Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Smaller Toller: The Dennis Coi Story

"I try to excite them. I try to perform, to make myself different, to make them cheer . . . I'll do anything to make them pull for me." - Dennis Coi

The son of Pietro and Marilyn Coi, Dennis John Coi was born August 11, 1961 in North Vancouver, British Columbia. He started skating at the age of ten under coach Edi Rada at the North Shore Winter Club alongside Olympic Silver Medallist and World Champion Karen Magnussen. His earliest success actually came in pairs skating, when he won the bronze medal in novice pairs with Julie Mutchen at the 1974 Canadian Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick. However, the young skater showed immense promise as a singles skater, passing his Gold tests in figure and free skating at the age of fifteen.

Although certainly a talented jumper, Dennis' style on the ice was in many ways like a cross between an early Toller Cranston and Ron Shaver. He wasn't your typical men's skater of the era by any means. He interpreted the music beautifully, took risks choreographically and had a killer layback spin. Leaving Rada after passing his gold tests to "explore new ideas in skating", Dennis worked with Brian Power, Ellen Burka and Linda Brauckmann. Under Mrs. Burka's tutelage, obvious comparisons were made between the young artistic skater and Cranston. Dennis dismissed them, saying, "I suppose it is inevitable. After all, both of us have skated with Mrs. Burka, but the way I skate is the way I want to. I am not copying anybody else."

Despite a ninth place finish in the junior men's event at the 1977 Canadian Championships, it didn't take Dennis long to make his mark. At sixteen, he returned to the Canadian Championships in 1978 and bounded back from a fourth place finish in the figures to win the free skate and junior men's title ahead of Daniel Beland, Brian Orser and Kevin Parker. In the February 3, 1978 issue of "The Globe And Mail", he confidently remarked, "It may be a surprise to the people, but not to me." His win earned him a spot to the 1978 Junior World Championships in Megève, France. Beating Vladimir Kotin of the Soviet Union (the leader after the compulsory figures) in both the short program and free skate, Coi became World Junior Champion and defeated not only Vladimir Kotin but a pair of young Brian's - Boitano and Orser - in doing so. The same year, he won the bronze medal at the Ennia Challenge Cup in Holland behind American Scott Cramer and Frenchman Jean-Christophe Simond.

Jean-Christophe Simond, Scott Cramer and Dennis Coi on the podium at the 1978 Ennia Challenge Cup

Although he was named British Columbia's junior athlete of the year in 1979, when Dennis moved up to the senior ranks he was unable to keep up with the likes of Brian Pockar, Vern Taylor, Gary Beacom and Gordon Forbes. He finished seventh in figures and remained there at the 1979 Canadian Championships. In The Hague that fall at the Ennia Challenge Cup, he narrowly lost the bronze medal to Robert Wagenhoffer in a five/four split. He wasn't happy, saying, "I landed five faultless triples. I showed a variety of styles and spins. Wagenhoffer landed a triple on two feet, fell once, and almost fell a second time. I strongly feel that I deserved to be higher. I should have been third or second." Progress took time. At the 1981 Canadian Championships he was seventh, at both Grand Prix St. Gervais and the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, West Germany that fall he was fourth. However, his tides began to turn in the fall of 1982 with a strong performance - and a win - at the Western Divisionals in Saskatoon despite a bone fracture suffered when practicing the triple Lutz.

At age twenty, Dennis entered the 1982 Canadian Championships in Brandon, Manitoba injured but with a renewed confidence. After finishing fifth in figures behind Pockar, Beacom, Orser and Forbes, he rebounded with one of only two clean skates of the night in the short program that year. His only near mistake was almost running into the boards after landing a required double Salchow. With an equally impressive free skate, he earned the bronze medal. In the February 1, 1982 issue of "The Globe And Mail", he declared, "I feel great. I'm going to celebrate and take some time off. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the CFSA sent me to some international competitions. I started feeling like a part of skating, and I did well over there. My confidence started to build up."

Unfortunately, that autumn Dennis spiked his foot with his blade while again attempting a triple Lutz in practice. The injury came just three weeks before he was to compete at Skate America. Doctors first told him nothing was broken. In a September 30, 1982 interview in "The Globe And Mail", he explained, "I took two weeks off to let it heal. Then when I started skating again last week, it really hurt, so I went back for X-rays and they found I had fractured a bone in my foot. I think the reason they may not have seen anything at first was because the fracture was right at the joint of the bone leading to the middle toe. When I started skating again, the bone moved over... I'm trying to stay in shape by riding a stationary bicycle. But it's boring as hell... I had an incredible summer. I spent two weeks [skating in Washington] and seven weeks in Los Angeles. It was just a great atmosphere. I was skating with top U.S. competitors [Tiffany Chin, Mark Cockerell and Bobby Beauchamp] and top professionals [Fumio Igarashi and Linda Fratianne]. I really had improved a lot, then this all happened. There was no way that I was going to get back to the point I was at the end of the summer." He withdrew and took the fall off to recoup.

At the 1983 Canadian Championships, a seventh place finish in figures left him in the familiar position of having to move up in the short program but a popped double loop kept him there. He finished fifth overall, well back of medallists Brian Orser, Gary Beacom and Gordon Forbes. "Sometimes I think it's a crazy sport," Coi said. "But it is a way of expressing myself that is not possible any other way."

Given the chance to redeem himself in international competition that fall, Dennis finished a disappointing tenth out of eleven competitors at Skate Canada. At Moscow Skate, Dennis and Gary Beacom fell asleep at the hotel and almost missed the figures. Perhaps still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he finished in sixth at the end of the day, well back of winner Vladimir Kotin, a skater who he'd previously defeated when he won his World Junior title. The artistically inclined skater endearingly known as "the smaller Toller" in skating circles had one last chance for redemption and at the 1984 Canadian Championships in Regina, Saskatchewan, but he let it pass him by. Although he did beat a young Lloyd Eisler, he finished just off the podium in fourth behind Orser, Beacom and Forbes and missed his last chance to make an Olympic or World team. His amateur career may have ended without fanfare... but he was a skater that other skaters watched.

