#Unearthed: Only A Pair Of Skates


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time.


This month's 'buried treasure' was actually a recitation given at this year's Victorian Christmas at the Halifax Citadel national historic site. The recitation was an excerpt from a piece published in 1873 called "Only A Pair Of Skates". The author was a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia woman who used the pen name Meg Dorts. I think you'll find that this piece captures the spirit of Victorian era skating in Nova Scotia... and the flavour of the holiday season.

"ONLY A PAIR OF SKATES" (MEG DORTS, 1873)

 It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I had donned my very best suit and a very pretty fur cap, and I started for the lake. I felt tolerably holly, because I looked very well, and that is a comforting fact, as the young girls know very well. There was only one drawback to my happiness, and that was that I only had old-fashioned skates.

It is intolerable to a young girl to have to be old-fashioned in any way, as everybody knows. More than anything I wished I had a modern pair of Forbes' Patent Starr Acme skates so I could keep up with the other skaters. However, there was no help for it, so I trudged along up the road, to the top of the hill.

Once on the summit, my eyes beheld hundreds of the citizens of Dartmouth gliding over the glassy surface of their noble lake.

I looked around for someone to assist me to put on my skates. I saw a familiar boy, and called to him. His playmates were also calling him... to a game of hockey. Chivalry, however, even in this degenerate age, is not yet dead, so the boy left the hockey game to help me. Once my skates were strapped on, I agonizingly skated out from the shore; never was there a torture like a pair of tightly-strapped old fashioned skates.

Past me flew the happy few on their gleaming new Forbes' Patent Starr Acme skates, while I scraped dismally along on my screw-propellors. I attempted to cut a figure eight. I overdid it, and fell. The wood of one skate was split from end to end. I wanted to cry. The skates were ruined, so I gathered up the fragments and went home.

It was Christmas Eve, but I sat alone in the family crowd, somewhat outside of their noisy circle, and felt decidedly unhappy, which a young girl should not do at such a festive season. On the table near me lay the wrecks of the broken wood and iron skates, ugly and abominable. I had relied on my brother's help to mend those beloved skates. Alas! They were past cure. The other children chattered and laughed as they thought of the coming holiday, the beautiful ice and their unbroken skates. I winced at their lively remarks, and moodily rested my head on my hands.

Then there was a loud ring at the door bell. My family carried in a long cardboard box in and a note. "For you, what can it be?" I opened the note. It was a gift from a relative! I was the proud owner of the cardboard box... and its precious contents?... A pair of Forbes' Parent Starr Acme skates! A gush of grateful tears blinded my eyes, and I could hardly see to open the box, and I furtively wiped them away to look at the silvery beauties. There they were, and no mistake, with a cold steely glitter, lovely in my eyes beyond comparison.

The rest of the evening I passed in a sort of trance, and all night I dreamt of Acme skates and icy lakes.

'Beaver' Skates, a line of Acme skates manufactured by Starr that was geared 'toward ladies'

Next morning I rose at an early hour, and with chattering teeth and trembling hands took another survey of my Christmas Box and its contents. How very, very beautiful they were!

Before breakfast, I made sure no snow had fallen during the night. It was a green Christmas. Actually, everything looked brown and bare - trees, grass, roads, etc. but it was a gloriously fine day, with a lovely blue sky decked with a few fleecy clouds, a day of summer warmth and sweetness.

With eager haste I dressed and went to the lake. Once more I stood on the summit of the hill and overlooked the valley and icy plains below. Hundreds, nay thousands of people, old and young, rich and poor, dotted the surface like animated bowling pins. As I surveyed them I felt the fire of patriotism burning in my heart. "These are my own... my native lakes."

I did feel proud, all-fired proud. If I may be allowed to use the expression, of the dear old lakes, and the glad crowd of men and fair women, not forgetting the children that adorned, by their swaying and graceful forms, the icy platform that King Frost had built for us to dance on...

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Patineuse Of Paris: The Gaby Barbey Story

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

The daughter of French Champions and 1928 Olympians Louis and Elvira Barbey, Gaby Barbey showed little interest in figure skating as a child, although her parents took her regularly to the Palais de Glace. Instead, she relished every moment spent on the ski slopes. Finally won over to skating after being inspired by the success of Andrée Joly, she started pursuing skating seriously at the age of thirteen and began taking lessons from her father.

Elvira and Louis Barbey. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Early in her career, Gaby was the Susan Lucci of women's skating in France, holding down fort in second place at the French Championships from 1925 to 1930. After Andrée Joly decided to focus solely on pairs skating in 1931, Gaby finally emerged victorious, winning her first of an incredible six consecutive French titles ahead of of Jeanine Hagnauer and Jacqueline Vaudecrane. When the European Championships were held in Paris in 1932, she placed dead last in a field of eight, losing out on a seventh place finish in a three-two split with Great Britain's Joan Dix. Illness forced her out of the following year's European Championships in London, but she shared the ice with Sonja Henie in a Paris exhibition later that winter.


In 1934, Gaby decided to try her hand at pairs skating at the French Championships. With partner Jean Henrion, she placed second... to her parents. That's right... Her father was both her coach and her competitor! The following year, she again claimed the silver medal in pairs with Henrion, this time behind the Brunet's. That same winter, she placed sixth out of eight entries in a five hundred meter women's speed skating race at Superbagneres Bagnères-de-Luchon and placed a disastrous last in both the women's and pairs events at the European Championships in St. Moritz.


