The Quesnel Horseshoe Pitchers’ clubhouse is tucked in a quiet, tree-lined corner behind the ball fields at Albert Johnston Memorial Park.
Within, memorabilia from the club’s 43-year history hangs on the walls. There’s a memorial plaque, listing members who’ve passed away, and portraits of Quesnel’s champion horseshoe pitchers at various tournaments. Four or five three-ring binders sit on a side table, thick with aging photographs of the club’s heyday.
There’s a small kitchen with a new fridge, bought with a grant from the Cariboo Regional District, and a coffee pot brewing. A large round tin filled with cream-centred cookies is placed near the open door.
Outside, five of the club’s members gather at the picnic tables. Tonight is one of the club’s fun nights; every Monday and Wednesday evening, those who can attend meet at 630 p.m. to play a few games and enjoy chitchat and one or two of those Fudgee-Os in the clubhouse.
Where the clubhouse and picnic area are looking a little tired, the horseshoe pits are immaculate.
There are 24 pits, the number the club must keep up in order to host tournaments.
The city funded the installation of underground sprinklers, so even in the height of summer, the grass, which is mowed regularly by Horseshoe Club president Phil Erickson, is a deep, healthy green.
The club started in the 1970s, after a horseshoe enthusiast left some money in his will to fund building the pits. In 1974, Quesnel’s club became official, registering with the British Columbia Horseshoe Association (BCHA), and built horseshoe pits at Alex Fraser Park.
In 1980 the City of Quesnel gave the club use of the land on Carson Pit Road, where it now resides.
Club secretary Jeanette Ferrara tells me the pits at this location were put in by club members, who also put up the clubhouse.
“Bob Garner was instrumental in helping build the clubhouse,” she says.
Club member Marcel Pinette says it was a labour of love. “Me and my son worked here every night for two weeks.”
State of play
The club’s long history and flawless sporting grounds belie the fact that the club currently only has about a dozen members.
There was a time, in the mid to late 90s, when the club counted more than 20 members, and Quesnel tournaments drew so many out-of-towners that RVs were parked as far as the eye could see.
“We’re down to nine throwing members and a few members that support the club but don’t throw. We need at least five people to have an executive, so we can have a club,” says Ferrara.
“We only use eight of the pits because of the lack of players.”
Ferrara has been club secretary since 1990, so she’s a wealth of knowledge on the ups and downs of its history.
The members are keen to attract new players, and have plenty to say about the benefits of pitching horseshoes.
“It’s such good exercise,” says Ferrara.
“You’re bending, you’re walking 50 feet back and forth, up to 20 times.”
Ferrara’s husband Lorenzo credits horseshoes with keeping him healthy after he had a series of strokes a number of years ago.
“The doctor said that’s why – it’s the horseshoes,” he says.
And it’s not just the health benefits new members could enjoy. Ferrara, Erickson and the other horseshoers exude a boisterous kind of friendliness, talking over one another and finishing each others’ sentences in their effort to make a newcomer feel welcome.
“We’d like to recruit new members,” says Ferrara.
“It’s fun and so social. If people came out, they’d realize how much fun it is.”
The members like to play three games during their regular Monday and Wednesday nights, paying a dollar each to cover the cost of cookies and coffee. They also are invited to throw a dollar into a hat so the evening’s winner can take home a small cash prize.
The club has sets of horseshoes to loan to newcomers, and anyone is welcome on the weekly fun nights to try out the sport.
A yearly membership costs $31 for people under 65; members 65 and over pay $28; and junior members under 18 years of age are free.
The membership allows individuals to play in any horseshoe tournament in Canada and the United States – there are plenty for those keen to test their skills – and the fee goes towards insurance and the upkeep of the grounds.
Entering a tournament can cost $10 and up, but the money is used to give winners a payout.
So horseshoes can be played simply for the fun, social aspect and to get the family outside, or can be played more competitively.
Quesnel holds around five tournaments a year, as does the club in Prince George, and BCHA members can easily register for tournaments in the lower mainland, where clubs play a longer season due to warmer weather.
Aug. 12-13 will see BCHA members play in Quesnel’s Fall Windup tournament, and the club is also hosting an unsactioned doubles tournament on Sept. 17. Ferrara encourages non-members and members alike to participate.
Club president Erickson explains that the BCHA calculates the players’ averages, which informs which class they play in, from A to E class. During tournaments, organizers try to match up players by class, but if it’s not possible, the players are handicapped according to their average, making sure everyone is on an even playing field.
For Quesnel’s tournaments, the club isn’t usually able to attract enough players of each class, so they mix and match, says Erickson.
“We haven’t got as many players, so we haven’t got the different classes. So we play at least four different classes on a weekend.”
The advantage of this, he says, is that more players are able to play more games. It has led to some amusing results, though.
“The BCHA computers in headquarters, they count every game you play as a tournament. So [another member] Helene and I, we got flagged as having played the most tournaments in a year!”
Erickson has been playing the game since his childhood on the prairies, and became president in about 1996. He says he’d love to introduce new people to the sport.
All the members say their standing moves up and down between the classes over the season, so there’s no pressure to be good right off the bat. The current players agree they’d be happy to show people how to play, and give them pointers on their game.
But for now, the members are done with small talk. They dust off their horseshoes and head in to the pits, eager to play a few friendly rounds before the sun goes down.
The Quesnel Horseshoe Pitchers Club is hosting a doubles tournament on Sept. 17, and invites anyone interested to come and play. Contact club president Phil Erickson at 250-991-8035 or club secretary Jeanette Ferrara at 250-747-3109 for details.