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Former western Canadian curling champion Wright rink inducted into Manitoba curling hall of fame

A team of Flin Flon curling pioneers has been enshrined in Manitoba’s curling hall of fame.
1955 Ethel Wright Team
Members of the Ethel Wright rink - Jean McKenzie, Wright, Philomene Floch and Norma McLean - pose after winning a title in 1955. The rink, which was based out of Flin Flon, was the first womens’ curling team from Manitoba to win a western Canadian championship. The team was inducted into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame last week.

A team of Flin Flon curling pioneers has been enshrined in Manitoba’s curling hall of fame.

The Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame announced last week that it would be inducting five historic Manitoba curling teams as part of its latest class. One of those five teams is the rink of Ethel Wright, specifically from the 1955 season.

The Wright rink - consisting of Wright at skip, Norma McLean, Jean McKenzie and Philomene Floch - was the first women’s team in Manitoba curling history to win a western Canadian title, picking up the Eaton’s Western Canadian Ladies Curling Championship in 1955. Wright and company represented the Flin Flon Curling Club.

The team first won a regional playoff to represent the north at the provincial level, then defeated one team to reign as western Manitoba champs. That set up a matchup with the eastern Manitoba champions - which the Wright rink won, giving them the provincial title and giving them a berth for western Canadian supremacy.

The Wright rink was not the first team from Flin Flon to win the provincial title - Isabelle Ketchen’s rink did that in 1952 - nor were they the last - Ketchen’s rink would do the same again in 1959 and 1960 - but no team up to that point reached the western Canadian heights they did. Facing teams from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia in a tournament in Winnipeg, the Wright rink beat them all, winning the title.

While Manitoba champions today are named to represent the province at the national women’s championship tournament, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, no national tournament was held until 1961 - by today’s established curling tournament structure, Wright and her group would have played at the Scotties, had such a tournament been held.

Ketchen’s rink would also win a western Canadian title in 1959, but would also not have a chance to play in a national tournament.

“As the first Manitoba women’s team to win at a level above the provincial championship level, the Wright team helped create the competitive opportunity for the many champions who have followed,” reads the hall of fame’s induction message.

Four other teams were also named as new inductees to the hall of fame. All inductees, including the Wright rink, will be officially welcomed into the hall in a ceremony, tentatively scheduled for next May.

The news was overwhelming for Maureen McBratney, the daughter of Philomene Floch. Floch, who came to Flin Flon at age seven and who was part of the first graduating class at Hapnot Collegiate in 1939, passed away in 2014. For McBratney, the induction means her mom’s accomplishments will live on.

“I’m thrilled. It’s been a long time coming,” she said.

“This was really prestigious for her in 1955. She had a really good year - she won that big trophy, then came back home and got married.”

Floch’s obituary says she was always proud of the team’s accomplishments and would share newspaper clippings, photos and other media of her team for anyone who asked to see them.

Despite past glories, curling has seen a steady decline in players and facilities in Flin Flon in recent years. Flin Flon once boasted dozens of individual teams and three bespoke curling rinks - only the Uptown Curling Club, located at the Whitney Forum, now remains.

McBratney said she hopes the story of Wright’s rink could help interest others in taking up curling, knowing that a highly-touted team once came from the north.

“I think it’s wonderful - maybe a kid can see that my mom and her girls did it in the ‘50s, maybe that’s something that could happen here now. Maybe it could give curling a bit of a boost here, get some more people interested - wouldn’t that be great?”