Gaby's final international competition was the 1936 World Championships in Paris. She placed a disappointing fourteenth, but did outrank both of the other French women who participated. The Norwegian judge had her ninth in figures; the British judge had her eighth in free skating. In 1937, she lost her French women's title to Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Vaudecrane recalled that Gaby was gracious in defeat and was the first to congratulate her on her win. Taking into account just how many disappointing results this fine skater had, it's hard to imagine how she could have been so gracious!


During much her competitive career, Gaby went by her married name, Gaby Clericetti. After her competitive career ended, she remarried and went by Gaby Moreau. After her retirement in 1937, she coached skaters for many years at the Club des Français Volants à Paris. An artistic soul, Gaby wrote in "Neige et Glace" magazine of her dream to transpose dance to the ice and skating to the floor: "What I would like to interpret on the floor is a rhythmic Celtic dance (gypsy orchestra beginning with a waltz). When I skate, I would compose a dance, and when I dance, I would slide like on ice. Creating [movement to] rhythm is my hobby. Both [skating and dancing] require interpretation and effort... Both interest me because I know thoroughly the possibilities of each. These ideas came to me during my choreographic exercises."


Despite her successes at home, skating wasn't exactly kind to Gaby. She had a late start and never really seemed to catch much of a break. Yet, her determination and interest in choreography foreshadowed the later efforts of Jacqueline du Bief, the student of her rival Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Though largely unknown today outside of France, Gaby played a subtle but important role in her country's 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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The Original Whirling Dervish: The Ronnie Robertson Story


"Everyone told me it was a natural ability, that I had one of the best centres of gravity they had seen. My weight was distributed just right, my legs were bowed just enough to spin." - Ronnie Robertson, "The Los Angeles Times", 1982

The son of Albert and Christine Robertson, Ronald 'Ronnie' Frederick Robertson was born September 25, 1937 in Brackenridge, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When Ronnie was a tot, his father worked as a draftsman at a glass factory After World War II broke out, he moved Ronnie and his sister Patricia to California after taking a job as a naval architect. A sickly child, Ronnie took up figure skating on the advice of his doctor. Jumping and spinning seemingly came natural to him and by the time he was eight, he had won so many competitions on the West Coast that the rules were stretched to allow him to enter the U.S. Championships. However, on his first trip, he finished dead last.


Ronnie Robertson receiving his trophy as winner of the 1952 U.S. junior men's title. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Although in excellent hands with coaches Gustave Lussi and Bob Dench, skating and life were both at times tumultuous for Ronnie. On the ice, he struggled with his nerves when performing school figures under the watchful eyes of the judges. Off the ice, he was having a (not so secret) relationship with a fellow male skater... at a time when same-sex relationships weren't exactly tolerated by many. He later admitted, "I was spending eleven hours a day, six days a week on the ice. I was too tired to study and I knew there would be someplace for me in the profession... There were times when I threw my skates away and said I'd never skate again. But I always went back to it." His hard work on the ice paid off though. By the end of nearly every one of his free skating performances in competition, the crowd erupted in a roar of applause. Gustave Lussi later recalled, "I knew I had a gem on my hands."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

At the age of fourteen in 1952, Ronnie was the U.S. junior men's champion. The next year, he won the silver medal in the senior men's competition at the U.S. Championships in Hershey, Pennsylvania behind Hayes Alan Jenkins. This afforded him for the first time the opportunity to compete internationally. At his very first North American Championships that year in Cleveland, Ohio, he finished third behind Hayes and Canadian Champion Peter Firstbrook. At that year's World Championships in Davos, Switzerland, he finished just off the podium, behind Hayes, Jimmy Grogan and an Italian you may have heard of before... Mr. Carlo Fassi.

Ronnie Robertson, Hayes Alan Jenkins and Peter Dunfield at the Broadmoor Skating Club. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The following season would prove a challenge for Ronnie. He dropped a spot at the U.S. Championships, finishing behind both Jenkins brothers. He also dropped a spot at the World Championships in Oslo, Norway. Disappointing results - despite awe-inspiring free skating performances full of spins that resembled a whirling dervish - would prove to be a recurring theme again and again throughout the final two seasons of his competitive career... and a point of controversy.


Ronnie finished in second place between Hayes and David Jenkins at the 1955 World Championships in Vienna, but contracted bronchial pneumonia and was forced to withdraw from that year's North American and U.S. Championships. While recovering in Long Beach, his determination only grew stronger.


In 1956, Ronnie won the free skate at both the Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo and World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In Cortina d'Ampezzo, he even made history when the ISU credited him for landing the first ever triple Salchow jump in a major ISU championship... but on account of his showings in the school figures, he finished behind Hayes Alan Jenkins at both events. He became bitterly disappointed over his losses.


