Recently, a local resident and former prominent athlete was officially recognized for her sporting legacy during a special ceremony held inside Ottawa’s Horticultural Building.
On May 31, Norway Bay resident and curling pioneer Jean Beardsley was inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame for her longstanding contributions to the sport over the years.
One of the best local female curlers of her time, from the late 1950s to the early 90s, Beardsley played a significant role in growing the popularity of the sport across the country, helping it go from a recreational pastime to a competition and in some cases even a profession.
As part of the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame’s new Legacy Category, Beardsley was inducted along with a number of local sporting legends including former boxer Eddie Carroll, Ottawa’s 1892 Tug-Of-War team and the old Sens teams of the 1920s who won four Stanley Cups during the franchise’s golden years.
With so many great athletes being inducted since the Hall’s opening in 1968 and a limited number of spots available every year, plenty of local sporting greats from the 1800s to the 1960s have unfortunately slipped through the cracks of the voting system. That’s what prompted the creation of the new induction category.
Without her knowing, Beardsley’s late husband Eric assembled and submitted her Hall of Fame ballot back in 2004. He compiled an archive of her curing career’s highlights, including awards, photos and old newspaper clippings to outline the significance of her impact on the game.
Fifteen years later, Beardsley finally received the phone call she never expected.
“I was certainly surprised,” she said. “I couldn’t figure out why me. I haven’t done anything.”
At the ceremony, joined by around 20 family members and close friends, Beardsley was presented with an engraved plaque that will be put up at City Hall in Ottawa in a section of the building dedicated to the Hall of Fame along with the plaques of new and past inductees.
Greatly humbled by the recognition of her legacy, it reminded her of another local sports icon, making the honour feel even more important to her.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “It’s really an honour. I am like Bryan Murray from Shawville.”
Growing up in Ottawa South, Beardsley first hit the pebbled ice in 1947 at the old Glebe Curling Club which is ironically now the Ottawa Horticultural Building – the very place where this year’s induction ceremony took place.
“That’s really nice that it is there,” she said. “It’s great.”
It’s inside that very same building that she recalls memories of sliding stones from one end of the ice to the other, while her father played cribbage and her mother kept an eye on her youngest son Barry.
“We used to push him over to the curling club,” she said. “He’d sleep out in the carriage at the front of the curling club. If he’d wake up, he’d sit him up and take him to the back of the curling rink and he’d sit there and watch us curl. You wouldn’t be able to do it today. He’d be stolen away.”
Beardsley credits her parents for getting her to fall in love with the game as they were both avid curlers themselves.
As a youngster, Beardsley was quite an athletic kid who didn’t shy away from participating in various sports. Her hobbies included golf and basketball among others. One of her fondest childhood memories was spending every summer hanging out at her family’s cottage in Norway Bay.
“I was just an ordinary kid going to school,” she said. “My mom and dad’s cottage was up beside the wharf up there where the pier goes out. Happy Days cottage it was called.”
It was different time back then, as Beardsley recalls it. For one, the stones consisted of iron instead of granite and the curlers swept the ice with corn brooms.
Plus, it certainly wasn’t as competitive as it is now. People played almost exclusively for amusement, while very little stakes were on the line if ever - something that is somewhat lost in today’s game, according to Beardsley.
“They’re not curling for the fun of curling,” she said. “They’re curling for the money now.”
Today, the highest-ranked curlers in the world can make tens of thousands of dollars playing the game professionally. Back then, the sport wasn’t close to being as lucrative as it is now and certainly wasn’t being played at the pro level, especially by women.
“Back in that day, it was nothing like it is today,” said John. “They got coaches, they got doctors, they got psychologists. It wasn’t that way back then.”
While the game was mostly played by seniors when Beardsley first graced curling clubs, she was one of the few young people and even fewer women who took to the game. It helped popularize the sport amongst the young female population, according to her son John Beardsley.
“She was probably one of the youngest woman curlers in her day,” said John. “The average age for curling back then was about 75. It was an old person’s sport.”
