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Champions Greeted by Piper Hilda Towerzey; A CurlManitoba Tradition

Monday Apr 27 2015

When Piper Hilda Towerzey greeted Lois Fowler’s World Senior Women’s Champions at the Winnipeg Airport on Monday, April 27, in CurlManitoba’s traditional greeting for returning world and Canadian champions, it continued a tradition which began over four decades ago for Towerzey.            

The piper, a member of the Manitoba Pipes & Drums, first assisted in the airport ceremony to greet a returning Don Duguid champion team. She believes she has greeted every returning Canadian and World Champion team since.

At first, she was a teenager and it was just another opportunity to play the bagpipes but as she continued to be called upon to ‘go to the airport’, Hilda Towerzey realized it was an opportunity to make a special moment in curlers lives just a little more special.

The tradition has continued through a very successful Manitoba 2014-15 curling season which has seen her make the trip to the airport eight times. Fowler’s World title joins Braden Calvert’s Junior Men’s World Gold; Canadian championships in the Women’s (Jennifer Jones), Senior Men (Randy Neufeld), Junior Men (Braden Calvert), and Masters Men (Ron Westcott) categories; and the Canada Games Men (Colin Kurz) and Optimist International U-18 (Hayden Forrester) Championships.

An avid curler and curling fan, Towerzey monitors the results of events underway and always plans to be available when she gets the information about flight times for returning champions. She admits that over the years, it has disrupted family meals and other plans but says it has been special to be a part of the tradition.

“I just wish I had started a photo album or kept a record of all the teams I’ve been at the airport for,” she said recently as she waited for one of the teams to arrive.

Returning from their success in Sochi, Russia as Manitoba’s first World Senior Champions, men or women, Lois Fowler knew she would be greeted by the sound of Hilda Towerzey’s bagpipes. It was an experience she’d had twice before. The first time was a year ago, when Fowler, Maureen Bonar, Cathy Gauthier, and Allyson Stewart returned with the Canadian championship and the second time was just a few weeks ago at a ‘send-off reception’ at Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club (AMCC) as they prepared to go to the World event.

At the party at AMCC, Fowler had said how hopeful she was that her team would see (and hear) Towerzey again. “We know she is always at the airport to greet the champions. If it happens again, it will mean we have won the world gold medal,” Fowler said at the time.

CurlManitoba President Kim Warburton, also on hand at the airport to greet the returning Fowler team, said Piper Towerzey is part of a very important Manitoba curling tradition. “As far as we know it doesn’t happen in any other province. However, we think it’s important to celebrate the successes of our teams,” Warburton said. “Also, when the crowds of people hear the pipes and ask what it’s about, that’s important visibility for our sport.”

From Don Duguid to this year’s world champion Fowler and Calvert teams, the record of Manitoba successes includes almost 80 Canadian and World champions for an average of nearly two per year since Piper Towerzey became part of the welcoming tradition.

The most memorable of her airport receptions, Towerzey admits, was the return of Jennifer Jones and her team with their Gold Medals from the Sochi Olympics in 2014. However, she says it was also very special when she was asked to greet Kerry Burtnyk, since she has been a longtime Assiniboine Memorial member.

Ironically, while she was the piper for Burtnyk’s teams returning from a pair of Canadian championships, his World title was won in Lois Fowler’s hometown of Brandon so no airport reception was required.

“But I did get to pipe his team at the celebration at Assiniboine Memorial,” says Towerzey, who admits she can’t begin to estimate the number of times she has been asked to pipe for curling events ranging from club banquets, champion receptions and send-offs to various banquets. She has also provided the processional music for wedding s, including Connie Laliberte and Barb, Darcy & James Kirkness.

Next on her calendar is the annual Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at CanadInns-Polo Park on May 3rd. Once again she will have the opportunity to pipe in the Jennifer Jones Olympic Gold Medal team along with the other 2014 inductees – Builders Tom Clasper, Arnold Asham and Lorne Hamblin and Paralympian Dennis Thiessen, the first Wheelchair athlete inducted into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame.

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