Then things got really ugly, really fast... In March 1956, all three men were in Philadelphia for that year's U.S. Championships, which would have had bearing on North American and World assignments for the following season. I'm going to quote at length from an article that appeared in the March 17, 1956 issue of "The Milwaukee Journal", because this piece offers some insight as to what happened just twelve hours before the men's event began: "Controversy boiled up Friday around the amateur status of Ronnie Robertson, America's No. 2 figure skater, and whether he demanded 'excessive expenses' for exhibitions in Europe. [Ronnie] denied the charge which the United States Figure Skating Association said was levelled by 'a representative of a foreign skating association'... 'I believe that this charge probably originated in America and it could be that someone is annoyed that we didn't skate exhibitions,' [Gustave] Lussi said. 'Someone must be a sorehead.' Ronnie's father, Albert Robertson, a naval architect, asserted: 'This thing reeks of politics.' He added: 'I have so much stuff I could blow the lid off the Skating Association.' What riled the Robertson's and Lussi even more, they said, was that the nature of the charges, and who brought them, were not made known... The name of Jenkins became involved, too, when Ronnie's father told newsmen that the American champion was quoted in Toronto - where he appeared in an exhibition - that young Robertson 'would not skate in the national championships at Philadelphia.' Jenkins at first refused to comment, saying he was a competitor and had no connection with the situation. But eventually he told the Associated Press: 'I understand what is being pulled. They're trying to make it look like a fight between Ronnie and me, a fight between competitors. I have had nothing to do with the present matter at all, and have nothing to do with originating it.' Association President Kenneth L. Brown said that Ronnie was participating in the national championships 'under protest' and that his placing, after Saturday's final competition, would remain unofficial until a seven man committee makes it report next May in Berkeley, Calif."



Wowsa! It didn't even stop there either. After Ronnie lost to Hayes in the figures, his father told the press, "They fix it, they rig it so that Ronnie cannot beat the Jenkins figures in his free skating." Ultimately, he won the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for "the most outstanding free skating performance" at those Championships, but the final result - Hayes first, Ronnie second, David third - stands in the history books to this day.


After the fiasco in Philadelphia, Ronnie immediately turned professional, signing a one hundred thousand dollar contract with the Ice Capades. While headlining the tour, he earned the nicknames 'The Blur' and 'The Human Top' for his jaw dropping spinning ability. For his "Carmen" performance alongside Catherine Machado and Bobby Specht in the show, he even studied flamenco dance with famed choreographer José Greco.

Pamela House and Ronnie Robertson. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

Ronnie's contract with the Ice Capades was renewed several times, and he adapted with ease to the professional world. With a few wise investments, he even made a millionaire out of himself. However, his relationship wiith John H. Harris, the tour's owner, wasn't all roses. Reporter Jim Murray remarked, "John Harris, the ice show impresario [and] Ronnie got along like two Balkan dictators. The fighting got so noisy, Harris once barred Ronnie's parents from a performance, and Ronnie once sulked in his dressing room 'til Harris threw in $20,000 in bonus money over the transom. Ronnie insisted on a valet to help him hoist his skate bags on and off trains, and a business manager to help him hoist money out of the box office."


In 1960, Ronnie received a letter from the University of Michigan inviting him to be a subject of a vertigo study organized by Dr. Brian F. McCabe and Merle Lawrence, a professor of etolaryngology. The study aimed to prevent astronauts from taking dizzy spells during free falls and chair tests. A November 16, 1961 article from "The Montreal Gazette" noted, "As a result of the tests on Robertson's famous blinding blur, the astronauts were able to overcome the dizziness and eventually take their dips in the ocean... 'The astronauts got dizzy when they did three revolutions per second in the chair spin,' he [said] 'but tests taken by high-speed cameras showed that I averaged seven spins per second in my skating spin, and I never got dizzy. They put me through all the tests used on the astronauts such as spinning in the chair and putting ice-water in my ears and did everything to force me to get dizzy but I never experienced any dizziness at all.' It developed that Robertson had built up a resistance to his high-speed spins over a period of years. He had suppressed dizziness psychologically. They also discovered that the object would black out doing the tests in a chair but in a standing position dizziness was not prevalent... His longest spin was 55 seconds which would mean 385 spins in less than one minute at his rate of seven revolutions per second."


Ronnie went on to appear in The New York World's Fair and on the television programs "The Ed Sullivan Show", "Summer On Ice" and "The Mickey Mouse Club". He also starred in the NBC special "Once Upon A Christmas Time" alongside Claude Rains, Charlie Ruggles, Patty Duke, Kate Smith and Margaret Hamilton.

Douglas Chapman, Ronnie Robertson and Martin Minshull on the podium at the 1958 World Professional Championships

Ronnie won the World Professional Championships in Nottingham, England in 1958 and in Japan in 1973, including a hydroblading move in his program decades before Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz popularized it. For a time in the early seventies, he was the head coach at the International Ice Palace in Las Vegas.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Ronnie later lived in New York and collected art for awhile before moving to Palm Springs, California, getting the itch to skate again and signing on with Holiday On Ice for several years. He also ran a small hotel with his partner for a time before being persuaded to take on a job teaching skating with Sashi Kuchiki in Hong Kong.


Ronnie continued to coach well into his fifties, imparting his coaching philosophy - "It's the individual that counts" - on to many of his adoring students. Sadly, he passed away in a Fountain Valley, California hospital on February 4, 2000 at the age of sixty two, after leading a life that was as dizzying as one of his famous spins.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.=

The 1997 Skate America International Competition


From October 22 to 26, 1997, fifty five skaters from twelve countries convened at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan for the first Champions Series event of the 1998 Olympic season. Long before the days of Twitter, YouTube and live internet streams, those not in attendance had to rely on television coverage, newspapers, internet newsgroups and mailing lists to learn how things played out. The event truly marked the start of the competitive figure skating season, for in the nineties few skaters had opportunities to test out their new programs at obscure test events with names like the Fourth Of July Cup or Summer Camp Invitational. It's hard to believe that it's been two decades and that the stories from this event now have earned a place in skating history, but they indeed have. See how good your memory is and join me on a look back at this exciting event from twenty years ago!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION



Eight teams vied for the pairs title in Detroit, two of them former World Champions from Russia. After the short program, Marina Eltsova and Andrei Bushkov and Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov were 1-2, with all but the Canadian judge placing Eltsova and Bushkov ahead of their Russian teammates. In the free skate, America's top team, Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, sandwiched themselves between Eltsova and Bushkov and Shishkova and Naumov and managed to claim the silver in their home country. Ina and Dungjen's medal win was remarkable in that Dungjen injured his right thumb prior to their free skate when he caught it in Ina's costume during a lift. He was injected with a painkiller just prior to the performance and stood on the podium with it all wrapped up. Canada's sole entry, Michelle Menzies of Cambridge, Ontario and Jean-Michel Bombardier of Laval, Quebec, placed an impressive fourth.