In her prime, Beardsley was a staple in the game locally and beyond.
As her talents became well acknowledged by curling enthusiasts across the province, Beardsley became known for her involvement in the sport and her dominance on the ice.
“In the day, when you heard Jean Beardsley, that was curling,” said John. “Automatically associated. Like ‘Oh geez, I heard her name on the radio, I saw you on TV or whatever? Day in, day out curling.”
From helping her Kitchener-based team win the Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 1957, to her two 50-plus Ontario Seniors Championships in 1979 and 1991, Beardsley’s long history of success on the ice is enshrined in a colossal collection of trophies, medals and old newspaper clippings stored and displayed on the walls inside her garage in Norway Bay.
Among many other notable accomplishments over the course of her career, Beardsley won 24 Murchison medals, three Beddoe trophies as city of Ottawa district champion and the 1966 Ottawa Ladies Metro League crown.
According to John, there isn’t a great amount of curling silverware in the province that hasn’t had her name on it at least at some point in time.
“She won pretty near everything there was to win in women’s curling, at least in Ontario,” said John. “She won the ladies’ seniors, she represented Ontario twice in the ladies’ seniors to the finals. She won all the bonspiels in Ottawa, Renfrew, Pembroke, Arnprior.”
While the sheer number of accolades is impressive, the longevity of her career is one of the things that stands out the most, exemplified by her two Ontario Seniors 50-plus titles over the course of three decades.
“At one point in time, she was probably the longest consecutive woman curler in Canada,” said John.
In 1957, she won the Ontario Women’s Curling Championship with a team of skillful curlers headed by Edna Teskey along with Veryl Finlay and Anne Trussler. They were supposed to eventually represent the province at the National Championship which was eventually cancelled because Quebec was unable to put together a team for the tournament.
“Edna Teskey picked me up as their vice skip and we won the provincials that year. We were supposed to go West, but Quebec couldn’t promote a team so they cancelled it. They messed that up,” she said.
Hitting the ice as frequently as she could, Beardsley sometimes played up to four times in a week in her heyday. Her love for the game was something that she never put on the back burner, as she even played when she was pregnant at one point.
Having admittedly never practiced seriously, she believes the key to her consistent success was how she and her teammates approached the sport as a game more than a competition.
“Just enjoying the curling,” she said. “We weren’t competitive. We were just out there having fun, enjoying ourselves. Even when we went to the nationals, it was just fun. In all our successful curling years, we never practiced. We curled for fun and I think that’s why we had so much success.”
Nowadays, Beardsley spends the bulk of her time living at her riverside cottage in Norway Bay.
She still owns an apartment in Ottawa South, but she doesn’t see a reason to want to be anywhere else. With the fortune of having lots of immediate family close by in such a personally sentimental location, she feels like she’s in her utopia.
“I’m really here at the cottage because all my kids are here,” she said. “I have 14 great-grandchildren here and they’re all here so why wouldn’t I come live close. I just think I’m very fortunate to have my family so close by and life is great.”
As Beardsley looks back on her illustrious career. the victories, the countless accolades and pieces of silverware aren’t the first thing that come to mind. Instead, it’s the countless relationships that she formed with great people from all over the country playing the game she loves.
“I’ve made a lot of friends in all these different cities and every so often you’ll run into somebody who’ll remember you,” she said. “It’s a friendly game. We were competitive but we weren’t that competitive that we didn’t have a good time with who we were playing against. We always had fun.”
Amassing countless sporting accolades over the course of her life, Beardsley still can’t think of anything close to upping her most recent achievement.
“That’s top dog eh,” she said.
Now at the age of 93, immortalized as a pioneer in her sport, Beardsley feels like this distinction brings a true sense of closure to her decorated career.
“It sure wraps it up nicely at my age because I don’t think I’ll be going much further,” she said. “I won’t be doing anything else exciting like curling. But I’m really honoured to be honoured like this.”
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