“What’s crokinole?”

Lee Valley makes a very traditional crokinole board.

Lee Valley sells a very traditional, classic crokinole board. To see some beautiful handmade ones, look here. (Photo from leevalley.com)

Last weekend when we were at the Manse in Queensborough, I was reading the upcoming-community-events listings in one of the local weekly newspapers and this caught my eye (because it was in Eldorado, the village where one of the churches in my dad‘s old pastoral charge was located):

“ELDORADO CROKINOLE Party Friday, January 18, 8 p.m., Madoc Township Recreation Centre, Hwy #62 at Eldorado. Everyone is welcome. Please bring lunch.”

Which I proceeded to read aloud to Raymond, because it sounded like such a lovely, homey, old-fashioned event. And we’d missed it by only a few hours. (It was late Friday night.)

To which he responded: “What’s crokinole?”

Ah, these poor benighted born-in-the-U.S.A. folks. They just don’t know anything about our rural Ontario traditions.

So I explained about the big round (or octagonal) board, and how you’d flick the little wooden disks toward the hole in the centre, meanwhile trying to knock your opponents’ wooden disks out of the running (kind of like shuffleboard, or curling, or bocce, I explained). And also the all-important part about how if one of the wooden disks you flicked pinged against one of the metal stick thingies close to the centre of the board, it would hurt your finger. Why on earth it would hurt your finger after you’d already flicked it is beyond my comprehension, but there you go. It’s part of the game. (As our friend Jim Withers said in a crokinole-themed comment he made on an earlier post that mentioned vintage board games, “it’s one of the great mysteries.”)

Anyway, Raymond kind of looked on blankly as I told him about all this. But I think if I got him into a rousing game of crokinole the natural competitor in him would emerge, and he’d have a whale of a time.

So the question is: When is the next Eldorado Crokinole Party?

A beautiful vintage crokinole board, purchased from Eaton's in 1920. Now I have crokinole-board envy! (Photo courtesy of Scott Anderson)

A beautiful vintage crokinole board, purchased from Eaton’s in 1920. (Photo courtesy of Scott Anderson)

Postscript: Thanks to readers who sent in stories of their own fondness for crokinole, and their happy memories of playing it; you have inspired Raymond and me to try to find a board – preferably a vintage one – for the Manse.

Scott Anderson (a Hastings County native, from the village of Blessington, down in the southeast corner of the county) sent the photo at right of a board that has been in his family since before he was born, and that holds pride of place in his family cottage.

It was purchased from Eaton’s in 1920 and he still has the handwritten receipt for $5 – how cool is that?

I now have crokinole-board envy.

21 thoughts on ““What’s crokinole?”

  1. Ohhhh…you’ve hit on a subject close to my heart! We played tons of crokinole growing up, and Denis, the boys and I play it lots now. It’s so quick to learn and easy to play that adults really have no advantage over kids, so it’s the perfect family game. As you noted, it’s also great for parties–neighbours in Reaboro held a crokinole night in the dead of last winter, and we put together a similar gathering after church this past Sunday that was a big hit. But I find it’s one extreme or the other with crokinole–people love it or have never heard of it. (Well, actually, there’s a third option: “I think we played that at the cottage when I was a kid.”) One of my favourite stories on the subject involves calling Mr. Crokinole (Wayne Kelly), who runs http://www.crokinole.com as well as the ambitiously named World Crokinole Championship near Stratford every June. Anyway, I found his website on a search for replacement discs for the Payne family board. Wayne was fascinating to talk to–enthusiasts keen to share their passion always are–and informed me he’d need to know more since there are several different sizes of discs. I told him the shape of the board and what the surface looked like. He immediately said “It has red and green posts, right?” Well, yes. He then named the company that made it and told me the years in which they manufactured this model. I was smitten. Anyway, the website has everything from the history of the game to official rules to a breathtaking range of boards and accessories available for purchase. I lust after some of these gorgeous wood creations the way you would lust after a turquoise Aga, Katherine. Fun historic fact: Crokinole was invented in Ontario. A German-Canadian carpenter made the first board in Perth County in 1876. I’ll stop now.