THE MEN'S COMPETITION

In his nine trips to Skate America, twenty six year old Todd Eldredge had won four, including the previous three. As the defending World Champion, Eldredge was the odds on favourite to repeat as Skate America champion in the very state where he trained. However, he faced some stiff competition. At the time, the gold standard for men was a free skate that included two triple Axels. In practice sessions, two Ukrainians were attempting to elevate that standard. Viacheslav Zagorodniuk was landing quad toe-loops and Evgeni Pliuta was brazenly attempting the quad Lutz. Neither jump manifested itself in either of the young men's competitive performances. Eldredge took an early lead in the short program over a young Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, who wowed the crowd with a triple Axel/triple toe-loop combination and Biellmann spin. Zagorodniuk and Alexander Abt finished third and fourth while Pliuta imploded, finishing eleventh out of the twelve men competing, effectively taking him completely out of the running. Unusually, almost half of the field received deductions for silly errors on the three required spin elements.


Early in the warm-up prior to the final group of the free skate, Eldredge had a freak fall while skating close to the boards, popping his right shoulder out of its socket and lying on the ice for four minutes in agony until he was helped by coach Richard Callaghan and medical staff. In a prepared statement, he explained, "'There was a chunk of ice frozen to the surface and I was just trying to steer away when I hit it. I felt my shoulder go out right away. And then I turned over and I felt it slip right back in.'' Grittily skating through the pain without the benefit of a warm-up, he managed to win first place marks from all nine judges and his fourth consecutive Skate America title with a technically demanding free skate that included two triple Axels. Russian coach Alexei Mishin called him "a hero" and Canadian judge Mary Claire Heintzman gave him his first perfect 6.0 for presentation. Plushenko finished an impressive second, ahead of Abt, Scott Davis and Zagorodniuk. Canada's sole entry, twenty year old Jayson Dénommée of Asbestos, Quebec, dropped from sixth to eighth overall. Canadian Olympic Association criteria required him to place at least sixth at the event to qualify for a spot on the Nagano Olympic team.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio and Anna Semenovich and Vladimir Morozov in practice. Leigh Meydrech photos.

Dominating the ice dance competition from start to finish, Americans Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow reclaimed the Skate America title they'd first won in Pittsburgh in 1994. Their only major competition came from Italians Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, who won their second Champions Series event medal, a silver. Third after the Golden Waltz compulsory dance and Jive OSP, Kateřina Mrázová and Martin Šimeček dropped behind Russia's Anna Semenovich and Vladimir Fedorov, who claimed the bronze despite recycling the same costumes and free dance they'd used the year prior. Canada's sole entry, Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe, finished seventh of the eight teams who competed but made a positive impression with their imaginative free dance to music from "The Last Emperor" soundtrack.


Reviewing the event on the Skatefans Usenet group, legendary nineties internet skating guru Sandra Loosemore remarked, "I can't say I was particularly impressed with Punsalan and Swallow's new programs. [Their free dance] is no different than any of the other Latin-style programs they've been doing for the last N years. Perhaps they were not as technically strong, but I felt that Fusar-Poli and Margaglio actually had better presentation in the jive and a much more entertaining free dance."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski in practice. Leigh Meydrech photos.

The women's competition in Detroit was a sportswriter's dream. Tara Lipinski, the defending U.S. and World Champion, was competing head to head with 1996 U.S. and World Champion Michelle Kwan... in an Olympic season. Both women skated well in the short program, with Lipinski attempting a triple Lutz/double loop combination and Kwan a triple Lutz/double toe. The latter came out on top with a refined, mature and packaged performance, earning 5.9's for presentation from all nine judges. If the short program was close, the free skate wasn't.


Kwan debuted her stunning free skate to William Alwyn's "Lyra Angelica" and Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie #3", choreographed by Lori Nichol and landed two triple Lutzes, a triple toe/double toe, triple flip, triple loop, triple Salchow, triple toe-loop and double Axel. Lipinski's free skate to "The Rainbow" by Carl Davis and "Scenes Of Summer" by Lee Holdridge featured some lovely choreography by Sandra Bezic, but fell short technically. Though she landed a triple Lutz and triple loop/triple loop combination, a fall on her opening triple Lutz handed the title to Kwan. After the event, Kwan told reporters, "Even in warmups, I thought, 'This is really going well'. When I got off the ice, Frank [Caroll] told me, `Don't be overconfident.' I knew I had been training really hard, so there is not much more I can do. I couldn't ask for more."