Sadly, like Shaun McGill and Paul McGrath whose stories previously explored on the blog, Dennis Coi died in September 1987 at twenty six years of age, of complications of HIV/AIDS. His story was featured in "The Calgary Herald" on December 13, 1992: "Coi was [a] humorous man, a flamboyant skater... [whose] pranks are legendary in skating. When his national teammates did poorly in a competition in Europe, he carved medals out of bread and hung them around their necks. Coi refused to change his clown's outlook when death faced him... When told he had AIDS, Coi dressed up in a fluorescent spandex outfit and rode around Vancouver on a red motor scooter... Coi died in his mother's arms while doing one of his favourite things - playing bingo. 'He missed a bingo by one number and said 'Oh [shit].' Those were two of the last words he spoke before he went into an epileptic seizure.'"

The circumstances of Dennis' death helped reshape his mother's perspective. Marilyn Coi said, "I had no idea Dennis was gay until he told me he had AIDS. I was angry for a while, about who he got [the virus] from, but now I don't want to know. It could have been anybody. I've learned to accept gays as human beings." The condolences poured in from a who's who of the Canadian skating world. Mrs. Burka recalled Dennis' final television interview, taped while he was in the hospital. "He was still performing to the end, with his hair dyed red," she said. Osborne Colson remarked, "'He was a ray of sunshine. He would smile all through his program."

After his death, the CFSA created the Dennis Coi Award, which was annually given at the Canadian Championships for a time to a skater who "keeps skating and life in perspective". Lloyd Eisler and Osborne Colson were both recipients. I think it goes without saying that the world has become increasingly more liberal in its thinking over the years. You don't hear as many coming out horror stories of parents disowning their GLBTQ+ children and with vast advances in medicine and science, HIV isn't the death sentence it once was. That's what makes stories like Dennis' even harder to swallow. "The smaller Toller" could still be out there and sadly, his story remains but a footnote in skating history.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The 1942 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Mary Rose Thacker

While World War II raged overseas, Canadian figure skaters that weren't serving or engaged in war work gathered in Winnipeg, Manitoba on January 30 and 31, 1942 to compete in the 1942 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. The Winnipeg Winter Club played host to the national competition on outdoor ice... and the event almost didn't happen. Warmer than usual temperatures in the Prairies that year left the ice a soupy mess. Concerns over a reduced number of entries due to the war and the difficulty of Eastern skaters making the lengthy trek to the Manitoba capital had organizers on edge pre-event. However, a drop in temperatures just in time for the events allowed the ice to freeze sufficiently to let the show go on in glorious fashion.

Four teams competed in the junior pairs event that year, which was won by Flaurine Ducharme and Wally Diestelmeyer of the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club. In the junior Waltz, Margaret McInnes and Charles Lockwood of Regina, Saskatchewan were victorious but in the junior Tenstep, the temporary partnership of Doreen Dutton of the Glencoe Club and Will Thomas of the Toronto Skating Club edged their way to victory. Thomas also won the junior men's competition, defeating no less than three future Canadian senior men's champions - Diestelmeyer, Norrie Bowden and Nigel Stephens. In a field of ten, the Montreal Winter Club's Cynthia Power won the junior women's title. 

Clipping from "The Winnipeg Evening Tribune"

To the delight of the small hometown audience, Evelyn Rogers and George McCollough of Winnipeg won the Tenstep. Six teams competed in the Waltz event, won by Eleanor O'Meara and Sandy McKechnie of Toronto. Back in those days the dances were contested individually with no free dance or overall ice dance title yet conceived on the national level in Canada. Eleanor O'Meara, Virginia Wilson, Donald Gilchrist and Michael Kirby gave a five minute performance and earned the fours title by default. Eleanor O'Meara and Sandy McKechnie were the only senior pairs team entered at the start of the competition, but junior champions Flaurine Ducharme and Wally Diestelmeyer were given the go ahead to 'skate up'. They were, however, unable to translate their junior win to a senior one.

Nova Scotian born Michael Kirby's win in the senior men's event must have been sweet. The sixteen year old St. Michael's College student had moved from Winnipeg to Toronto three years previously. He returned to Winnipeg as the reigning Canadian junior men's champion, competing in the senior ranks for the first time. Kirby outskated his fours teammate Donald Gilchrist to claim his only Canadian senior men's title before turning professional and skating with Sonja Henie.

The senior ladies event in 1942 was won by eighteen year old Mary Rose Thacker, a hometown favourite. In winning her third senior women's title, Thacker outranked a thirteen year old Barbara Ann Scott of Ottawa (who had just lost her father months earlier), her Winnipeg training mate Elizabeth Ann McKellar and Toronto's Billee (Virginia) Wilson. The February 2, 1942 edition of "The Montreal Gazette" noted that "polish and composure, attained by rigorous training and experience, provided Miss Thacker's margin over her youthful opponents. She defended her championship before a packed gallery and appeared as completely at ease as when she was skating seven and eight hours a day at Ottawa, training under the Czech instructor, Otto Gold." Gold, who also worked with Barbara Ann Scott, conceded in "The Ottawa Citizen" on March 6, 1947 that "in this competition, [Scott] skated a magnificent free skating program, which did not seem to get the deserved credit by the judges."

The excitement of Canada's best skaters of the early forties descending on Winnipeg was short-lived. By that October, the Winter Club where the 1942 Canadian Championships was held was purchased by the Royal Canadian Army and the facilities converted into training facilities for soldiers. The 1943 Canadian Championships were cancelled altogether due to the War. For a brief time in Canada, competitive figure skating would have to wait.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Peter Firstbrook: A Forgotten Canadian Champion

Photo courtesy Lambton County Archives

The son of Newman and Winnifred (Sprott) Firstbrook, Peter Sprott Firstbrook was born May 11, 1933 in Toronto, Ontario. He came from a family of manufacturers and his grandfather held patents for a Sealing Device for Hasp Fasteners and a Crosscut Table Saw. While his father and grandfather were busy at the drawing board, young Peter was showing an inventive spirit on his own on the ice at the Toronto Skating Club. At the age of fourteen, he made his first trip to the Canadian Figure Skating Championships. In the junior pairs competition with partner Mary Kenner, he finished third.

