I assumed everyone grew up with a round wood game board in the back of the closet.
Only well into adulthood did I discover that crokinole was a Canadian thing. Even more specifically, a southern Ontario thing.
If you can flick your thumb and forefinger, you can play crokinole. The object is to flick your disc to slide across the 26″ diameter circular board and land in the sweet indented spot at the centre or, failing that, to get your pieces as close to that point as possible while batting your competitor’s discs further away from the centre or into “the ditch”around the raised inner board. It is well suited to inter-generation play and I have hazy memories of tables set with crokinole boards in my grade school gymnasium where visiting seniors played the game with children.
The first known crokinole board was built in southern Ontario in the late 1870s by Eckhardt Wettlaufer, a woodworker and wagon maker, as a gift for his then five-year-old son. This original board now is treasured as folk art and is on display at the Joseph Schneider Haus National Historic Site in Kitchener.
While all the rage in the first half of the 20th century, crokinole’s popularity dwindled, although some still keep the game flame burning. The town of Tavistock, near where the Wettlaufers once lived, holds an annual World Crokinole Championship (in 2017, on June 3) that in 2016 had entrants as young as six, with division winners from Ontario, Ohio and Connecticut.
Crokinole is a mini table-top version of curling, a game / sport that is popular in communities across Canada and one that Canada dominates competitively. In the five winter Olympics where curling was an official sport, Canadian men’s and women’s team each won a medal: three gold and two silver for men and two gold, one silver and two bronze for women.
Unlike crokinole, curling was not invented in Canada: it was brought here by Scots immigrants and originally played on frozen ponds or rivers. Instead of flicking a coin-like wood disc, players throw/slide a heavy “rock”, originally a tea kettle-shaped iron weighing 60 to 80 pounds toward a concentric-ringed target. Much has changed over the years – rocks are now made of granite, the curling rinks are standardized and indoors, and the corn brooms of old used to sweep the ice and help control the trajectory and speed of the rock have been replaced by curling brushes, which look more like Swiffer sweepers.
Recently, a group of Winnipeggers decided it was time to blend crokinole and curling and have created “crokicurl“. Picture that crokinole board now rendered as a hectagonal ice surface nearly 40 feet across and players sliding junior curling rocks, built for kids who curl, made of plastic half the weight of a usual granite rock.
Will it catch on? The Winnipeggers who are trying out the first built rink at The Forks, a public park at the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, seem gleeful. And if something can bring happiness to someone in the middle of winter in Winnipeg, they must be on to something good.
Cover photo courtesy Board Game Geek