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INSTANT REPLAY: Royalty on the greens
Duncan Holness is a bearded and pony-tailed 31-year-old University of Saskatchewan kinesiology and physical education student. And he’s carrying on the tradition of a North Van family that some refer to as lawn bowling’s royalty in these here parts.
Though born in Kamloops and raised in Maple Ridge, Duncan has plenty of connections to the North Shore, including the unlikely story of the very bowls he plays with, to say nothing of his paternal grandparents, Tom and Muriel Holness, and their involvement in lawn bowling at the very top of the sport in Canada and worldwide.
So Duncan’s participation in last week’s superbly run Canadian lawn bowling championships at the North Van and West Van greens provides the continuation of a Holness family walk through time.
The royalty reference was made to me during the Canadian tournament by David Calam, Saskatchewan team manager. After turning 67 the day the week-long nationals opened, Calam was unexpectedly required to substitute for Duncan on Saskatchewan’s triples team following the sixth of nine sessions during the round-robin portion of the competition. At the time, Saskatchewan was in contention for a top-three placing with a won-lost record of 4-2. They eventually finished fifth.
Holness – who won the Canadian junior championships in 2001, played in the worlds in Belfast the following year and competed in the Canadian open championships in pairs in 2011 and singles in 2012 – was forced to the sidelines when he developed blood clots in his throwing arm which apparently runs in the family just like bowling does.
To understand Duncan’s environmental makeup, we need to go back to when Duncan’s grandparents – young marrieds at the time – emigrated from Great Britain to Canada and North Vancouver in 1948. The United Kingdom and its aristocracy has long been associated with the game of bowls, so the Holnesses becoming royalty here is certainly fitting.
Upon settling here, the Holnesses joined the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club. Tom won the prestigious McMillian Shield as club singles champion in 1951. He was instrumental with others in drawing up plans for a new clubhouse in 1964. Instead, the ancient and deteriorating clubhouse was moved from the north end of the greens to the east side to accommodate the building of the nearby recreation centre. Then the roof collapsed under the weight of a winter snowfall. The club had to operate from a tent for a whole season while Tom and others met with the City of North Vancouver to present and discuss plans for a new clubhouse which the City built.
The Holness name also appears as winners on several of the club’s other silverware such as the Gault Trophy for ladies singles earned by Muriel in 1971, the mixed doubles trophy copped by Tom and daughter Debra in 1972 and the ladies triples won by a team which included Muriel and Debra in 1973.
Then came 1974 and the crowning glory in Muriel’s playing career as she won the club singles again and then the coveted Canadian championships, the first time a North Vancouverite had captured a national ladies bowls title.
But it was in leadership skills that the Holnesses shone brightest. Muriel was president of the ladies section of the club for five years (1971-73, 1978 and 1980) before the amalgamation of the men’s and women’s sections in 1988. (Only George Blaker’s combined club reign of nine years, 1994-97 and 2001-05, is longer.)
Meanwhile Tom was ascending the executive ladder with the Canadian Lawn Bowling Council (now Bowls Canada), serving as vice-president in 1979 and eventually president in 1983.
Then, while Muriel was rising to the presidency of the Canadian organization in 1990, Tom was on his way up on the world level as vice-president of the International Bowling Board, the organization of which he would become president in the mid-1990s.
Both Tom, in 1985, and later Muriel, who was Vancouver & District Bowls Association president in 1996 and ’97, were honoured as life members of the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club.
In 1996, they were given the President’s Award by Bowls BC in recognition of their extraordinary contribution to the sport in this province. Before his death at 80 in 2002, Tom was bestowed with Honourary Life Membership in the world bowls organization.
The Holness’ son Brian and his wife Heather (Duncan’s parents) met at St. Andrew’s United Church at St. Georges and East 11th in 1976. Heather was in North Van at the time, moving from Vancouver to live with her sister and attend Argyle for Grade 11 while her parents were away for a year on Gabriola Island. Brian, a soccer and basketball player, was in his graduating year at North Van High. But he had also started lawn bowling at the North Van club at age 11.
If Heather wanted to see Brian, she tells me, she had to love lawn bowling too. She did and they married in 1979. Last Friday it was Brian who expertly assembled a slideshow of photos, edited from the hundreds of pictures taken by an army of volunteer photographers during the Canadians, and showcased at the championship banquet.
Of course you want to know about those bowls of Duncan’s. After taking up the sport in Maple Ridge while in high school, he decided he liked playing with size sevens, the largest made and only good for the chosen few who can handle them. They are difficult to find, requiring a special order. Then he learned of an auction of used bowls at the North Van club. A set of size sevens was up for grabs. Naturally no one wanted them except Duncan. He’s been bowling with them ever since.
While he doesn’t know who originally owned them, playing with them at the Canadian championships hosted right here where his grandparents are considered royalty completes a circle that began with their arrival in North Van in 1948, exactly 65 years ago.
This is episode 486 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.