William Ashall Firstbrook's Victorian era inventions

In 1949, Peter finished second in the junior men's competition behind Donald Tobin of the Minto Skating Club and second in the fours competition with Kenner, Vera Smith and Peter Dunfield. Firstbrook's four went on to finish second that year at the North American Championships in Philadelphia. His strengths in both school figures and free skating forced him to abandon pairs and fours skating to focus solely on singles. It paid off. By the following year he won the junior men's title at the Canadian Championships in St. Catharine's, Ontario. It was clear by this point that he was a skater that was going places. A reporter for the "Georgetown Herald" noted on April 19, 1950 that attendees at the Georgetown Skating Club's Ice Revue "were loud in their praise [for] the effortless grace of Peter Firstbrook, who is in the opinion of experts the coming world champion (he is only 17 years old now)."

At six feet tall with black hair and green eyes, Peter was a commanding presence on the ice even as a teenager. A student of legendary coach Sheldon Galbraith, he made the smooth transition from the junior to senior ranks, winning the 1951 Canadian senior men's title in Vancouver in a convincing fashion. He unseated Roger Wickson, the defending champion, in Wickson's home city as well as another Vancouver skater, Billy Lewis. It's safe to say he probably wasn't a popular winner in British Columbia that year. At his first international competition as a singles skater, that year's North American Championships at the Glencoe Club in Calgary, he finished just off the podium behind a trio of extremely talented American skaters: Dick Button, Jimmy Grogan and Hayes Alan Jenkins. The February 16, 1951 issue of the "Canadian Observer" described his performance at that year's Sarnia Figure Skating Club annual carnival as "sheer lyricism."

Clipping courtesy Dana Thorne, Lambton County Archives

Repeating as Canadian Champion in 1952, Peter earned a spot on the Oslo Olympic team, where he finished an incredible fifth ahead of Italy's Carlo Fassi and France's Alain Giletti. Although fourth in both phases of the competition, movement in the standings in the free skate kept him down a peg in the overall standings. Still, who finishes fourth at the Olympics in their second international competition as a singles skater these days? Pretty impressive if you ask me! At the World Championships that followed in Paris, he dropped a few spots in the standings down to seventh.

Peter Firstbrook and Barbara Gratton, 1953 Canadian Figure Skating Champions

The following year, Peter won both the school figures and free skate at the Canadian Championships in Ottawa to retain his senior men's title for the third consecutive year ahead of Charles Snelling and Peter Dunfield. After finishing second at the 1953 North American Championships in Cleveland behind Hayes Alan Jenkins and seventh at the 1953 World Championships in Davos, he turned professional at the age of twenty.

Photos courtesy Dana Thorne, Lambton County Archives

Peter joined Arthur Wirtz' Hollywood Ice Revue in December 1953, performing alongside Barbara Ann Scott as a replacement for fellow Canadian Champion Michael Kirby. In addition to solo performances, he played Prince Charming to Scott's Goldilocks. By December 1954, he had left the troupe, replaced by his former competitor Jimmy Grogan. He later joined the cast of Holiday On Ice, touring in Europe and South America. After suffering an injury while skating in the "Winter Wonderland" show at Wembley, he returned to Canada to attend Upper Canada College and then St. Lawrence College in Canton, New York so that he could be near Lake Placid. He later taught skating in Northern Ontario and Banff, Alberta, retiring in the late sixties because (according to his mother) "he was sick of being cold."

Photos courtesy Diana Flynn. Circa 1968/69. Peter Firstbrook is in the front right of both.

Abandoning the sport entirely, Peter moved to an artists community in Estado Libre y Soberano de Guanajuato, Mexico. Echoes of another Canadian Champion anyone? While there, he wrote children's books. He passed away at the age of fifty one of pneumonia on February 22, 1985, leaving behind his mother, brother, sister and a whole lot of Canadians who thought the world of his skating... and yet today, sadly few people even remember his name.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The 1989 Jeep Main Event Of Skating

Largely forgotten as it was held only once, the 1989 Jeep Main Event Of Skating (also billed as the North American Men's Professional Championships) was a made-for-TV professional figure skating competition held at the Montreal Forum on April 7, 1989. Offering a total purse of sixty five thousand dollars in prize money to the four men who competed (Brian Orser, Scott Hamilton, Toller Cranston and Gary Beacom) the event nearly sold out and marked two important firsts in figure skating history. It was Brian Orser's first professional competition in Canada as well as Katarina Witt's North American debut at a professional competition.

Katarina Witt agreed to skate a series of exhibitions at the Montreal event under the provision that Brian Orser skated an exhibition in East Germany the following month. When a reporter from "La Presse" interviewed her prior to the competition and asked about her "revealing" costumes at the Calgary Olympics, she responded, "I was shocked that the media had described me as a sex symbol. I never wanted to charm the judges with my costumes. I am a beautiful girl, thanks to my parents, but it stops there. When I interpreted 'Carmen', I had to wear a costume that suited my character. It was not to influence the judgement of the officials."


The Jeep Main Event Of Skating was televised on CBC on April 15 and 22, 1989, with Toller Cranston playing double duty as competitor and commentator. The inimitable Cranston even commentated his own performances. The four men who competed each skated a technical and artistic program, with Orser ultimately winning a professional competition for the first time in his home country. He'd only participated in two previously - the 1988 Challenge Of Champions and World Professional Championships in Landover - and had both times failed to reach the top "of the podium". Quebec skater Jaimee Eggleton made his professional debut in the exhibition gala that followed the event. Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, Lea-Ann Miller and Bill Fauver and Rosalynn Sumners also joined Witt and Eggleton in the exhibition gala.

