Ball Bustin’ Bitches Create Opportunity for Women in Male-Dominated Pinball Community

League in Montreal Meets Every Tuesday

  • Member of Ball Bustin’ Bitches Dominique Harnois-Caron plays the Harlem Globetrotters pinball machine at North Star machine à piastres on Tuesday, Feb. 9. Photo Claire Loewen

Ball Bustin’ Bitches, Montreal’s first women’s-only pinball league, had their first tournament on Tuesday at North Star machine à piastres on St. Laurent Street.

According to Charlotte Fillmore-Handlon, Concordia student and the league’s organizer, it is an opportunity for women to transition into the male-dominated arcade game community.

“I think, especially for women, it can be a bit intimidating to come into an environment that is hugely male dominated,” Fillmore-Handlon said. “If you don’t know much and you have an interest, I don’t want that to be a barrier.”

“I want people to come and feel comfortable, and play pinball,” she said.

Fillmore-Handlon was introduced to pinball by her boyfriend Adam Kiesler, who co-owns the bar along with Marie-Lyne Tarabulsy and Justin Evans. Kiesler is a competitive pinball player.

“Within the first month we were travelling to tournaments and I was like, ‘Ok, I guess this is something we do,’” Fillmore-Handlon said.

The duo attend one of the biggest pinball tournaments in the world every summer in Pittsburgh. Of approximately 38,000 people listed in the world pinball player ranking, only 2,000 are female, according to Fillmore-Handlon.

The women will meet every Tuesday at North Star to partake in a type of pinball competition called match play. Four people play a four-player game on three pinball machine. At the end, the person with the highest score gets four points, the runner-up gets three, and so forth.

“I want to create an environment where if you can come every week, that’s great,” Fillmore-Handlon said. “But if you can only come every once in awhile, I want you to feel comfortable dropping in.”

“I want people to come and feel comfortable, and play pinball.” — Charlotte Fillmore-Handlon, organizer of Ball Bustin’ Bitches

The league season lasts five weeks, and Fillmore-Handlon wants participants to commit to playing in three of them. However, if someone can’t make it to three events, they are still very welcome to come drop in and play. There will also be other seasons of the league in the future.

The opening of North Star machine à piastres was a victory for the pinball community in Montreal. After the arcade game was restricted for decades due to association with local organized crime, the owners of North Star lobbied the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough to change the laws. The borough is in the process of doing so now, but are allowing North Star to conduct business in the meantime.

The law stated that if a venue was serving beer, only two pinball machines would be allowed. North Star currently has 10 pinball machines, which were made between 1966 and 1989.

“It’s really exciting [that North Star opened] because there has not been anywhere to play pinball in Montreal,” Fillmore-Handlon said.

Her goal of creating a stepping stone for women who want to join the pinball community is paying off.

“I wasn’t part of the pinball community necessarily, but now, because I’m part of the ladies league, I’m super into it,” said North Star bartender, and member of Ball Bustin’ Bitches, Dominique Harnois-Caron.

“I think, despite the fact that we’re all fighting for equality, I think pinball has been seen as a man’s thing. Why not change the rules, and break them, and make it about women as well?” she said.

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