Moving up from sixth to claim the bronze was a young Elena Sokolova of Russia. Canada's sole entry after the withdrawal of Susan Humphreys, twenty three year old Angela Derochie of Ottawa, placed a disappointing ninth in her first international assignment in two years. In the short program, she skated to a piece called "Angela's Ashes", composed especially for her at Peter Dunfield's request by 1972 Olympian Mark Militano.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Kidnapping Barbara Ann And Other Tales From Truro's Skating History

When you drive along Canadian highways, you're greeted with signs at every exit enticing you to turn off and visit. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan bills itself as "The Friendly City"; Campbell River, British Columbia is the "Salmon Capital Of The World". If you're travelling from Halifax, Nova Scotia to New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, you'll pass "The Hub", a town of just over twelve thousand called Truro. It's a charming little town best known for its Victoria Park and Stanfield's underwear, but it's not exactly a place you'd give much thought to when it came to figure skating. However, the skating history of "The Hub" is a storied and unique one, full of places and people certainly worth exploring.

Though skating on nearby marshes and Short's Lake would have been popular long before, the first known skating rink in Truro was an outdoor affair known as Spencer's in the 1870's. Though a curling club was established in the town in 1886, it wasn't until the autumn of 1899 that work commenced on the town's first indoor skating rink, the Metropolitan, which claimed to be the "biggest outside of Montreal". In reality, the Metropolitan was wider than the Empire Exhibition Rink in nearby Halifax but not as long, but with comfortable cloakrooms, acelytene gas lamps, a bandstand and a promenade for spectators it was certainly an expensive and lavish undertaking for a small town. Pleasure and 'fancy' skaters had the reign of the rink on Tuesday and Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, while the town's newly formed hockey club's senior and junior leagues occupied the rink on Wednesdays and Saturday evenings. 

J.H. Kent & Co. Limited, whose land stretched beyond the site of Truro's Metropolitan Rink. Photo courtesy Colchester Historeum.

In 1914, the Metropolitan Rink on Arthur and Pleasant Streets was eclipsed by the Tipperary Rink on King Street. In 1922, the Flemming Arena where the Cobequid Education Centre is located was constructed. The town's first figure skating club fell apart in February of 1963 when the Colchester Forum burned down and skaters were forced to skate outdoors on a rink on Walker Street... or not at all. Luckily, the Forum was rebuilt by the local legion less than two years later and Marie Cooper Matheson, a member of Truro's original skating club, helped establish the current Truro Figure Skating Club. With a huge thanks to Elinor Maher of the Colchester Historeum - without whom this short history wouldn't be possible - I was able to connect with Marie and learn first hand about the early days of figure skating in Truro. 

Marie explained, "I was the head amateur coach for forty four years, starting when I was fourteen in the old Forum. I had been out in Vancouver for three and a half, four years during the War with my father. That is where I learned. They had professionals out there and I could get lessons. When I came home, the only thing they were doing here was not really figure skating. Some of them were trying to do figures, and I remember old Dr. McCurdy - Dr. D.S. McCurdy - and Bertha Barnhill were elderly at the time. They were the two oldest ones and they used to do the Waltz. The only thing that anyone knew how to do was the Waltz. Of course, I had been doing spins and jumps and spirals and everything else. When I came home, everyone was wearing ski pants and things like that. I was in a little short skirt and a twin sweater set and I'd come out spinning and jumping and everyone was standing in awe. They hadn't seen anything like that before and they were all like 'show me how to do that'... so that's when I started helping everyone else. After I was married for ten years, I was head coach and I took some of the senior girls who showed promise up to Amherst one weekend. They had a coaching course up there. The girls took the course and they became my junior coaches because the club had grown from about fifteen members to about a hundred and some... and I couldn't handle them all. Then, of course, we started getting some of the Halifax people coming up. I remember Bruce Oland and two or three others and they would show us different things we didn't know and we would pass those down to the younger ones. We had a system whereby they had to progress and do so many things to advance to the next level [much like CanSkate]. We had different professional coaches over the years but I never turned professional. I never took any money... because I just enjoyed it."

Barbara Ann Scott

Of her many skating stories - and there are some great ones - Marie's biggest claim to fame was 'kidnapping' an Olympic Gold Medallist. She explained, "When I was on my way home from British Columbia, I stopped in Toronto for a week because my uncle was there. His best friend was a member of the Toronto Skating Club and every day he took me down to rink. They would give me my little patch I could do figures on. I hated doing figures! I remember one time I was doing a rocker. I was doing something wrong and I didn't know what it was. This girl next to me said 'Can I help you?' and she showed me how to do it. Do you know who it was? Barbara Ann Scott. I struck up quite a friendship with her and when she came to Amherst I went up to see her. She was going to Halifax and she was going to stop in Truro for an hour to have her supper at the restaurant at the old Truro station and then the train was going on. I went up and it was skating night in Truro for us and said 'Would you come down to the rink and just talk to the girls for a few minutes? It would just be such a thrill for them'. She said sure, got in my car and we went down to the rink. She took her little poodle with her - under her arm - and the kids were just enthralled. They were so excited!" She had Barbara Ann back to the train station in time for her to catch her train.
  
In the years since Barbara Ann Scott's visit, Truro has welcomed visits from several other well-known Canadian skaters, including Liz Manley and Nam Nguyen. Nearly a dozen of the Truro Figure Skating Club's members have competed nationally in the last twenty years, and last winter, the town opened a winter ice skating oval outside of the local library. It may not be a bustling metropolis, but Truro is a town with a unique 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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Papa's Got A Brand New (Skate) Bag

If you were a high school student in the nineties like me, it 'wasn't enough' to have a Note Tote. The 'in thing' was the zippered Five Star binder. You also couldn't 'just' show up after school at the rink with your skates in any old bag. The skaters that waltzed in pulling their 'rolly bag' luggage were the skaters that you took seriously. Though it's not something we often think about, the way that a skater transports their skates, guards, costumes and music to a rink is a bit of a status symbol... and believe it or not, one with an interesting history.