Though The Jeep Main Event Of Skating wasn't one of the professional competitions that ultimately survived, its success was proof that Canadian audiences were willing to come out in droves to take in the excitement of a professional figure skating competition.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Dames Of The Dominion

In the late nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century, a small circle of talented women paved the way as Canada's first great female figure skaters. Some entered the scene in the days of 'fancy' skating when intricately carved patterns and showmanship reigned supreme, while others arrived at a time of change, when the focus of the sport's development in Canada was veering away from complex figures and such novel ideas as free skating to music, pairs and fours skating and ice dancing were rising to prominence. Today, we'll learn about the lives of seven pioneering women who carved out the path for the champions that followed.


In 1869, the short-lived American Skating Congress teamed up with Scottish Canadian brothers Robert and Arthur Hervey. The Hervey's were not only responsible for building covered ice rinks in Boston, Chicago, Halifax, Montreal and Pittsburgh, but also for organizing some of the first competitions for female skaters in North America. Their prize pony was a child prodigy named Maggie Elwood... and though she never achieved quite the level of fame as Mabel Davidson and
Carrie Augusta Moore, she certainly made quite a splash.

Margaret 'Maggie' Helen Elwood hailed from Brockville, Ontario and was the daughter of Irish immigrants James and Mary Jane Elwood. Her father, the local jailer, may have been but the subject of disdain by many local ne'er do wells but at that point in time, skaters from Brockville were regarded highly and were often asked to give exhibitions in neighbouring towns and cities... and young Maggie was one of Brockville's best. First appearing in New York in 1866 when she was but eleven years old, Maggie, her sister Cassie and her brother Thomas were both fine skaters who each performed both solo acts and duets together as well as quartets with other Brockville skaters.

Maggie always made greatest impressions with her audiences. One of her exhibitions was reviewed in "The Republican" on January 22, 1867 thusly: "Maggie, only eleven years old, executes all of the beautiful and graceful evolutions on outside and inside 'edge,' and the hundreds of seeming impossible steps, with the utmost ease, and is, without doubt, the most accomplished lady skater in America. Her efforts on this occasion were crowned with the utmost success, and she received the plaudits of all present. The other persons named are also excellent skaters, but it is not disparagement to their pretensions to say that they are not equal to Maggie. The exhibition has given a new impetus to the efforts of our own lady skaters, and we shall to expect to see science displayed by many even before the close of the winter."

At age fourteen, Elwood was lauded in the "Ogdensburg Daily Journal" when she appeared in the state of New York for an exhibition: "In the multifarious figures of fancy skating her movements are gracefully executed, and her performances so beautiful that the most difficult feats appear easy. The attendance was large and the audience showed its appreciation by frequent applause." On January 22, 1869, Elwood won a competition for female skaters organized by the Hervey brothers in Buffalo, New York, defeating Nellie Dean of Chicago, Illinois. Now with a title to her credit, she seemed ready to take on the world... Or so one would think.

The circuit of competitions and shows organized collectively by the Hervey brothers and the American Skating Congress suffered exactly the same fate that professional skating would suffer over a century later: oversatuation. Rnthusiasm dwindled in the 1870's when many of the biggest stars of that era including Jackson Haines, Callie Curtis and Mabel Davidson went on to Europe. Elwood, who had been paraded around from city to city in her early teens like a child star, faded into obscurity.

In skating as in show business, fame is fleeting and as the old adage goes, everyone has their fifteen minutes of it. The historical record offers few clues as to what happened later in the life of this childhood skating star aside from the fact that she married one Frank Malcolm McCrady in December of 1884 in Brockville. Did she continue skating for the love of it? I like to think that yes, she did... because as Maribel Vinson-Owen said, "once a skater, always a skater." However the life of Maggie Elwood turned out, she must have had some some cherished memories of her day in the sun.


Born May 24, 1853 in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Sarah Victoria Whitcher was the daughter of Charles and Harriet Whitcher and the youngest of five siblings, four of them sisters. Her grandfather was the very first sheriff of Sherbrooke and her father Charles was the area's deputy sheriff until his death in 1895. 

You could say that Sarah Victoria was destined to become a skater from birth, as she was named after another skating enthusiast, Queen Victoria. Skate she did. Whitcher was so popular a skater in her heyday that she was in retrospect referred to as "Canada's Barbara Ann Scott Of The Gay Nineties" by newspaper reporters. 

Sarah Victoria would work on costumes for months in preparation for the lavish skating carnivals at Rideau Hall where she would skate 'in the circle' for her hosts Earl and Lady Dufferin. Her nephew, Wilfred Whitcher, recalled, "It was wonderful to see the way she would weave one foot ahead of the other along the ice under her long skirts". In a May 23, 1953 article in "The Ottawa Citizen", she admitted that her skating days were "a long time ago. It was Lady Dufferin who asked me. I loved to skate when I was a girl." 

If you were paying attention to the publication year of that last article, it won't come to any shock to you when I tell you that Sarah Victoria lived to be one hundred and three! Can you even imagine?! In her hundred plus years, this skating centenarian not only lived through Confederation and two World Wars, but also worked in the head office of the old Quebec Central Railway, was an active worker in the Women's Missionary Society, packed bales to be sent to the Prairies and was a devout member of St. John's Anglican Church, avid reader and seamstress.

Sarah Victoria lived out her golden years in the three-story Elizabeth Residence For Elderly Women in Ottawa. On her hundredth birthday, she received a cablegram from Queen Elizabeth II, flowers and best wishes from Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and one hundred oranges from Mayor Charlotte Whitton. She celebrated her one hundred and third (and last) birthday at a tea party with Canada's then Governor-General Vincent Massey.

How incredible it must have been for Sarah Victoria to see how figure skating progressed over the course of a century! Not many people have that luxury in life. One thing that was clear in learning a little about this woman after combing through a handful of old clippings was the fact that her memories and passion for the sport never faded even slightly.