    • Ah, I knew that post would strike a chord with you, Nancy; your passion for crokinole – and skill at organizing church crokinole parties – were not unknown to me. Thank you so much for the link to Mr. Crokinole’s site; I found a vintage board from the T. Eaton company (“call for price” – uh-oh) that I think would be perfect for the Manse. Not to mention the rules, which I need to be reminded of after all these years not playing. Believe it or not I actually did know about the very fist crokinole board and where it was made, thanks to a comment on a post some months ago from friend and former colleague Jim Withers. Apparently the inventor – one Eckhardt Wettlaufer – is an ancestor of the daughter-in-law of another former Gazette colleague. How do you like that!

  2. Such a memory this post triggered…of early childhood at a rare evening event outside the home, the murmur of adult conversation fading as I drifted asleep on a bench at one or other of the one-room schoolhouses in our community, adults laughing and chatting, playing crokinole. Men smoking. Women preparing lunch. Even at 11PM, it was lunch. These are folk who had already had a word for food at noon – dinner!
    Somehow our family acquired the (heavy) wooden crokinole board at one point, with little nails guarding the coveted centre position – I recall trying the game with my brother and found it hurt! Granted, not hockey injuries, but those little white marks on the fingernails from too-aggressive, ah, crokinoling? Lovely to hear that this life still goes on in Q’boro.

    • Lindi, you’ve conjured up good memories (and pictures) too: a kid falling asleep in a cozy corner while the adults are having a pleasant time at a community function; and yes, the men smoking: I’d forgotten that, but the room at an old-time crokinole party or euchre party would have been pretty smoky. Even that makes me nostalgic in a crazy sort of way! And dinner at noon – that was the way it was for most people back then.

      As for the way pinging the crokinole pieces against the bars hurts one’s fingernails: seems like you and I are bothered more by that than are those who play regularly. Perhaps one gets accustomed to it and toughened against it, the way people learning to play the guitar get callouses and the strings don’t hurt their fingertips anymore. I guess I shall have to investigate!

  3. When we get home you and Raymond must come over for a game of crokinole. Mary’s wedding gift to her brother(Marcus) was a beautiful handmade crokinole board. Geraldine (the bride) was like Raymond…What is this?

  4. Katherine: I have been reading your entries daily since I discovered your site. it was the wedding at the manse that first tweaked my attention. It was my parents wedding and it was so nice to see them recognized. Doubtless there were other weddings there, but I believe their’s may have been the first. The reason that it was there was becuase the minister was ill that day, but did manage to get our of bed long enough to perform the ceremony. Both Cyril and I enjoyed the entry about your father. We were so very, very fond of him and shared many, many happy memories of him, especially during the maple syrup season. The crokinole parties at Eldorado were begun as part of a money making venture for the church before it closed. But once it closed, we were hesitant to give up these evenings of fellowship and fun. We had thirty-six out last Friday evening and this is about average. Come on over. The next party will be on Friday, February 15th, at 8:00 pm. They are held the third Friday night of evert month at the Township building on Highway #62. Hope to see you there some night.

    Isabella and Cyril Shaw

    • How absolutely lovely to hear from you, Isabella and Cyril! I am honoured that you’ve been reading Meanwhile, at the Manse. I have such happy memories of Dad and Cyril working together to make maple syrup, and of visiting at your home, and of course of the Eldorado Expos ball team! We ran into Scott at the Melbourne auction a few months ago, and he told us there might be a reunion of the Expos. Good stuff!

      As a gift for my mum, I bought some of your syrup (which of course is the best in the world) at the Chicken Coop outside Tweed a while back. She was delighted, and loved it. I am so happy to see that you are still making it – and winning prizes, as I saw at the Madoc Fair.

      Thank you for the information on the Eldorado crokinole parties. Usually we don’t get to the Manse until very late Friday night, but we will try to arrange our schedule so we can attend one in the not-too-distant future. It would be totally great to spend some time with Eldorado community folks again. But we’ll have to study up on the rules for crokinole!

