Growing up in small-town Nova Scotia, this is what I knew of as bowling. I have photos of me from pre-school where I am throwing a ball down a lane. I don’t know exactly what drew my attention to the sport. My Dad’s youngest brother and sister both competed on a local cable access program and I think they both won their matches. My brother and I thought it was cool that we could one day end up on local television competing for prizes. To his credit, my brother made it to a few television tapings. I was out of the sport at that point.
Candlepin bowling in particular became a regular part of life. For a couple of years as kids, we bowled as a family one evening a week. Initially that was Thursdays, then it moved to Saturdays. My brother and I did not get into the Youth Bowling Council programs until we were well into grade school. I went during the after school program on Wednesdays, while my brother started on Saturday mornings. We both were well-known to the many people who worked at the place. That was largely in part due to the connections from former family members. On storm days or in-service days when schools were closed, we both would regularly get dropped off at the alley for the morning and bowl for the entire morning or afternoon. We usually would get two lanes beside each other, that way we could just go and fill a full scoring sheet with games. We would both be drenched in sweat when it was time to leave. On average we would end up throwing anywhere from 15-25 games a piece. That may be why I worked quickly in league play later on. I developed good enough strength and speed to just get going when it was my turn. We had our competitive moments where we would get frustrated with each other. We both took it too seriously at times and that made for intense competition that we blew our of proportion.
My skills resulted in some great scores for my age and a few team and singles finishes. One of the last tournaments I was involved in, I finished first and qualified for provincial championships in Halifax. That provincial tournament was an absolute disaster. That was the end of me and candlepin bowling as a league player. My fatigue of the game at that point was peaked and other life interests took priority.
In between all of the candlepin bowling, there was always an interest in the other game styles. Consider that candlepin is only played in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and a few states beyond the New Brunswick / Maine border. I watched 5-Pin bowling on CBC television when it appeared for its’ yearly prize tournaments. So when we went to Prince Edward Island as kids, that meant we had to stop at least once at the old Basilica Recreation Center, now known as “The Alley”. To this day, I love the 5-Pin game the most. It is a made-in-Canada creation that has given me great fun and memories of my most competitive league bowling days. Between the fall of 1999 and the mid 2000’s I bowled 5-Pin competitively in Banff and Calgary Alberta and for part of a year in Thunder Bay Ontario. My year in Thunder Bay was cut short due to a painful knee injury. My 5-Pin average had dropped from the low 200’s to 190. I have not been involved in league bowling since.
My brother and I continued to bowl candlepin at least once a year during his trips home after I returned to Nova Scotia in 2012. He was significantly more proficient in the game than I ever would be even though I was able to keep up with his and occasionally top his scores. His dedication to candlepin bowling was something I respected even after I was tired of the game. He ended up winning one major title in the late 1990’s bowling against top talent from both sides of the border.
After David passed last year, I made a point to mention bowling in his obituary. The Pictou Advocate and I collaborated on a great article devoted to his bowling accomplishments. When he was bowling as an adult, he was often out two and three times a week, then assisting Saturday mornings helping to run the youth leagues. It game him another purpose and get him moving.
When his health started to decline, we found ourselves talking about older times. Older games, older tournaments and clips of professional matches that now can be found through cursory YouTube searches. I took interest in the candlepin game again because our discussions were so enjoyable. I slowly regained interest in the game. On my birthday, spouse and I threw some games at the very place where David spent the majority of his league nights. It was enjoyable and a bit surreal at the same time. It was a reminder that it was a place that kept him active. It kept him happy. It was the sport he had the most interest in and formed part of his personal identity.