’s women’s national championship? The Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which was founded in 1961!
How do teams qualify?
First, it’s not easy. Every year, thousands of curlers – from hundreds of clubs – attempt to earn a spot in the prestigious Brier by competing in zone, district and then provincial championships. The winners of each provincial championship (held from late January to mid-February) earn a coveted spot in the Brier.
Each of Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories send a team to the Brier with Ontario actually sending two teams (an Ontario team and a Northern Ontario team). That makes 14. The tournament’s defending champion also earns a spot. They’re named Team Canada.
Finally, since 2018, the Brier has admitted a ‘wild card’ team – the highest-ranked non-qualified team based on the Canadian Team Ranking System standings. That makes it a 16-team field – and equitable access for each Member Association in Canada.
Winning the prestigious event
The Brier begins with a lengthy round-robin process involving the 16 qualifying teams. A busy week of preliminary matches wraps up on the Friday morning. Then it’s on to playoffs, where eight teams advance to vie for the championship.
The tournament’s quarterfinal matches happen Saturday, and the semi-finals and championship match take place Sunday – with the final happening Sunday evening in front of a raucous crowd and a large television audience.
And what do the winners receive? The Brier Tankard trophy, first introduced by the Macdonald Company. Did you know a new championship trophy was introduced when sponsorship of the event changed hands, but a refurbished Brier Tankard – the solid silver trophy – was brought back in 2001. The famous heart-shaped patches are also awarded to the tournament champions.
Who won last year? Skip (captain) Brad Gushue and his Wild Card team, including Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker. They beat Team Alberta, skipped by Kevin Koe, in the final in Lethbridge, AB (Team Canada, the defending champs, finished third).
What about the Brier Patch?
The Brier is unique among sporting events in Canada. Within the curling world, it draws by far the biggest crowds than any other curling event held in Canada throughout the year (even surpassing crowds at World Championship events held in Canada).
The event routinely welcomes more than 100,000 fans over the duration of the tournament. It has eclipsed the 200,000 mark seven times, including the record-high 281,985 at the 2005 event in Edmonton.
What makes the Brier different from other sporting events is the intimate nature of the competition and the lack of barriers between fans and curlers. Nothing represents this better than the ‘Brier Patch,’ which has been a staple of the event since 1982 (it was created by the Brandon, MB host committee that year).
Whether it’s been a small room, a large tent or an indoor soccer field, the Brier Patch has offered the chance for fans and curlers to interact, make new friends, let their hair down a bit and enjoy a drink or two.
It’s the sort of thing that happens at curling clubs across the country. But the fact that it happens at the biggest curling event on the calendar – the men’s national championship – makes it special. Curlers are curlers, no matter the venue or the stage. At the Brier Patch, there’s live music, games, food and drink and a chance to mingle and have lots of fun.
Even if you’re not a curling fan, the Brier Patch is a must-visit venue throughout the Brier tournament. Whether before, between or after matches, it’s the place to be for those taking in the Brier’s festivities and looking to mingle and really enjoy the social aspect of the sport.
The 2023 Brier Patch will be held at RBC Place London, a short walk from the competition venue and will be open every night during the event. There is no charge to enter, and you do not have to have a Brier ticket to join in on the fun. Due to the serving of alcohol, the Patch requires everyone entering after 8pm to be of legal drinking age in Ontario.
For a tentative patch schedule including games, tournaments, performers and more, click here.
London ready to host
When the curlers hit the ice sheets at Budweiser Gardens and the fans pack the arena this March, it’ll be the third time London has hosted the Brier.
The Forest City welcomed the event in 2011, also at Budweiser Gardens (then named the John Labatt Centre), where 113,626 fans turned out for that year’s men’s national championship. Jeff Stoughton and Team Manitoba won the title in London that year, defeating Ontario’s Glenn Howard and team. London also hosted the event back in 1974 at the old London Gardens.
The 2023 Brier will be the latest in a series of high-profile curling events hosted in London and area over the past two decades, beginning with the 2002 men’s and women’s senior championships at the St. Thomas Curling Club.
London has hosted the 2006 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (women’s national championship), the 2011 Brier and the Continental Cup of Curling in 2018 and 2020. In addition to the St. Thomas Curling Club, three other clubs in the region (the London Curling Club, Highland Country Club and Ilderton Curling Club) are part of the bid committee for major events. They each play a significant role in the curling landscape in London and area.
How will the 2023 Brier support the city of London? The economic impact of hosting next year’s event is projected to be between $8-10 million, which will certainly help in London’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Bars, restaurants and shops in the core are sure to see lots of visitors as the 10-day event brings people to downtown London.
Tickets for the 2023 Brier in London (including full event and championship weekend packages) can be purchased here!
Whether watching, volunteering or hanging out in the Brier Patch, all those attending the 2023 Brier in London are sure to have a great time. Curling has a way of bringing people together and creating friendships through one of Canada’s great games.
For more information on draw schedules, fun activities at the Patch and a full event guide, stay tuned to www.curling.ca/2023brier for all things 2023 Brier. We’ll see you soon!
This article was produced by Gameday London. You can visit them at www.gamedaylondon.com.