The death of five-pin bowling has been exaggerated
By Craig Allan, Staff Writer
In August, Burnaby Now printed a story about the closure of the Old Orchard’s Five-Pin Bowling Centre, and the last five-pin bowling alley in Burnaby. This follows another article they did six years prior about the decline of five-pin bowling. However, to close the coffin on five-pin bowling—the uniquely Canadian game played with half the pins and a smaller ball—may be premature, as there are still locations in the Lower Mainland championing the five-pin game. One of those locations resides in Port Coquitlam, where Poco Bowl has been thundering balls down their 14-lane facility since 1950. I spoke with co-owner Angela Madaski about the five-pin game, how her business is adapting to COVID-19, and how her alley plans to continue to be part of the community for years to come.
Madaski inherited the alley from her grandfather and great grandmother who took over the alley on McAllister Avenue located right across from Port Coquitlam City Hall in 1959. Over the years the alley has hosted tournaments, youth bowling leagues, senior leagues, women’s leagues, and customers of all ages while keeping the lanes exclusively for five-pin bowling. Madaski and her siblings now run the bowling alley and they all share a strong passion for the game as their parents and grandparents did before them.
Madaski mentioned that five-pin bowling is “more accessible” than the ten-pin version, because while ten-pin bowling balls can be heavy, and therefore not suitable for children and older people, the five-pin ball is much smaller, lighter, and easier to manage. That does not mean that the game is in any way less difficult. In writing this story, I went down to the alley to test out the five-pin game and found that it proves to be even more of a challenge than its counterpart. This is because when you hit a pin in ten-pin, the pins can knock other pins down, but in five-pin I found it quite common for myself to roll a ball that only took down one pin because the pins were spaced out. This led to a far more challenging game than I expected, and a better appreciation of this uniquely Canadian game.
The alley, like many businesses this year, was not spared from the ravages of COVID-19; they had to close for three months due to the pandemic. Madaski says that they have had “reduced business,” especially with their older customers who are still wary about going to possibly crowded indoor facilities. But as the summer went on, they started to see people returning. One promotion that has helped with this is a “kids bowl free” program, which has no doubt given parents with limited activities for their children a place of refuge and fun in these often bleak times.
Though the alley is a beloved institution in the Port Coquitlam downtown, and even survived a devastating fire four years ago that destroyed a well-known bakery, there are worries on the horizon as a new development for the site of the former bakery has been proposed that could expand into the space of the bowling alley. Madaski is confident that this will not happen though, as the development has some initial plans in place to include a bowling alley in the new building. “We are very supported by the city of Port Coquitlam,” said Madanski. I contacted the city of Port Coquitlam planning office, and while they told me that the vacant lot left by the bakery will be developed soon, the plan does not include tearing down the bowling alley.
The future of five-pin bowling may be up in the air but dedicated curators of the game, like Angela Madaski and her family, are determined to keep the game alive for future generations. To do that though, the sport needs to attract more people. For my experience, I was surprised at how challenging the game proved to be. I definitely want to play again and see if I can get higher than a 40 for my score. I may have hit the gutters more than the pins, but for the Madaski family, the gutter ball for five-pin bowling is still a long way off as the Poco Bowl is dedicated to rolling strikes in Port Coquitlam for a long time to come.