Bridging Borders: The Stories Of The First Two Canadian Men's Champions

In the early days of competitive 'fancy' skating in Canada, skaters from the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa were a dominant force. Today on the blog, we'll meet two fascinating pioneering men from the most wonderful country in the world's capital who paved the way for the skaters of the future. Canada's first two champions in men's figure skating, Ormonde B. Haycock and Douglas H. Nelles, may have just been names on a paper to you before but after learning their stories I think you will be as fascinated by these two 'gentlemen skaters' as I was.  

ORMONDE B. HAYCOCK

Ormonde coaching at the Olympia Skating Club in Detroit. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Born in Ottawa on September 4, 1880, Ormonde 'Ormie' Butler Haycock was the son of of Richard Henry Haycock and Mary LaFontaine. He had one brother and four sisters, one of which grew up to be a senator's wife. Although educated in public schools and at the Lisgar Collegiate School before his father got him a job as the assistant manager of the Canada Life Assurance Company, Ormonde grew up in a skating family and throughout his colourful life, skating is always what this man seemed to turn to.

Ormonde was one of the founders of the Minto Skating Club and a long time executive member. He was also instrumental in the initial organization of the skating club's junior program. His obituary from "The Ottawa Citizen" suggested "he was eight times champion of Canada", but this is incorrect. Although Ormonde 'only' won four Canadian men's titles (in 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1911), he won five Canadian pairs titles, making that nine. One of those pairs titles was won with his sister Aimee, who also won two Canadian women's titles. Ormonde and his other sister Katherine won two pairs titles together and not to be outdone, a third sister named Oswald - who went on to marry Colonel Ivan McSloy - finished second in the now long defunct Waltz event at the Canadian Championships in 1910.

Ormonde Haycock, Lady Evelyn Grey, Eleanor Kingsford and Philip Chrysler

Ormonde's other two national pairs titles were won with Lady Evelyn Grey, the youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Grey. Ormonde was also a member of the Connaught Four which won the North American championship in 1910. In 1911, Ormonde won the Earl Grey Cup for skating teamwork along with Lady Evelyn Grey (the youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Grey), Eleanor Kingsford (later Mrs. John Law) and Philip Chrysler. As many Canadian skating records were lost in the 1949 Minto Skating Club Fire, it's certainly possible that records of more of Ormonde's earlier championship wins went up in flames as well. We do know he competed internationally against Irving Brokaw in a men's event in New York in 1905 and travelled to Great Britain with a group of Canadian skaters in his heyday.

What many don't know about this Canadian skating pioneer is that in addition to his proficiency on the ice, he was equally as comfortable on water that wasn't frozen. As well as being a sailing enthusiast, Ormonde was an accomplished sculler. An early member of the Ottawa Rowing Club, he won rowing championships in Ottawa, St. Catharines and Washington from 1904 to 1906 and in 1906 was part of a four man crew that won an international rowing event in Detroit, Michigan. Ormonde was also musically talented and deeply fond of music. He played several instruments and even composed for piano.

On March 8, 1916 (a year after World War I started) Ormonde enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and went overseas to serve in anti-aircraft batteries. Unlike many, he lived to tell about the war and went back into the insurance business. That didn't last long... and the lure of his lifelong passion for skating returned. After getting married to his wife Florence, Ormonde's increasing interest in teaching skating led him to leave Ottawa to coach skating in Toronto and Lake Placid. Christie Sausa's book "Lake Placid: A Skating History" noted that Ormonde was "fabulously popular" and "performed in the three winter ice carnival skating exhibitions held each winter, in addition to his coaching duties." He later coached in Detroit and Cleveland for a time before making the trek to New York. In the early thirties, Ormonde also worked with skaters in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. He choreographed, directed and performed in the Buffalo Skating Club's 1932 club carnival which was attended by an audience of three thousand, five hundred people.

Ormonde passed away at the age of fifty eight on August 18, 1938 in Canandaigua, New York at his summer home after several months of illness. Although his name or story isn't as remembered as many Canadian skating greats who followed, his legacy is one of a lifelong dedication to the sport we all know and love. Ormonde didn't just help to build skating in one country but did it in two at a time when the competition between Canadian and American skaters was every bit as fierce as it is today. I think we all owe this long lost pioneer a tip of the hat and a big thank you!

DOUGLAS H. NELLES


Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada

Born March 26, 1881 in Grimsby, Ontario, Douglas Henry Nelles was the son of Beverly and Louisa (Buckwell) Nelles. His father was a fruit grower and packer and it's no surprise that young Douglas spent much of his youth outdoors helping with the family business. By his early twenties, Douglas had studied civil engineering and gained employment with the Dominion Land Survey. Travelling with a party of men into the harsh wilderness of Hugh Miller Inlet, Glacier Bay and Skagway and living in tents on the borders of Canada and Alaska, his job was at times quite dangerous.

Douglas H. Nelles and an orderly setting up camp in the wilderness. Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada

Late in the first decade of the twentieth century, Douglas moved to Ottawa and found work as a civil engineer. It was there that he first truly embraced the great art of figure skating. Not long after joining the Minto Skating Club, he claimed the 1910 and 1912 Canadian senior men's titles and the 1912 national pairs title with Eleanor Kingsford. After marrying Marjorie Katura Stowe Wainwright in January 1914, he took a hiatus from skating and served overseas with the Canadian Forestry Corps during World War I, reaching the rank of Major. He was demobilized in 1919 and returned to Canada via Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia aboard the HMT Minnekahda.

Less than a year after he returned to Canada, Douglas was back on the ice. In 1920, he teamed up with Alden Goldwin to claim his second Canadian pairs title and capped off his competitive career with a bronze at the 1922 Canadian Championships with D.F. Secord. While working as a manufacturer, he toiled away behind the scenes as a builder with the Amateur Skating Association of Canada and the Minto Skating Club. One of his greatest accomplishments was his work with Major Clarence E. Steeves and Melville Rogers in organizing the highly successful 1931 North American Championships in Ottawa.

Although Douglas and his wife suffered a devastating loss when a son died in childbirth in 1933, they took great pride in their daughter Muriel and son Arthur. The latter turned out to be every ounce the great skater his father was. After showing promise as a young skater at the Minto Skating Club, Arthur Douglas Nelles turned professional and appeared in the Arthur M. Wirtz show "It Happens On Ice" at the Center Theatre with Hedy Stenuf, Skippy Baxter and The Caley Sisters. Sadly, Douglas H. Nelles, one of Canada's first great skating champions, passed away December 7, 1960 at the age of seventy nine.

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