Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Dreams On Ice



"There was one little girl whose wish it was to meet Isabelle and me... I was immensely moved by this child's bravery. We talked and ate lunch together, and she attended the show as our special guest, where her smile little up the night's sky. A few weeks later, I was saddened to learn that she had died... Sometimes, when I am overwrought at a competition, where I don't think the judges have treated us fairly, I will stop and find myself thinking about that little girl. Everything else will pale in comparison, and instantly, the judges' marks won't seem so important after all." - Lloyd Eisler, "Brasseur And Eisler: The Professional Years", 1999

During the nineties, the amount of professional figure skating shows, tours and competitions that cropped up in a short amount of time was nothing short of prolific. Audiences wanted figure skating and event producers and networks delivered. What made one of these shows in particular so unique was that it was a fundraiser for The Children's Wish Foundation Of Canada and no small one at that. From 1992 to 1997, Dreams On Ice raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charity, which has been making dreams come true for children living with life threatening illnesses since 1984. The show, packaged for Canadian television, was ranked the highest watched Canadian produced televised program in 1993 and was nominated for a Gemini Award in 1995. But how did it all get started?

In 1991, Isabelle Brasseur, Lloyd Eisler and Lou-Anne Brosseau teamed up with the idea of doing a show to benefit the children's charity. In a June 17, 1992 article in "The Windsor Star", Brosseau said, "I spoke with Lloyd after he and Isabelle had been contacted about becoming involved at the provincial level and he suggested staging a skating show. Once it became known where some of the proceeds would be going, it wasn't difficult to put together a strong cast." A logo was designed - a skate blade with shooting stars - and Lloyd took on an important role in drumming up support among skaters. At the 1992 World Figure Skating Championships in Oakland, California, then Vice-President of CTV Sports Peter Sisam got on board. He put the organizers in touch with Canadian Airlines to help with sponsorship and arranged to have the production aired on television. Eisler told reporter Dave Hall from "The Windsor Star" that "there never seems to be enough time to do all the things we want to do but putting on an ice show is something we know a little about and helping children fulfil their dreams is an easy charity to get behind.'' 


The first show was held in Windsor, Ontario on September 19, 1992. The cast that first year included Brasseur and Eisler, Brian Orser, Elvis Stojko, Jill Trenary, Mark Mitchell, Karen Preston, Christine Hough and Doug Ladret, Michelle McDonald and Martin Smith and Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak. Mitchell was a last minute replacement for Canadian Champion Michael Slipchuk, who injured his ankle just two days before the show was set to start. The show did have its challenges. Recurring issues with clearing synchronization rights for music over the years meant 'muzak' was sometimes used on the television broadcasts. In 1993, Isabelle Brasseur actually contacted Eric Clapton's agent directly for permission to use "Tears In Heaven". She got the go ahead. 


However, financially and in terms of production, Dreams On Ice (sponsored over the year alternately by Kraft and Chrysler) was a huge hit with Canadian audiences and I'm sure most of you living here in the country will remember the show fondly. Over the six years the show was held, a who's who of Canadian figure skating got on board to perform and support the event, including Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Josée Chouinard, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, Jennifer Robinson and
Sébastien Britten.

Support also came in from skaters from around the world. Among the many skaters from abroad who came to Ontario to participate were Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie, Nancy Kerrigan, Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov, Todd Eldredge, Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko, Yuka Sato, Caryn Kadavy and Jozef Sabovcik. Original music for the show's opening and closing sequences was especially composed by Montreal pianist Karl Hugo and the show even sparked spin-off's in Brampton and London called "Winter Dreams On Ice" in the late nineties.


The stories of the children whose dreams came true choke you up even reading about them now. In 1993, a nine year old Windsor girl with a rare form of leukemia was sponsored. An account from the show's organizers noted that "due to the constant hospital visits and treatment, Sarah's parents thought that an event like Dreams On Ice might be too much for Sarah and the child was crushed to find that her parents had not purchased tickets for the event. Sarah's family had heard of the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada through the Cancer treatment center at the hospital and contacted them one day prior to the show hoping they could help with tickets for the family. B.B.E. Productions were contacted that morning and immediately went to work to grant the favourite wish of the Windsor child. Sarah arrived at the Windsor Arena just on time to enjoy watching the skaters rehearse and join in for a pizza party. Many of the skaters stopped to have their picture taken with Sarah and sign a few autographs for her! Tickets for front row seats were provided for the whole family as they attended the show as special guests." 

Three years later it was Jocelyn, a fifteen year old with a life threatening illness living in Kitchener: 
"[She] had a wish to meet Elvis Stojko in person and to attend the World Figure Skating Championships in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. The Children's Wish Foundation of Canada granted Jocelyn's wish by providing her and her family with all-event tickets to the World Championships and contacted B.B.E. Productions directly to see if it would be possible for Jocelyn to attend Dreams On Ice to watch Elvis skate and to give Jocelyn the opportunity to meet Elvis in person. On Friday, September 8, 1995, B.B.E. Productions Inc. held a media reception to introduce the cast of the 1995 event. The media from radio, television and newspaper were on hand to witness the surprise of Jocelyn's life! During the media reception, the founder of the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada, Ms. Laura Cole, announced to the audience that Jocelyn had a wish and that she had no idea what she was about to encounter. Jocelyn came into the room a short time later with her parents and Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler greeted her at the door. She immediately recognized Isabelle and hugged her! Lloyd took Jocelyn by the hand and led her to the front of the room where the other skaters and Elvis were seated. Upon seeing Elvis Stojko, Jocelyn collapsed to the floor in tears stating "Oh.... that's Elvis Stojko!" The moment was very touching as Elvis helped her up and gave her a hug. Tears were streaming down the faces of everyone in attendance including the skaters! It was a moment that will never be forgotten for many years to come."

Figure skating brings so much joy to so many people and it's always touching to see skaters recognize its power to heal and help others. Dreams On Ice serves as a wonderful memory of that, its place in skating history a beautiful one.

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