  5. I use to play the game when I was little with my brothers and sister but I don’t think we played it right. Then as I got much older like a few years ago our very dear friends and the man that married Jos and I, George and Judith Best taught us how the game is really played. They have there very own board that they made. But just a warning if you ever have the chance to play with George get ready to move from his serve you just might get injured.. lol Maybe we will have a great game one day all of us.. 🙂

  6. Katherine:
    I don’t know how Ray passed time as a child without crokinole (or, euchre). Our family board hangs like a shrine at the cottage. It was purchased from Eaton’s in 1920 and cost $5 – we still have the hand-written receipt! (I tried posting a pic of it here, but couldn’t.)

    • I know, I know! He informs me they played Scrabble and cribbage and Hearts (apparently they called it La Vieille Pisseuse, which is kind of wild), but crokinole was unknown. How lovely that your family still has that vintage crokinole board from Eaton’s and the receipt for it! That is the absolutely perfect thing for a family cottage. I hope you take it down and play sometimes!

    • P.S. It’s annoying that one can’t post photos in comments on WordPress, but I’ll send you my email address and I would love it if you would send the photo of your heirloom crokinole board. I’d be pleased to add it to the post. (By the way, thanks to a link that my cousin Nancy sent, I think I have a line on a vintage board – from the T. Eaton Company. Perfect for the Manse!)

  7. When we were cleaning out my mother-in-law’s late aunt’s house in Sointula we occasionally came upon some treasures, some of value (Japanese glass fishing floats, antique crocks, probably some Duz), some not so much (lead, lead and more lead. And asbestos. And lead.) My MIL was pretty generous with letting us claim stuff that we liked (I scored a dough pin that I love, among other things) so when I spotted a crokinole board I whooped and hollered and jumped all over it, claiming it loud and clear so that no other relative could get their crokinole-grubbing hands on in. Blank stares. Crickets. So yeah, my in-laws were firmly in the never-heard-of-it camp.

    For all the treasures we found, I never did discover any of the wooden discs – or crokes, as we called them growing up. (Didn’t you tell me they’re called biscuits, Nancy?) Thankfully I stumbled across some in a toy store in Victoria a few years back and now Christian is exhibiting signs of being a crokinole-savant. He’s almost ready to take on Grandpa Philip. Who, come to think of it, was always my partner, mostly because he was the only one that was able to salvage my less-than-stellar shots.

    Hmmm…now that you’ve brought up the subject, it’s amazing how many crokinole memories have come to mind. The way Dad holds his disks while he’s waiting for his shot. The way Grandma’s board had ring discs that you could wrap around a post. The finger sting. The smell of the hand lotion Mom always put on after dishes and before crokinole. The contortions you go through to keep some part of your derriere on your chair while you make a shot. (That’s a legitimate rule, right? Not just something Bruce made up?). I hope my kids will have similar memories down the road. Maybe they’ll fight over who gets to keep great-great-Aunt Mamie’s crokinole board. Or just maybe Christian will be salvaging my less-than-stellar shots some day.

    • What a lovely story, Valerie! I guess I hadn’t realized just how crazy about crokinole your family was/is. I love the part about the hand lotion your mum would put on in between dishes and crokinole. I bet it felt awfully good to her, after another long day cooking and washing up and not to mention working on the farm, to sit down and relax with her family and play crokinole. That is a wonderful image you have conquered up.

  8. Crokinole is fun.
    If it hurts you’re doing it wrong.
    And I can probably kick your ass at it. Which does have to stay in the chair Valerie even if you are really little and can’t reach very easily. Mom was always my partner and she made the pieces all greasy with her hand lotion but they did smell good.
    Jennifer says I’m cranky but I’m mostly just tired.

      • Done properly you place your finger against the biscuit and then push/flick. The only reason it can hurt is because people don’t make contact initially they pull back their finger slightly so there is an impact with the biscuit when they “flick”. Not only does the impact hurt but it makes it really hard to be accurate. Watch my dad or anyone who is really good play and there is no click when the fingernail makes contact because the fingernail starts out in contact.
        Admittedly even the good players periodically mishit and get the sting but thats because even they sometimes do it wrong.

      • Okay, this is seriously good information, Bruce – thank you! I never ever knew that. I received a lovely email last night from one of the organizers of the Eldorado crokinole parties, encouraging Raymond and me to attend, which I do hope to do. And now I know (sort of; a live demonstration would help) how to flick and swish! Oh, wait a minute; that’s Harry Potter… I wonder if “wingardium leviosa” would help me win at crokinole…

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