The story of why the Canadian women’s curling championship is named the Tournament of Hearts starts over 40 years ago with sisters drinking wine.
Robin Wilson and sister Dawn Knowles had just won a second Canadian championship with B.C. skip Lindsay Sparkes in 1979.
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That tournament was without a title sponsor after seven years as the tobacco-backed MacDonald Lassies.
Wilson, the only female manager at Scott Paper, where she handled the diaper and feminine product line, successfully pitched sponsoring the women’s championship to company president Bob Stewart.
The pitch that made it happen
But Wilson needed to come up with a name and a brand to wow Stewart.
“The name Scott Tournament of Hearts. That was actually my sister and I,” Wilson told The Canadian Press from Vancouver.
“We’d just had dinner at my mom and dad’s. We were sitting on the living room carpet with a bottle of red wine. I said to her ‘help me out here. Where do we go?’
“We talked about all sorts of things. We put up a lot of names, threw them out.”
There was a dearth of elite female sport in North America in 1980, so the siblings couldn’t find inspiration there.
The motif of four hearts representing four curlers on a team came to them quickly, but what name should accompany it?
They mulled variations on American college football bowl games, Wilson said.
The Tournament of Roses that accompanied the Rose Bowl must have passed through their brains.
“We thought the Tournament of Hearts,” Wilson said. “The obvious thing was if we’re going to pitch this to Scott Paper we had to have the name Scott in it.
“We took a lot of razzing with it too because people said it sounded like a parade in California.”
With the Hearts traditionally held in February, it’s an easy assumption to draw a connection between the hearts theme and Valentine’s Day, but Wilson said that wasn’t a factor in the naming of it.
The first Canadian women’s curling championship held in 1961 was called the Diamond D Championship.
An elite level curler herself, Wilson wanted the women’s championship to have an identifier as enduring as the men’s, which has been called the Brier since its inception in 1927.
“The brand name part of it was important,” she said. “It was creating something that would last forever and would be a pinnacle of women’s sport in Canada.”
Tournament turned 40 this year
The Tournament of Hearts turned 40-years-old at this year’s national championship in Calgary.
The tradition of the sponsor rewarding Hearts competitors with custom gold hearts jewelry, augmented with diamonds, emeralds and rubies for those who win or finish on the podium, was also the brainchild of Wilson and her sister.
“The whole concept of jewelry, that’s another thing we came up with when we were drinking red wine,” Wilson said.
“I think about the support we got from that one particular man, Bob Stewart. We had so much latitude to just come up with ideas and I can’t recall any of them not going through.”
What was the Scott Tournament of Hearts eventually morphed into the Scotties Tournament of Hearts after Scott Paper was taken over by Kruger Inc.
Wilson went to bat in boardrooms to keep the Tournament of Hearts name.
“We fought like heck to keep it,” she said. “There were attempts made to change it and some hard discussions.
“Forty years, when you think about it, that’s pretty good for any brand to survive. That’s quite the legacy.”