"Lady On Skates", a nineteenth century watercolor by Frances Anne Hopkins


Trading card of a skater from Montreal. Courtesy the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

The youngest Alexander and Katherine (Kate) Ewan's four children, Annie Louise Ewan grew up in the St. Antoine Ward of Montreal during the late nineteenth century in a well-to-do Scottish Presbyterian household. Her father was a selling agent for the prestigious Merchants Manufacturing Co. of Montreal, which manufactured cotton shirts, muslin, cheesecloths and window shades. He was also one of the founders of The Almonte Knitting Company. By the time she was twenty, Annie, her brother and his wife were all regulars at the Victoria Skating Club on Drummond Street, which was the home base of Louis Rubenstein and the one of the biggest hubs of Canadian figure skating during that era. When the Earl Grey Skating Club was founded in 1908 after the dissolution of the Victoria Skating Club, Annie became a respected member.

The Victoria Skating Rink on Drummond. Photo courtesy the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Her biggest (and only) claim to fame as a figure skater came in 1905, when she defeated four other women to win the Minto Challenge Cup, later recognized by Skate Canada as the first official Canadian women's figure skating championship in history. The March 14, 1905 issue of "The Ottawa Journal" noted, "The first annual competition for the Minto Challenge Cups took place last evening... There was a large attendance, including the Governor-General and a party from Government House... The first and tedious part of the programme was over until after 11 o'clock, after which some very pretty exhibitions were given in the 'free skating'. The band of the Ottawa Engineers was in attendance." No account of Annie's winning effort was provided.

We don't really know a lot about Annie's life aside from the fact that she and her sister lived out their days as "spinsters" in the family home with their widowed mother. Perhaps they occasionally told stories over dinner of that time that Annie won the Canadian women's figure skating title. We'll never know!


Born on May 31, 1886 in Toronto, Ontario, Eleanor Agnes Letitia Kingsford was the eighth child of Rupert and Alice [Kingston] Kingsford. Her father was a lawyer; her grandfather a noted Canadian historian and engineer. When Eleanor was six, she moved to Ottawa to live with her grandparents. Inspired by Lady Minto, the wife of the Governor-General, Eleanor joined the Minto Skating Club in its early years. She learned her first figures from a German coach Lady Minto had brought to Canada to teach at the club. In 1905, she was among the five competitors who competed for the very first Canadian women's title at the Minto Skating Club. Teaming up first with Philip Chrysler, she won the silver medal in the pairs event at the 1911 Canadian Championships. The following year with Douglas Nelles, she became a Canadian Champion in pairs skating. She also took home the women's titles in 1912 and 1913 and as part of the Minto Four won the Connaught Cup in 1914.

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

Competing for the Ellis Memorial Trophy in Boston in February 1914, she rejected the invitation of Adolf Hitler's future confidant Jaochim von Ribbentrop. Quoted in Janet Uren's book "Minto: Skating Through Time, 1904-2004", Eleanor recalled, "The most interesting memory of that trip was the snubbing of Von Ribbentrop, who being in Ottawa on some mysterious business at that time had joined our party. Even then I disliked him, and it must have been quite a shock to one of the 'master race' to have someone who dared to skip his waltz."

Her competitive skating career effectively ended by the start of World War I, Eleanor married Captain John Crawford Law and moved to Toronto. In just two years, she became a mother and a war widow. After returning to Ottawa for a time, to make ends meet she moved to Europe with her daughter Margaret and spent several years teaching and giving exhibitions in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France and the skating resorts of Switzerland. She returned to Canada on the S.S. Excalibur in March 1940, narrowly avoiding the German Occupation of France. She lived out the rest of her years quietly in Ottawa, passing away on December 11, 1975 at the age of eighty nine. Her gravestone in Beechwood Cemetery bears the epitaph "Champion Skater Of Canada".h


Born in 1892, Muriel Julynn Maunsell was the daughter of Brigadier General George Maunsell and Henrietta Lucretia Maunsell (Austin) of Ottawa. Not only was her father a senior ranking officer in the Canadian military, her Irish grandfather was as well. Maunsell grew up in Rockcliffe Park, the most affluent of Ottawa neighbourhoods with her parents, brothers Harbert and Terrance and a British maid named Jannie Landsdown. From a young age, Muriel wanted for very little but wanted desperately to be a successful ice skater.

Joining the Minto Skating Club as a teenager, she quickly rose to prominence as one of the club's most accomplished skaters and by 1913, at the age of twenty one, she was already making people take notice. The January 22, 1913 edition of "The Ottawa Citizen" noted that a "skating party given by the president of the Minto Skating Club, Major-General Mackenzie, was a most enjoyable affair and was largely attended by the members of the Minto Club and their friends. The ice was in excellent condition, despite the mild weather, and during the course of the evening a wonderful exhibition of skating was given by Mr. Arthur Heid. Miss Muriel Maunsell, who is one of the most graceful skaters of the club, also gave a short exhibition, which was greatly admired. Supper was served in the club rooms at 11 o'clock, the tables being prettily arranged with red carnations and red shaded candelabra."

The following year, the well-to-do twenty two year old became the first officially recognized Canadian women's champion (according to the Skate Canada's records), beating Montreal's Jeanne Chevalier and taking home the Rubenstein Cup with her fancy figures and flashy footwork. That same year, Muriel was also part of the fours team (along with Eleanor Kingsford, Ormonde B. Haycock and Philip Chrysler) that took home the Connaught Cup. The March 25, 1914 "Montreal Daily Mail" also noted that Maunsell was in attendance at the Minto Club for a fancy costume ball later that winter with waltzing, chariot races, a shovel race and a supper in the tea room. Sadly, the cancellation of the Canadian Championships and international competitions in the following years due to World War I effectively put an end to Muriel's competitive skating career. She would never compete again.

In January 1918, Muriel married George Frederick Galt, a prominent merchant of the tea importing firm G. F. and J. Galt, and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Galt was definitely a man of considerable means. He was president, vice-president or director of Blue Ribbon Limited, the Northern Trusts Company Limited, Great-West Life Assurance Company, the Canadian Fire Assurance Company, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the Advisory Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Northern Mortgage Company, the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works. During the First World War and a member of the Canadian Government War Purchasing Commission. At sixty three years old at the time of her marriage, Galt was almost forty years Muriel's senior. If Muriel Maunsell, "one of Ottawa's leading society ladies" as described in the January 11, 1918 edition of "The Montreal Gazette", was looking for a distinguished older chap with buckets of money, she most definitely found him. Galt was a widow, having had five children with his first wife, Margaret, who passed away in 1915, and with Muriel, he fathered two more: a daughter named Patricia and a son named Thomas. Thomas, like his grandfather and great grandfather, too went on to serve in the military as well as acting as director of Sun Life, Bank Of Montreal, Canadian Pacific, Sun Life UK and Textron Canada. You get the picture.

