THUNDER BAY – When the first Bearskin Airlines Hope Classic was staged in 1997, organizers Linda Buchan and Susan Childs, among, others, thought it was a one-year deal.
Little did anyone realize it would still be going strong 25 years later, having raised more than $3.4 million for cancer research and treatment, most notably supporting the centre named for Buchan, who died of the disease in 2002.
Childs, who is stepping down as chair after helping lead the way for the past 25 years, said she’s proud of how much of an impact the three-day event has each year.
“I would say this has to be the most gratifying event that I have ever worked on. It’s a community event. The women are the ones that raise the money and the sponsors are the ones that provide the money and the prizes to put on the event,” Childs said.
“It’s over 200 women having fun, renewing friendships, laughing, curling and we’re almost like a big family. It’s phenomenal. Some of the people you only see once a year. Many of the curlers only curl in this event. They’re not curlers. It’s not about the curling, it’s about the camaraderie and the friendship.”
Looking back over a quarter of a century, Childs said it was too tough to pin down one memory that stands out above the rest.
There was the time that Cliff Friesen, then the owner of Bearskin Airlines, announced unknown to organizers that their one-year bonspiel was going to happen over and over again. There was another year they raised $210,000.
“That blew everybody away,” Childs said.
“There was the year we named the Linda Buchan Centre in 2006. They’re all phenomenal and there’s always been something each year that sticks in your mind.”
Glenn Craig, president and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation, said an anniversary like the Hope Classic’s in 2022 is a chance to look back and reflect on where things were when it started, and where they’ve progressed to, today.
“We don’t take for granted incremental changes, but where we were 25 years ago to where we are today, we’re not even in the same galaxy. We’re light years ahead of where we’re at,” he said. “Not only in terms of the equipment we have, but the systems and the processes and the coordination of the efforts.
“That is almost as important as the equipment that we have, and we have some of the best equipment, the best mammography, the best ultrasounds. We are, in Thunder Bay, inventing that next generation of breast-screening equipment.”
This year’s Bearskin Airlines Hope Classic will take place this week, running from Friday through Sunday at the Fort William Curling Club.
To donate, visit the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation website.