Lawn bowling has a number of sister sports, many of which seem to be making a modern day comeback, a phenomenon we might attribute to the rise of slow living or in any case to hipster culture. Bocci Ball, Pétanque, Croquet, Curling, Shuffleboard, even Horseshoes all share a similar ethos: play slow and measured, commit yourself to showing up regularly, and embrace the nuance of a subtle game. Maybe it’s a sign of us getting older but we have noticed dedicated lawn game groups popping up and attracting friends across North America from Portland to Toronto. We like to throw a good Cornhole bean bag, ourselves.
Our experiences with slow games like these dot our memories like stones skip across a placid lake. The time we tried Curling at a cousin’s wedding in Colorado, watching Cricket with a couple of pints on London’s Richmond Green not long after we met, playing horseshoes with Cassie’s dad in Texas. Or the coming-of-age moment when Mark’s grandparents gave him the significant honour of casting the wooden Coche to begin their game of Pétanque in front of the club’s tournament audience.
Lawn Bowling is indeed nostalgic and plays on national identity, especially favouring Canada’s British qualities rather than its American ones. Players embrace propriety, sophistication and a love for simpler times. The game represents a type of Britishness that doesn’t exist any more: one steeped in glorious Empire and Victorian restraint.
“Britain, a country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and old maids bicycling through the morning mist.” John Major, former British Prime Minister
We recently drove past a lawn bowling green in New Hamburg and caught a glimpse of what this sport looks like when it is forgotten. Overgrown fields with weeds shot up like guards alerted to a noise. Decaying signage and rusted fences. Untended, unused, and unloved.
Paris’ green recently faced a similar fate. Founded in 1884, the club’s illustrious beginnings featured significant members from the town such as the rural painter, Paul Wickson. One member, Reginald Turnbull, bought the land on which the club now sits for $8000. He established the greens and clubhouse and gifted it to the group in 1928. The County of Brant later acquired the land in the 1980s for $1. More recently with membership dwindling the County threatened to close the club unless numbers increased significantly.
This year marked a turning point; membership is up, attendees are devoted, and the green is finding resilience under the leadership of Paris resident, Bob Hasler, also a devoted volunteer at the Paris Museum. The other members are fellow crusaders – notably making this look fun, like a club you could belong to no matter your age, gender, or athletic persuasion. This dedicated group of bowlers are committed to perfecting their form as much as they are to preserving the town’s rich history; the Paris Club in fact believes itself to be the oldest dedicated lawn bowling club in Ontario (and if it’s not, they’d like to be corrected).
The Club meets twice a week on Monday and Thursday evenings across from the Paris Presbyterian Church overlooking the Grand River, forty feet above Penman’s Dam. There are twenty lighted greens, secluded from the street and ideal for night bowling. They welcome new members (whose membership fee is waived for 2016, or $25 for existing members), even out-of-towners; one Airbnb couple from New Zealand stopped in to see what it was all about and (we were told) had a fabulous time. How could you not?