What makes Muriel's story so interesting is that with her wealth and social standing, she could have easily walked away from figure skating and never looked back. However Muriel, according to the 1947 edition of "The Ottawa Journal", was the founder of the Winnipeg Skating Club in the twenties, predecessor to the Winter Club of Winnipeg. That said, a 1909 edition of "The Bellman" (Volume 7) evidences the fact that the Winnipeg Skating Club was in existence long before Maunsell even won her national title, let alone moved out west. Jim Blanchard's book "Winnipeg 1912" explained that in 1912, the Horse Show Amphitheatre was flooded in winter and a skating club was formed. Blanchard noted, "If a competent instructor was secured, Mrs. Robert Rogers and Mrs. Morton Morse had promised to donate prizes for waltzing and simpler figures." He also noted outdoor skating was common on the Assiniboine River near Osborne Bridge, so perhaps Muriel's contribution to the history of skating in Winnipeg came in the form of being a pioneering coach at the club. Sources don't seem to tell us one way or the other but we do know that she played an important role in the history of skating in Winnipeg.

In April 1928, Muriel's husband George died. She remained in Winnipeg and remarried, this time to Robert Morley Gemmel, former manager of the head office of the Bank Of Nova Scotia who had spent some time managing the bank's Winnipeg branch. The July 1, 1931 edition of "The Winnipeg Tribune" described their marriage thusly: "Given in marriage by 'her father, the bride was attractive in a pale delphinium blue chiffon frock and she wore a large transparent black straw hat trimmed with a flat blue flower on the trim. A corsage of pansies and forget-me-nots was worn." Following a honeymoon at a fishing camp in the Laurentians, Muriel (who now went by Muriel Galt Gemmel) and her second husband took up residence in Ottawa. Her second husband passed away of a heart attack at the age of fifty six on October 1, 1937 and Muriel lived out the rest of her days in the city where she was raised, passing away at her Ottawa home on February 26, 1967.


Born November 24, 1911 in the town of Haileyburg (now Temiskaming Shores), Ontario, Ruth Constance (Forrest) Whitmore was the daughter of Scottish bank accountant William Melville Forrest and Ruth Helene (May) Forrest. Ruth and her brother Douglas were raised in New York, then moved to Jarvis Street in Toronto. Ruth first attended Brown Junior Public School before switching to the Bishop Strachan School, which had a class schedule which allowed more flexibility for her to pursue her passion... figure skating.

A member of Toronto's Granite Club, Ruth became fast friends with Cecil Smith and was a regular in the club's carnivals in the twenties. In June 1929, her father passed away with heart failure, leaving her future in the sport uncertain. Despite the financial strain on her family, Ruth attended the 1930 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, where she placed second in the junior women's competition behind Mary Littlejohn. She returned the following year and became Canada's junior women's champion, defeating Veronica Clarke of the Toronto Skating Club and Frances Fletcher of the Winnipeg Winter Club. Following her victory, she focused her attention on carnival skating, forming a trio with Cecil and Maude Smith and making her rounds skating in club shows in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. The March 22, 1933 issue of "The Ottawa Citizen" raved, "Those who saw these three young ladies in the carnival at Montreal pronounce their act as the most beautiful they have ever seen offered on ice."
Retiring from the sport in the mid thirties, Ruth married Norman Whitemore in 1946 and moved to Regina, Saskatchewan. There, she founded the Travelling Art program at the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery and volunteered at St. Paul's Anglican Church. After her husband passed away in 1984, she travelled around the world with her best friend. Ruth passed away on October 23, 2014, just one month before her one hundred and third birthday, making her arguably the longest living Canadian junior women's champion in history. Her obituary in the Regina Leader-Post read, "Just before her 100th birthday, she moved to Heritage House in Wintergreene Estates... Although her mind remained sharp until her death, her health failed over the past year. She faced her inevitable end calmly, reassuring her children she was at peace. She was a woman of grace and style who met every challenge with good humour and determination. She was well read and very open minded, welcoming generations of friends to her home."


Photo from the collections of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. Used for educational purposes. 

Born in 1905, Margot Barclay Wilkins was the granddaughter of prominent Presbyterian minister Reverend Dr. James Barclay. Raised in downtown Montreal, Quebec, she took to the ice at the Montreal Winter Club with her sister Louise. In the twenties, she was one of the club's most successful female skaters. Although her biggest claim to fame was the 1928 Canadian senior women's title, she actually excelled in four disciplines.

With partners Aidrie Main and Marjorie Annable, Margot Barclay Wilkins was a repeat winner of the similar 'ladies pairs' title at the Winter Club's competition and as an ice dancer, she finished in the top three countless times at the club's weekly waltzing competitions. Among her ice dance partners were Reginald Wilson and fellow Canadian Champion Norman Gregory. In addition to singles, similar pairs and ice dance, she was also part of the Montreal Winter Club's fours team in 1931, which consisted of two sets and siblings: Margot and sister Louise and Richard and Hamilton, the Bolton Brothers. She was judged by Canadian skating pioneer Louis Rubenstein himself. She also took on an active role producing the Montreal Winter Club's annual carnivals while she was still competing. Retiring from the sport in the early thirties, she married, became a mother and later moved to Maine. where she sadly passed away on September 11, 1996 at the age of ninety one.

Considering the height of Margot's skating career was in the twenties, the fact that her story interweaves with two of the biggest names in women's skating in the nineties is nothing short of fascinating. When Josée Chouinard won the first of her three Canadian senior women's titles in 1991 in Saskatoon, television commentators erroneously announced that she was the first Canadian women's champion from the province of Quebec. Her daughter Diana Wilkins-Bell called the Montreal Gazette to correct the grievous mistake. In a February 11, 1991 article, Wilkins-Bell explained, "My mother is a very modest woman. She wasn't that upset. She just wondered how they could make such a mistake... How often do you get to be the champion of your country, after all? I don't care if it's in basket-weaving; it's an accomplishment that shouldn't be forgotten." I can't agree with Ms. Wilkins-Bell more!

