My Bloody Canadian Initiation

I must have missed the disclaimer on the citizenship pamphlet: becoming a Canadian may result in serious physical scarring.

There I lay on the ice of the curling rink like a crumpled snow angel, a small claret cloud of blood slowly blooming outwards from my face.

I stood up slowly, groggy and punch-drunk, feeling like I’d just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson.

This was my first, and last, attempt to try that beloved Canadian pastime: curling.

This article was published in the Globe and Mail on 9 December 2013.

I first came to Canada more than a decade ago now on a year out from my university education in England. I wanted to travel the world, forget all about my textbooks for a while, and to meet the Canadian relatives I’d only recently found out that I had in Victoria.

I instantly fell in love with the West Coast – the mountains, the ocean, the laid-back vibe.

And my cousin James took it upon himself to educate me about Canadian culture.

From impromptu tests during Canucks hockey games (“tell me again what the icing rule is”) and instructions on the grammatical use of “eh”, to my first taste of Kraft Dinner (“it’s better with added cheddar”) and my first B.C.-style pilgrimage to the incomparable beauty of Long Beach.

During games of street hockey James also taught me how to skilfully lift an opponent’s hockey jersey (“just in case you should ever get into a fight”), and instilled in me a Canadian’s appreciation and over-protective attitude towards the great outdoors.

And I can now hum the theme tune to Hockey Night in Canada, and snowboard without continually face-planting or shearing chunks of bark off poor unsuspecting trees.

And so it was this immersion into Canadian culture that led to me wanting to try curling. A group of friends I was working with at the time was practicing for an upcoming Bonspiel in Victoria.

I met them at the curling rink in the early evening armed with hip flask and with several YouTube videos’ worth of instruction on basic curling techniques. I felt good, I felt ready. Or maybe that was just the Crown Royal talking.

Curling proved to be a lot more fun than I’d expected. Having watched recent coverage of the Scotties, I was convinced it would be as much fun as cricket or baseball.

But I was wrong. I relished the combination of skill and strategy involved in the sport. I also got a childish pleasure out of yelling “Hurry, Hard!” to my sweeping team.

By the end of the evening, mostly due to the patient tutelage of my friend Ryan, my curling prowess was vastly improved and I was beginning to feel fairly confident.

Perhaps my impending accident was therefore somewhat hubristic.

Our final game was a closely-fought affair and hinged on the final end of the match. I was throwing the final rock. The pressure was on.

I launched myself down the ice, letting go of the rock, giving it the gentlest of twists to ensure it would pass the obstructing rock at the other end.

It was looking good. No, it was looking great.

In my excitement I stood up quickly to get a better view of the rock’s journey down the ice. Now normally that would have been fine, but I’d placed all my weight on the foot with the plastic slider on.

Time shifted. I suddenly found myself face down on the ice. What am I doing here, I thought calmly.

My friend Ryan told me later that I’d literally somersaulted backwards, landing not on my hands but my chin.

“Shit, man,” said Ryan. “Are you OK?”

As-if-stoned, I turned to him and told him I was fine.

“Umm – we should probably take you to the E.R.,” Ryan said, visibly paling.

I was in shock, felt no pain and being of the macho mould, felt there was no need to go to E.R.

But I saw the blood and so headed to the dimly-lit bathroom to at least clean up what was probably a small cut. I looked into the mirror, and lifted my head up.

The large gash in my chin yawned open like the mouth of a guppy.

Fifteen minutes later I was sat with Ryan in the nearby E.R.

We were finally seen by a young East Indian doctor who methodically stitched up my second mouth. He finally asked the question I’d been dreading.

“How’d you do this?” he asked. “Get into a fight or something?”

I reluctantly told him I’d been curling.

The doctor paused mid-stitch. As a fellow immigrant I sensed a mixture of incredulity and understanding behind his bottle-thick glasses.

A couple of seconds passed before he continued with his needlework.

“One word of advice, Marc,” he said. “Don’t tell the girls that.”

Thirteen years later I’m now a Permanent Resident, and I’m busy preparing for my final citizenship exam.

Unfortunately the exam won’t ask wannabe Canadians to pick Don Cherry out of a line-up, or lament upon the dangers the Enbridge pipeline poses to the environment in the west. Rather we need to know about former prime ministers, the names of provinces and territories, and the names and dates of important pieces of Canadian legislation.

But thanks to my cousin James, I now have a deeper understanding of the real Canada, an understanding of my adopted homeland that goes beyond mere facts and figure.

And it’s not any wannabe Canadian that can say they’ve bled for their country.