If you’ve ever been a children’s birthday party or were ever a child yourself, chances are you’re well-familiar with the great sport of bowling. However, if you were go bowling in the Canadian Maritimes, chances are you’d be quite confused by the bite-sized balls and narrow pins, barely thicker than a candlestick.

That’s because candlepin bowling is the game of choice for bowlers on the East Coast. This unique take on classic bowling features some notable differences, including smaller balls without the fingerholes and much thinner pins – hence the candlepin” moniker. While candlepin bowlers get three chances to clear a frame, fallen pins are not picked up when they fall over. Combined with the smaller ball and pins, this makes candlepin bowling distinctly more difficult than normal bowling.

Originating in the American state of Massachusetts in the early 1880s, the sport is believed to have been invented by a pool hall owner named Justin White and a local billiards player named John J. Monsey. In 1906, following White’s death, Monsey kept the fledgling sport alive through the establishment of the National Duckpin and Candlepin Congress with the aim of standardizing candlepin rules and how the game is played throughout North America.

The Legends of Candlepin Bowling 

By the 1950s, the sport had spread across the northeastern United States and into the maritime provinces where people quickly grew attached to the challenging pastime. In particular, the popularity of candlepin bowling spread like wildfire in the region of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

According to the Cape Breton Post, the popularity of bowling exploded in the early sixties with over 700 teams competing in 90 candlepin bowling leagues in the Cape Breton area alone. Estimates said there were over 10,000 candlepin bowlers on the island whereas there had been only a few hundred a couple of years before. 

Not only was candlepin bowling televised from 1958 to 1996, but the sport was even profiled in the pages of Sports Illustrated in 1987, paying homage to legendary candlepin bowler Stasia Czernicki who was a six-time world champion and 9‑time female Bowler of the Year.

However, the title of King of the Candlepins” belonged to Cape Bretonner Wilbert Marty” Martel, who long held the world record for a 213 single string, his record unchallenged until Ralph Semb hit a 245 string in 1984 more than 25 years after Martel’s death. Martel was also said to have hit the 400 mark over two dozen times over his long career – an achievement most candlepin bowlers struggle to hit even once. Though he passed away in 1958 at the age of 72, his achievements and contributions to the sport are commemorated at the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

Where to Play Candlepin Bowling in Canada

Today, there are nearly 50 bowling alleys that offer candlepin bowling in Canada, primarily in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. For a complete list of venues that offer candlepin bowling in Halifax and other parts of Canada, check out StrikeSpot​.ca.

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