In addition to the Josée Chouinard connection, Margot Barclay Wilkins also knew Nancy Kerrigan quite well. In March 1931, Margot skated a solo as the "Lampmaker's Daughter" in a fantasy based around "Aladdin" in the Montreal Winter Club's annual show. She also skated fours with her sister and Bolton's in a "Static Of The North Land" act in the second act. Also in the second act was "The Snowflake Chorus", which consisted of, according to the Montreal Gazette, "Miss Audrey Joyce, Miss P. Bate, Miss Nancy Kerrigan, Miss Margaret Main, Miss K. McConnell, Miss N. Baillie - directed by Miss Phyllis Daniels and Miss Doris Gales." You read that right! Thirty eight years before Olympic Silver Medallist and U.S. Champion Nancy Kerrigan was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, Canadian Champion Margot Barclay Wilkins skated in the same show as (a) Nancy Kerrigan in Montreal, Quebec.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Come By Chance: A Little Newfoundland Skating History

Newfoundland and Labrador... home of Great Big Sea, stunning landscapes, towns with names like Dildo, Cow Head and Come By Chance, the most fun people in the world to drink with you're ever going to meet and a surprisingly rich figure skating history. You won't have to kiss the cod to be before reading this particular blog but you may want to have a sip of Screech in your coffee to get in the mood. It would really be rude not to, I think!

Would you know it? The early beginnings of figure skating on this island province start in yet another Victoria Skating Rink. I think that's the fourth rink named in Queen Victoria's honour that's popped up in my writing about early Canadian skating history! Newfoundland's Victoria Rink was built in 1866 in St. John's, the province's capital city. Prior to the building of this covered rink, skating was of course all done outside. Speed skating races enjoyed prominence and drew large crowds. Fred Chislett was an early and repeat champion on 'the rock'.

Skating on St. John's Harbour, 1938

In the twentieth century, speed skating's popularity in Newfoundland started to wane and figure skating rose to prominence. Dee Murphy's excellent book "Our Sports" explains that "Markie Marshall was one of the early St. John's 'figure' skaters but his style was much different than the style demonstrated by the Premier Figure Skating Club that met at the Prince's Rink just prior to it receiving artificial ice. Tommy Winter, who excelled in several sports, was another top figure skater with contributions as an executive and coach... The arrival of artificial ice in rinks all over the province between 1948 and 1970 allowed figure skating to come into its own and become a major winter activity."

Members of the Premier Figure Skating Club at Prince's Rink, circa 1930. Photo courtesy The Rooms Archives.

One of the great pioneers of figure skating in Newfoundland was Armie Miller. Newfoundland's section of Skate Canada's website explains that she "became involved with skating when she met Mildred Knight who was involved in a skating club at the old curling rink behind the Old Hotel Newfoundland. Here she met Tommy Winter and together they introduced the sport of figure skating to a few children in the St. John's Figure Skating Club which ran in Feildian Gardens and St. John's Memorial Stadium. For 3 years they taught themselves about preliminary figures, and dancing with booklets - fanning the upper corner of the pages to see the jumps and spins until certified coaches arrived." Miller performed in ice shows with Tommy Winter for many years, brought in judges from abroad to develop judging in the area and acted as a judge, skating club president and tireless volunteer.

Another important pioneer was Elizabeth Swan, the Australian wife of a dentist who moved to Newfoundland in the fifties and served as the St. John's Figure Skating Club's first President. Swan was an esteemed judge who organized the province's first Provincial Championships, served on executives and coached skaters. Her contributes to skating in the province are too many to even mention. Although her death in a car accident in 1985 returning from that year's Provincial Championships was a huge blow to the skating community, the bursary fund set up for grassroots skaters in her name has done so, so much to help skaters in Newfoundland over the years.

Rebecca and Josh Babb

Benefiting from the instruction of the first professional coaches to come 'from away' to the province in the thirties, figure skating slowly developed in Newfoundland and by the time of the first Canada Winter Games in 1967, young skaters from the province were ready to shine. At those initial Games in Quebec City, the pairs team of Carolyn Jones and Andrew Joy and singles skater Brian MacLeod both won medals. Although medals at the Canada Games followed, it wouldn't be until 1998 that skaters from Newfoundland and Labrador would win a medal of any colour at the Canadian Championships. Harbour Grace siblings Rebecca and Josh Babb, who moved from Conception Bay South to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario to train, earned their place in the history books by claiming the junior ice dance title that year in Hamilton.

The Babb's victory in 1998 would bring more attention to Eastern Canadian skating and would open the doors for skaters from Newfoundland. Joey Russell of Labrador City won a junior Canadian title of his very own in 2006 and a senior bronze medal in 2011, becoming the first skater representing Newfoundland to compete at a World Figure Skating Championships that same year... but Russell wasn't the first skater with a Newfoundland connection to compete at the World Championships. 2006 Olympic Silver Medallist Tanith Belbin is the daughter of Michelle MacKinley and Brian Belbin, both of St. John's. Her mother actually skated at the Prince Of Wales Skating Club in St. John's during the seventies.

Arguably the biggest star to ever come out of the province however is two time Canadian Champion and Olympic Silver Medallist Kaetlyn Osmond, who was born in Marystown, Newfoundland and has a rink in her hometown named after her. Kaetlyn talked about her Atlantic Canadian connection in my July 2014 interview with her: "The best thing about  Atlantic Canada I find is having the water right there everywhere I go. I absolutely love the water and living out west in Edmonton, I find the appreciation of having the ocean as my backyard whenever I go home to Newfoundland. Also, I love the small town feel of 'everyone knows everyone'. It feels like a giant family that I know always supports me." That's just how people are in the province and I can honestly say I don't think I've ever met a Newfoundlander I haven't got along with famously. Here's to many more champions in the province's future!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The 1971 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Cover to program for the 1971 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

"I remember that Winnipeg was really cold, snowy and very welcoming."  - Sandra Bezic

In the bleak Manitoba midwinter of 1971, Canada's best figure skaters convened for the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Winnipeg. Though broadcast on CTV, the event was surprisingly poorly covered in print media so retracing the stories of this particular competition was a bit of a challenge, to put it mildly... but let's take a look at what we do know!