Vintage carrying case for ice skates

Though the image of Victorian era working-class skaters slinging their skates over their shoulders and trudging through the snow to the ponds isn't far off, serious 'fancy' skaters - ie. those with money - would sometimes make a show of taking their skates out of a wooden carrying case or bag. The January 3, 1891 issue of "Evening World" noted, "Those who purchase the finest grade of skates ought to have a case or bag to keep them in to prevent them from tarnishing. A fancy lined Morocco case is to be had for $2 and a chamois bag with two pockets, one for each skate, costs 75 cents. The chamois bag is as good as serviceable as the case, and can be used to rub off and polish up the skates when they are taken off." By the 1910's, skate manufacturers A.G. Spalding & Bros. sold cloth and felt double-pocket bags with drawstrings that had a division so that their skates would not clank together.


As competitive figure skating evolved in the first half of the twentieth century, live orchestras became less frequent during the free skating events. In addition to bags or cases for their skates, it became the vogue for skaters to show up at competitions with separate carrying cases for their records. These record cases were often decorated with stamps and decals from the various cities that the skater visited. And so, the perception became that the more decorated the case, the more travelled (and intimidating) the skater.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Interestingly, the first North American patent for a skate bag wasn't issued until 1948. Barbara Chour of Milwaukee's Skate Carrying Bag didn't prove commercially popular. The following year, West-Over Service Company in Colorado Springs began marketing the first skating bag "designed by skaters for skaters use". Their Skate Bag - which retailed for five dollars and ninety five cents - resembled a normal suitcase, but was collapsible... and monogrammed. Their advertisement in "Skating" magazine boasted, "Every detail to aid in the skater's enjoyment of his hobby has been thoughtfully taken care of in this specially designed skating bag. Just the right size for skates and you can carry extra costumes or equipment. The separate water-proof inner pocket fastens inside the bag. Made in an attractive, rich maroon water-proof fabric, the skate bag will be the envy of your friends."

In 1954, Frieda Alber patented a U-shaped Skate And Shoe Bag with a shoulder strap. In her patent application, Alber noted, "The transportation of ice and roller skates to and from the rink causes considerable inconvenience to the skater because of the rather large size of the skates, especially when the shoes are permanently attached thereto, and also because of their weight and usually soiled condition, especially after use at the rink. When they are brought to the rink in the usual piece of hand luggage, the problem arises of checking the piece of luggage with an attendant at the rink and when no such attendant is available, it must be left exposed to pilfering and stealing while the wearer is skating." By the late fifties, waterproof Skate Carrying Cases with plastic handles and brass plated locks were being sold by mail order and the USFSA got in the game with it's Skater's Caryall, which sold for a cool $7.95 in 1967.

Ice Originals By Lizette Skate Bag, circa 1960's. Photo courtesy Vintage Purse Museum.

With my days of Axels and double Salchows long behind me, I'm quite content to carry my skates to Halifax's Emera Oval in a beautiful Shutterfly tote with one of Toller Cranston's paintings on the front, gifted to me by Jenny Hall Engelka. For those of us who don't 'need' Zuca, companies like Zazzle offer up plastic rolly bags decorated with beautiful historical skating scenes. Whether you choose to seek out a vintage skate carrying case in an antique store or are a slave to your 'rolly bag', rest assured that it's what's inside that really counts.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The Original B&B: The Barney & Berry Company


"For one fifth of a century these skates have been before the public. Their durability has been proven by many years of constant use while the various designs, both of form and ornamentation, are of the highest, artistic excellence." - Barney & Berry's Catalogue Of Ice Skates, 1889-1990

I get requests for blogs on the history of skate making quite often and it occurred to me that it's been quite a long time - in fact, going back to the 2015 blog on The Starr Manufacturing Company - since I've devoted a blog to the subject. Today we'll explore a major player in early American skate making history, the ever popular Barney & Berry company.


The Barney & Berry company was founded at the old Warner's pistol plant near Springfield, Massachusetts. It was started by Everett Barney, a former supervisor of a small arms manufacturer during the Civil War who spent many a winter on the frozen ponds of nearby Framingham, and his old friend John Berry in 1865. Barney and Barney manufactured five hundred skates in their first year and later moved to Springfield, where they flourished in two locations for over fifty years.

The company was very much a skate making contemporary of the Starr Manufacturing Company and in terms of marketing skates for the masses, they were right up there. Arthur R. Goodfellow's wonderful 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" tells us that "The Barney & Berry company was in business until 1919 when the firm was purchased by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of New Haven. At the height of its operation Barney & Berry were turning out 600,000 pairs of skates each year and employing 250 workers."


Hold up for a second. The Winchester Repeating Arms Company? You read that right. The same famed gun company started by Oliver Winchester and perhaps best remembered in modern day for the lore surrounding his son's widow Sarah Winchester and The Winchester Mystery House has a long lost skating connection.

