THE ASYLUM CLUB: Curling A Cure For Insanity?

Dr. James Russell became the Medical Superintendent of the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane in 1887. Under his urging and leadership, recreation and sports were introduced as a part of the treatment for his patients. In 1893, he formed the Asylum Curling Club, drawing players from both attendants and patients. Apparently, this “experiment” proved successful and was a big enough deal that the team was mentioned in a 1904 volume called “Curling in Canada and The United States: A record of the tour of the Scottish Team 1902-3, and of the Game in the Dominion and the Republic” by The Rev. John Kerr.

In introducing Dr. Russell’s Asylum Curling Club, the author notes that “it is an important contribution in favour of curling in connection with the “mens sana in corpore sano” (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”).

(Text is transcribed below for easier reading)

“The Asylum Club: Curling a Cure for Insanity”

“Ex-Secretary Russell, in reply to his inquiries as to the experience of the Asylum Club at Hamilton, received the following letter from Dr. Russell, which we quote in extenso, as it is an important contribution in favour of curling in connection with the mens sana in corpore sano:-“

“October 13, 1903.”

MY DEAR RUSSELL. – I have neglected writing you about the Asylum Curling Club. There is little of a historical nature to write about. The club was organized in 1893 as an experiment at an Asylum. We erected the curling shed by Asylum labour, and the Government was good enough to supply the stones for the patients. Officers and employers brought their own stones. The experiment proved an immense success. Our patients worked to the game with the greatest enthusiasm, and many of them developed into most skillful players. Of all the curative means employed for the restoration of mental health nothing has equaled the game on the ice. We played matches with all the surrounding clubs, and even went as far as Toronto. In every rink there were at least two patients, and it was not easy to distinguish who was who on the ice. Our club won the Walker Trophy one year, which was open to all clubs iin the Hamilton district. Another year our club came out ahead in the competition for the Ontario Tankard in our district. John Dickinson, M.P. presented a Tankard for competition in the county of Wentworth in 1896, and the Asylum Club has won it three times.”

“Many amusing incidents have happened on the ice, which would take too much space to relate. The longest percentage of recoveries is from the curling club, and we have to deplore each year the loss of our best players who return home clothed and in their right mind. The Government has promised to erect a new shed next year. Our club had the honour of playing with one of the Scotch Curling Rinks – skipped by Bramwell, and were lawfully defeated. – Yours, etc.,”


(NOTE – Although this picture is NOT the Asylum Club, I loved the image and had to include it. It depicts the Dundas Curling Club.)

(Images clipped from Google Books)

To learn more about Dr. Russell’s commitment to the healing powers of sports, see “Recreation As Treatment At The Hamilton Asylum For The Insane” on this site.

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