Robert Rubens. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Skaters representing clubs in Ontario dominated the top rungs of the podium in all four disciplines in the novice ranks. The story was much the same in the junior events, with the exception of Karel Lathem of the North Shore Winter Club in British Columbia, who fended off a challenge from Julie Black of the Port Edward Figure Skating Club to claim the junior women's title. Linda Tasker and Allan Carson and Robert Rubens, all of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, took top honours in the junior pairs and men's events, respectively.

Linda Tasker and Allan Carson welcomed at the Toronto airport following their win in Winnipeg. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

They'd only been skating together for five months, but Barbara Berezowski and David Porter were head and shoulders above the rest in the junior dance event, besting six other couples - including Linda Peckinpaugh (the daughter of late CFSA President Douglas Alan Peckinpaugh) and her partner Eric Gillies - for the gold. They later moonlighted in the senior dance event, as was usual with junior winners back in those days.


Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

Not since back in the days when Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden were moonlighting as ice dancers had a defending senior ice dance champion been defeated at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, but all of that changed in 1971 when a pair of lovebirds from British Columbia staged quite a coup. 

Mary Church and David Sutton and Brenda Sandys and James Holden. Photos courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Vancouver's Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper had just become engaged, and they radiated as they took first place in the first compulsory, the Starlight Waltz. As the competition unfolded [with the Polka OSP], they surpassed defending champions Mary Church and David Sutton in a startling upset. With this win, Louise and Barry set a Canadian record as the first couple to win all the national dance titles: Novice in 1967, Junior in 1969 and now Senior in 1971." British imports Brenda Sandys and James Holden finished third, followed by Linda Roe and Kevin Cottam and Barbara Berezowski and David Porter, the junior champions. 

Sandra and Val Bezic. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The required elements of the pairs compulsory short program in 1971 were the double split Lutz lift,, side-by-side double toe-loops, a catch waist camel spin, the backward outside death spiral and a serpentine step sequence. Starting with a strong lead in that phase of the competition, Toronto siblings Sandra and Val Bezic skated to their second Canadian senior title, beating perennial runner-up's Mary Petrie and John Hubbell. 

Mary Petrie and John Hubbell. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

Marian Murray and Glen Moore of the North Shore Club claimed the bronze. Sandra Bezic recalled, "It was the first defence of our title so the most difficult, but it went well." Mary Petrie McGillvray recalled, "Pairs that year was a new partner for me. I just remember hoping that we could still get that second spot and the trip to North Americans. Murray and Moore were very good! Only one team was going to Worlds."


Karen Magnussen. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

At the 1970 World Figure Skating Championships in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, Karen Magnussen had finished fourth to Cathy Lee Irwin's tenth, so there was every expectation that Karen would easily coast to her second senior National title in Winnipeg. She could have played it conservative, but she didn't. David Young, in his book "The Golden Age Of Canadian Figure Skating" recounted that in 1971 she gave "one of her better figures performances and received 5.9 from six of the seven judges for artistic impression in the free skate" to easily best Irwin and bronze medallist Diane Hall of the Granite Club. Figures specialist Ruth Hutchinson finished just off the podium in fourth.

Reyn Davis of "The Winnipeg Free Press" wrote, "When Karen Magnussen skates, you can almost hear her teeth grit through that smile. She is so determined, it is difficult to imagine anything standing in her way. With Karen, it's a one-way street to success... there's nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with her determination. It's her trademark and Karen Magnussen intends to stamp the world with it." John Rait recalled that afterwards, Karen "threw a big party in her room that had the folks at CFSA on the prowl! Our coach came to get us out of there before the shit hit the fan!"

Diane Hall (left) and Ruth Hutchinson (right). Photos courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

Not all memories of the women's competition in Winnipeg were terribly fond. Alana Wilson Kelton recalled, "I remember Winnipeg being so cold and the rink the ladies practiced at had ice forming on the walls inside. Some of the ladies went home to practice and then came back before the event started. I think the ladies thought they got the short straw for practice rinks." Cynthia Miller of the Mount Royal Figure Skating Club had an even more negative experience. She recalled, "I had pneumonia, which I did not know until after the free skate. Coughing non stop, Brian Foley had me lying over his knees and [was] patting my back until the ambulance came. When I arrived in my dress and skates they took me right away and called Dr. Charlie Snelling to come see me."


Paul Bonenfant. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

In the senior men's event, Paul Bonenfant of the Capiliano Winter Club in Vancouver took an early lead in the school figures only to be overtaken by Toller Cranston, who had won the bronze in 1969 in Toronto and the silver in 1970 in Edmonton.

Toller Cranston

Like Karen Magnussen in the women's event, Toller was absolutely brilliant in the free skate, easily winning his first national title with a flawless performance that included three double Axel's, a triple loop and a triple Salchow and earned him a standing ovation. His marks ranged from 5.6 to 5.9 for technical merit and like Karen, he received 5.9's from six of the seven judges for artistic impression. Paul Bonenfant took the silver; Kenneth Polk the bronze. In his 1997 book "Zero Tollerance", Toller claimed, "In 1971, my second year with Ellen Burka, I won my first Canadian title. I was so thrilled to have won (when I saw all the 5.9's, I knew that I had), that I ran onto the ice and did an encore in the middle of the competition - twenty split jumps. That was highly unorthodox. I felt the hands of the commentator, Otto Jelinek, grab my back, but they clipped off my costume as I ran out to do my split jumps."

Things pan out a little differently than how Toller described them in the video shared by Frazer Ormondroyd that is included here in the blog, but I don't doubt for a minute that Toller probably did those split jumps too!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at