The fate of Everett Barney and the reason the Winchester Repeating Arms Company bought out Barney & Berry was really quite depressing. In 1870, John Berry sold his entire interest in the company to Harvey and one of the Hervey Brothers, who coincidentally sold his shares to Barney as well only two years later. Barney was left to manage the company alone, a daunting task especially since he never recovered from the death of his only son, who perished of tuberculosis at the age of twenty six. Both of his marriages failed, and by the turn of the century he began to neglect the business. He was declared insane in 1913, and left his entire estate to the town of Springfield. At the time the Winchester Repeating Arms Company bought Barney and Berry, the firm was in receivership and the plant was in shambles.


To top it off, by the early twentieth century Barney & Berry's skates, though affordable, were facing stiff competition from other manufacturers, including Peck & Snyder, Sanford Skate Co., Kraft Co., Wirth & Bros, Stetson, Raymond, Behr & Mangels, Douglas Rogers, Gustave Stanzione, A.G. Spalding and J.I. Whelpley.


In the June 1968 issue of "Skating" magazine, Richard Stephenson wrote, "Despite its sad ending, the firm of Barney & Berry had a strong influence on the development of figure skating in the United States. It introduced skating to millions of people by providing quality skates at reasonable prices. Barney himself encouraged many of the leading figure skaters of the time, such as George H. Browne, an authority on the history of skating and founder of the 'international style' of skating in the United States. It is conceivable that, had it not been for the death of Barney's son, the firm of Barney & Berry would be producing quality skates today." One has to wonder if perhaps Everett Barney is one of the ghosts that now wanders the twists, turns and stairways that lead nowhere in the Winchester House, haunted by his own ghosts.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Loving Those Lancers


Ländler dance was a folk dance that combined the gliding principle of the waltz, the improvisational yodelling, clapping and stomping of the polka and the intricate pivots and steps of Styrian dance. It was performed by both couples and small groups in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia in the eighteenth century. It was believed to have been first translated onto the ice in the ice - anglicised as The Lancers - in Canada in the late 1860's.


In the early twentieth century, The Lancers reached their height of popularity in Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa following the publication "Dancing On Skates: How To Skate The Lancers" by Castle-Upon-Tyne English Style skater Colonel Herbert Vaughn Kent.

Skated in groups of eight to sixteen (four to eight couples), The Lancers were in essence a branch of combined skating that drew from elements of North American 'fancy' skating, the stiff English Style and early ice valse patterns from Austria and Germany. The figures had grandiose names like The Great Rose, The Grand Lily and The Grand Chain. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "A caller commanded the moves, and the couples executed 'Ransoms' ('Once-Backs' in England or 'Englanders' on The Continent) in opposite lines as if in a square dance. Lancer dancers thought in terms of north, south, east, west, and returning to home. The Lancers resembled a crude precision team trying to keep up rather than 'dance' in the sense Jackson Haines intended."


Reverend Francis Kilvert's diary offers several accounts of skating parties in Draycot Foliat over the Christmas holidays in 1870 where The Lancers were performed. He recalled how Lord Royston sulked after being corrected when he made an error calling the steps but that "The Lancers were beautifully skated. When it grew dark the ice was lighted with Chinese lanterns, and the intense glare of blue, green, and crimson lights and magnesium riband made the whole place as light as day. Then people skated with torches." Another man of social standing, Captain J.H. Thomson, praised the Lancers as a welcome alternative to being one of "those less enterprising persons who are content with merely travelling round and round the circumference."

In his popular book "The Art of Skating", Irving Brokaw remarked, "The chief points to remember in skating The Lancers are: First, to keep time; that is, for those who are skating to take their first strokes and make their turns exactly together; and second, to keep line; that is, when two or four skaters are skating side by side, they should keep their dressing. The appearance of a figure, where each skater may be skating perfectly himself, is quite spoiled if the skaters do not make their steps together, and if one gets ahead of another when they meant to keep in line."


As pairs and fours skating and ice dancing rose to prominence in the early twentieth century, The Lancers fell out of favour in North America. However, they remain a most fascinating footnote in figure skating's rich history... perhaps one of the earliest examples of just how complicated synchronized skating really is.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Double Salchows In The Dark: How Skating Coped With The Blackout


"The standard of dancing is very high indeed. There about about nine dances done as a matter of course in the public dance sessions... The only departure from normal is the blackout which is very complete." - Jack Irvine, "Skating" magazine, May 1942

During World War II, the Blackout practice was serious business. To throw off enemy bombers, citizens in many countries were required to shield windows and doors with curtains, cardboard, tar or paint to block light from escaping. Street lights were dimmed or turned off and it was a common occurrence for city residents to report neighbours who, by keeping lamps on or candles burning, failed to properly comply, putting entire streets or blocks at greater risk of attack. Public spaces were often obvious targets and thus, many skating rinks only managed to stay in operation under Blackout conditions.


When we think of the Blackout, one of the first places we think of is England. Londoners were forced to barely subsist on meagre rations and contend with fuel oil shortages and gas rationing. They spent more of their time doing War work and running at the sound of sirens to their Anderson shelters than they did living. For some, figure skating was their sole escape from this dreary existence and the Richmond Ice Rink was their mecca. The late Richard Meacock recalled, "Nothing during the War could close the rink. Allied servicemen from all over the world insisted that it be kept open. Besides the kids of London couldn't do without it. So special was the rink considered - a meeting place of discipline, excellence and fun without alcohol - that the government made a special order to black out the five hundred foot long building to allow it to remain open... After all, the Richmond rink was an institution where more than 4 million people learned to skate." Despite the Blackout efforts, a bomb was dropped through the roof of the rink. Miraculously, it didn't explode.

