The Chatham Lawn Bowling Club

I walked past the Chatham Lawn Bowling Club recently, while club members were setting up for a game. I said hello, and soon found myself touring the clubhouse, hearing about the sport, and throwing a few bowls. They’re a friendly bunch at the CLBC.

Lawn bowling has a long and intriguing history in Chatham, in Canada, and around the world. Here are some of the things I learned, from club members and from later research.

How The Sport Is Played

Lawn bowling, sometimes called “bowls” or “lawn bowls,” is played on a flat, grassed surface, the “bowling green.” The green is divided into parallel playing strips, called “rinks.”

A game may be between two individuals or between teams of two, three, or four players.

A coin is tossed and the winner rolls the target ball, called a “jack” or “kitty,” to the far end of the rink. The jack is smaller than the other balls, which are called “bowls.” Jacks are round and white.

Then the individual’s or team’s bowls are rolled, alternately and strategically, toward the jack. Lawn bowlers, apparently, employ both offensive and defensive tactics.

The bowls are larger than the jacks, not white ― and not round, as I had expected. Bowls are elliptical ― two of their sides are noticeably less than round. It is this design that allows the bowlers to make their throws curve to the left or right, to reach the best places near the jack.

The object of the game is to roll more bowls closer to the jack than the other individual’s or team’s. Much of the game is similar to curling, without the ice.

Maintenance of the bowling green is a time-consuming and difficult task. It must be cut and trimmed, just so.

Lawn bowling is played in over 40 countries. There are 14,000 bowlers in Canada, with national and provincial competitions in men’s, women’s, mixed, under 18, under 25, and blind categories.

A Very Brief History Of Lawn Bowling

The earliest reports of lawn bowling, or something close to lawn bowling, are from ancient Egypt. The game spread to Greece, Rome, and then Britain, where it has been played since the thirteenth century.

The world’s oldest surviving bowling green is the Southampton Old Bowling Green in England. It was first used in 1299.

Bowling was banned in later Medieval England, for fear it would cause a decline in the practice of archery, then the principal weapon of war. It was later kept under ban because greens became associated with taverns, drinking, and gambling.

The sport received a boost with the invention of the lawn mower in 1830. Until then, sheep grazing on the bowling greens was the favoured method of grass cutting.

The first record of lawn bowling in Canada is from 1730 in Nova Scotia. In 1888, seven clubs took part in a tournament in Toronto.

Chatham Lawn Bowling Club

The club has been in Tecumseh Park since 1895. It is one of the oldest clubs in Ontario.

A touring British bowling team visited Chatham in 1906 and played the CLBC. The British team said the following.

“The Chatham Lawn Bowling Club was organised in 1895, and has steadily increased from year to year. The green is beautifully situated on Tecumseh Park, at the junction of the River Thames and McGregor’s Creek. No more delightful spot can be found in the country.”

“This game was remarkable mostly for the weather conditions under which it was played. The sky had darkened ere we had well begun, and a few large drops of rain fell, sending the players skurrying into the bowl house like as many rabbits burrowing for shelter from the fangs of a hunter’s dog, and threatening to put a stop to all further play for the day at least.”

“The storm held off, however, and the game went on amidst the ominous grumbling and rumbling of thunder, and the occasional glaring and flashing of lightning, and was won by us by a majority of fourteen shots only, which was a pretty narrow squeak for it.”

The CLBC has nine rinks and a clubhouse with clubroom, kitchen, and lockers.

I’m sure there are many more interesting stories about lawn bowling. Why not visit the Club and watch the play ― or give it a try. You can have three free games, with instructions.

The CLBC is open Mondays at 1 p.m. and Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m., from May to October.  

You can get more information at

~ Clair Culliford


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