The 2008 Dominion Command Cribbage Championships was one of those events where all the elements—the weather, the people, the ambience—combine to make a perfect experience.
Card players gathered at Grand Bend, Ont., Branch for the three-day championships April 25-27 often wished out loud that the event had been longer, just to stretch out the fun. But there was some serious card-playing and fierce competition before teams from the East Coast, the West Coast and the Prairies took home first-place honours.
The careful planning of the Local Arrangements Committee, headed by Grand Bend Branch President Ron Crown, left organizers relaxed and confident to handle unexpected turns of events. “We started planning for this event the day after it was approved,” more than a year ahead of the championships, Crown said. So little blips were easily accommodated. Rain threatens to dampen the parade? Move it indoors. Play running overtime? Feed the crowd in shifts. A visitor wants an impromptu tour of the town? A willing driver is soon found.
Located on the eastern shores of Lake Huron about 45 minutes from London, Grand Bend’s pristine, long white beaches are a tourist magnet. The permanent local population of about 1,000 swells to 25 times that in summer as cottagers flock to the lake and environs—the Huron County Playhouse, Pinery Provincial Park, Grand Bend Motorplex, the nearby casino and a dozen nearby golf courses.
“An event like this takes dozens of volunteers,” said Crown, reluctant to begin listing helpers lest he overlook someone. Past President Bob Chapdelaine was among the volunteer drivers who picked up teams as they arrived at the airport in London. “I took real good care of the people from Alberta,” laughed the former Albertan who moved to Grand Bend in the mid-1960s.
Players were dropped at their hotel to freshen up or catch a restorative snooze, then shepherded to the branch to rub shoulders and trade tales with other players and local members. The mood was warm and welcoming as scores of branch members poured in for a supper of ham and scalloped potatoes, the popular Friday night meat draw and musical entertainment. It seemed the only way the hosts could have taken better care of their guests was to tuck them in at night.
The Alberta team from Chapelhow Branch in Calgary, Lorne Weselak, James and Joyce Grewcutt and Mark Gourdeau, had struggled through a dump of snow and two plane de-icings but were perked up by the warm weather. Mother-and daughter duo Judy and Lorrain Austin on the Ontario team from Kapuskasing Branch had a better than 12-hour drive spread over two days, and welcomed the weather and hospitality.
Events kicked off Saturday after breakfast at the branch with registration and the parade. “We are all Legion members and here for a good time,” said Dominion Command Sports Committee representative Norm Shelton, who asked players to show comradeship and sportsmanship during the tournament. Ontario Command Vice-President Marg Emery welcomed the players. Crown invited players to write greetings on a red jersey to be sent to Canadian Forces members serving in Afghanistan.
After a short captains meeting, Crown uttered the words the doubles teams were waiting for: “As they say in Texas Hold ‘Em—’shuffle up and deal.’”
Teams played nine rounds, two games per round in the doubles, singles and team events. One point was awarded for each win and a skunk is worth two points. “It’s a recipe for ties,” said Crown, and indeed playoffs determined the doubles champs and second place in the singles competition.
Although Nova Scotia took the early lead in the doubles competition, skunking B.C. twice in the second match, others were able to turn their fortunes around. For the second half of play, each round ended with at least two teams tied for the lead.
The teams from Pilot Mound, Man., Windsor, N.S., and Riverhead, Nfld., headed into the last round tied at 12 points. The Nova Scotia team lost their last two games, leaving Newfoundland and Manitoba tied at 14 for first place. Barry and Margaret Heaver from Pilot Mound Branch won the tiebreaker in a fast-paced best two of three. Although the players were serious, judging from the constant laughter, both teams enjoyed their games.
When asked what strategy was used to win, Margaret replied: “Strategy?”
Barry said: “It was just luck. We were skunked once and lost two games in a row. For a stretch there we could have kept all five of our cards and wouldn’t have counted. But in our last two games we got back to winning again. We got one skunk, which helped.”
The pair has regularly played in district competitions, although their tiny home branch does not have regular cribbage play. They’ve qualified for provincials a couple of times, but this was their first trip to dominion level. “I never thought we’d get this far,” said Margaret. “I was just happy to get here.”
“We played against a good team,” said competitor Paul Corcoran. “They overcame us at the end of it.” Although he describes Dermot Lee Memorial as a tiny branch, too, this was his third trip to dominion championships.
It was also the third trip for singles-event winner Jim Kay, from Port Coquitlam Branch in B.C., who sneaked up from behind to take the lead from Lorne Weselak of Chapelhow Branch in Calgary in the final two rounds.
Weselak was in the lead for six of the eight rounds, but gained no points against his last two opponents.
Kay credited calmness for the win. “I’ve never once looked at the score board. If I win, fine. If not, that’s okay, too.” But it’s obvious how much the win means to him when he tears up while talking about being third time lucky, since he’s come away empty-handed from dominion championships twice before.
“It went well right to the very end,” said Weselak, who spent breaks between games studying the scoreboard. “It really was the luck of the cards,” he said. “After losing four straight games, I started getting the cards.” He won against Saskatchewan’s Butch Richardson, from Alameda Branch, about 240 kilometres southeast of Regina.
“If we could bottle up this weekend,” said Richardson, “we wouldn’t have any problem with membership anywhere.” Butch contributed a lot to the party atmosphere; his victory dances, ceaseless grin, boundless capacity and ability to outlast all comers amused his fellow card players throughout the weekend. “We bring him out on special occasions,” one of his fellow Manitobans from Watson Branch quipped during the awards ceremony.
Not many cribbage players could attest to the truth of National Geographic magazine’s statement that Grand Bend offers one of the world’s 10 most beautiful sunsets over water. They were too busy being entertained each evening. The banquet-like meals prepared by cooks Sheila Tiedeman and Wynne Elmore and a crew of volunteers, were accompanied by entertainment that kept most people in the branch. Saturday evening it was a band and dancing. The mid-afternoon treat was horse racing—with wooden steeds whose speed was determined by a crown and anchor wheel. Wanda MacArthur, from Windsor, N.S., was among several visitors who busily took pictures, hoping to replicate it—and the fun—in home branches.
“I’ve done well,” playing the ponies, she said.
Her team also did well at cards.
Sunday, when a couple of skunks in the first round set up the Nova Scotia/Nunavut team—MacArthur, Brian Stewart, Raymond Church and Lyman Shanks, of Hants County Branch in Windsor—with a comfortable lead over the rest of the pack. They were up 6-1 over the team from George Pearkes VC Branch in Summerside, P.E.I. But the skunks turned tail in the second round, allowing P.E.I. to narrow the gap to 7 to 9. In round five, the P.E.I. team won all their games, while Nova Scotia managed only one win, leaving the score at the lunch break P.E.I. 15, Nova Scotia 13. The team from Summerside—Ivan O’Brien, Nelson Blanchard, Ray Rushton and Cliff Gallant—maintained the lead through the rest of the afternoon, ending the match with 29 points to Nova Scotia’s 26.
“We had some luck,” said Rushton, relaxing after the rigours of the day. “That’s not hardly true,” countered teammate Blanchard. “We had a lot of luck.”
Rushton maintained: “It was steady plodding. They got a couple of points ahead and I thought we were going to lose it. But we came back.” The Windsor team “knew what they were doing. You’ll not win this game just by the draws,” he said. “You’ve got to know what to do with the cards.”
After playing together for decades, his teammates do know what to do with the cards. They’ve been to dominion championships in various combinations several times over the years, and plan to compete in more. “We got one more game inside us, boys,” O’Brien said.
Stewart said: “If we’d won it would have been a bonus.” He took up the life of a Nova Scotia farmer after suffering a serious spinal injury during his career with the Canadian Forces. “We were here to have fun and we’ve had a heck of a good weekend,” he said.
Over the weekend, instant friendships sprang up, and many invitations for visits were offered to comrades from across the country.
“I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much,” said Ken Desjardins of Fort Frances, Ont. “I mean, I knew my team were fun, but I didn’t know it went right across the country.”
Teams: P.E.I. (George Pearkes VC Br., Summerside) 29; N.S./Nunavut (Hants County Br., Windsor) 26; B.C./Yukon (Qualicum Beach Br.) 24; Que. (Pointe-Gatineau Br., Gatineau) 23; Ont. (Kapuskasing Br.), Alta.–N.W.T. (Chapelhow Br., Calgary) 21; Sask. (Watson Br.), Nfld. (Dermot Lee Memorial Br. Riverhead) 19; N.B. (Hillsborough Br.) 16; Man.–N.W.O. (Fort Frances, Ont., Br.) 15.
Doubles: Man.–N.W.O. (Barry Heaver, Margaret Heaver, Pilot Mound Br.) 14; Nfld. (Paul Corcoran, Willie Corcoran, Dermot Lee Memorial Br.) 14 (Runner-up); B.C./Yukon (Marilyn Cantrill, Leroy Olson, K. Knudtson Br., Osoyoos) 13; N.S./Nunavut (Brian Stewart, Raymond Church, Hants County Br.) 12; Ont. (Judy Austin, Lorrain Austin, Kapuskasing Br.), Que. (Germain Leduc, Raymond Duguay, Pointe-Gatineau Br.) 11; P.E.I. (Ivan O’Brien, Nelson Blanchard, George Pearkes VC Br.), Alta.–N.W.T. (James Grewcutt, Joyce Grewcutt, Chapelhow Br.) 8; Sask. (Pat Daly, Verda Hoppe, Nipawin Br.) 7; N.B. (Neil Doughwright, Austin Doughwright, Hillsborough Br.) 6.
Singles: B.C./Yukon (James Kay, Port Coquitlam Br.) 16; Alta.-N.W.T. (Lorne Weselak, Chapelhow Br.) 13, Sask. (Butch Richardson, Alameda Br.) 13; N.B. (Joseph Milton, Hillsborough Br.) 12; Man.–N.W.O.: (Paul Shalley, Fort William Br., Thunder Bay, Ont.) 11; N.S./Nunavut (Lyman Shanks, Hants County Br.), P.E.I. (Raymond Rushton, George Pearkes VC Br.) 10; Nfld. (Kenny Whelan, Dermot Lee Memorial Br.) 9; Que. (Raymond Rodier, Pointe-Gatineau Br.), Ont. (Jack Bantten, Kapuskasing Br.) 8.