In her book "Figure Skating: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted that in Great Britain, "Each rink had a shelter. Skaters did not have to take their skates off during an air raid, but they were asked not to leave their gas masks in the cloakrooms." Before it suspended publication, "The Skating Times" published an article on air raid procedures. At the Westminster Ice Rink, the glass roof was shattered during one such raid. Skaters in Aberdeen, Dundee and Kirkcaldy continued to practice in similarly perilous conditions.


While skaters in Europe were practicing loops in the dark, in Canada and the United States figure skating was flourishing more than ever before. However, the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 forced North Americans to wake up to the possibility of an enemy attack on home soil. Blackout drills were advertised to U.S. citizens were in advance and in fact, Blackouts were actually quite common during skating sessions at clubs on the West Coast. In December of 1942, the Oakland Figure Skating Club even presented their carnival "Ice Vanities" behind a blackout curtain. The stars of the show included Maribel Vinson Owen and Guy Owen, Bobby Specht, Freddie Tomlins, Norah McCarthy and Irene Dare.

On the whole though, the most affected American skating clubs were (quite obviously if you think about it) the outdoor rinks.  In his 1948 history of the Cambridge Skating Club in Massachusetts, Arthur M. Goodridge recalled, "With the war came the 'blackout'. In October 1942 the Club asked the Air Raid Precaution Warden of the Committee of Public Safety for advice as to how much the rink lights should be dimmed. A polite letter was received in reply but it included the statement 'We are sorry to inform you that all illuminated outdoor activity has been prohibited for the duration.' Fortunately the War Department on November 20th issued new and quite definite regulations permitting lighting by 40 watt bulbs with 900 shades at least twenty feet apart. A plan of lighting was promptly submitted by Howard M. Turner, an Incorporator of the Club, and an engineer. The Blackout Committee, fearing reflection from the ice, allowed the club to install one-third (19) the 57‘ lights asked for and only on a trial basis. With the shortage of materials and workmen these were not in operation until January 2nd. Eventually the original lighting plan was approved and men working in the coldest weather completed the installation. It is worthy of note that although these 57 lights, hanging low over the rink, gave ample illumination, they were practically invisible to a passerby in the street! Perhaps it should also be noted that before any of these lights were put up evening skating went merrily on by the light of a very bright street lamp over the fence."

Police notice of a Blackout in East Suffolk. Photo courtesy Old Lowestott.

Some perhaps didn't take the Blackout as seriously as they ought to have. In November 1941, Tasmanian skating rink owner Thomas Alfred Humphries entered a guilty plea to a charge of permitting light to emit from his skating rink during a Blackout test. The November 15, 1941 issue of the "Advocate" noted that this was the very first case of a business owner in Tasmania defying the Civil Defence (Emergency Powers) Regulations and that during the test, "A messenger, a boy scout, was sent to the rink to inform the occupier that the lights were still showing. No alteration was made. Five minutes later, two more messengers were dispatched, but the lights continued to burn until the end of the blackout." Mr. Humphries claimed that when the sirens sounded, he had been trying to clear people from the rink and thirty had refused to leave. He also claimed that he "was afraid that there might be an accident, and that he would be held responsible." He was only fined five pounds - the maximum penalty was five hundred - and sent on his way with the warning that he could consider himself as "being treated with extreme leniency."

We have all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Hell, many of us suffer from it to some degree I think. During World War II, many English doctors began diagnosing patients with 'blackout anaemia': depression as a direct result of depression from the Blackout and poor nutrition. For many, a couple of hours here or there figure skating would have provided such a wonderful relief from that darkness. Then as it does today, skating saves lives.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine

The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Thunder Bay, Ontario was a competition of many firsts. Advances in technology meant that for the first time, a central music system was used to play music via a telephone system from a sound room at the main venue, the four thousand, six hundred seat Fort William Gardens to both practice venues, the Port Arthur and Current River
arenas.

Commemorative badge and pin from The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

It was also the first time senior winners were given an engraved lapel-sized pin in addition to their gold medal, the first time a skater landed a triple Axel at the Canadian Championships and the first time in almost ten years - since the great Carbonetto/Magnussen upset of 1969 - that a defending senior champion would be dethroned at the Canadian Championships.

A trifecta of Canadian coaching greats... Louis Stong, Kerry Leitch and Doug Leigh. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

History aside, the "Canadian Skater" magazine noted that the competition wasn't all roses in a review of the event in their Spring/Summer 1979 issue: "The major complaint was not the facilities or the well-below zero Thunder Bay weather, but the judging of participants. Judges were openly booed for some of their marks and at times the corridors vibrated with angry comments about the judging. But still the crowds came and the stands were packed." In today's blog, let's take a look back and see what all the excitement was about!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

As was the fashion at the time, the top three in the novice ice dance competition remained the same from the compulsories through the free dance. Karen Taylor of Sarnia and Bob Burk of Ridgetown were the victors, followed by Wendy Birch and Danny Sorley and Carla Holdsworth and Herb Deary. Taylor and Burk's victory was remarkable in that the year before they hadn't even qualified for Nationals. A move to Toronto was apparently just what the young team needed. In the month's leading up to the 1979 Canadian Championships, they decisively snatched the Western Ontario Sectional and Central Canada Divisional titles.

Brad McLean

The leader after the novice men's school figures was Vegreville, Alberta's Troy Ruptash, with Port Moody, British Columbia's Brad McLean second and Edmonton's Ian Edwards third. With a fine free skate, McLean ultimately took the gold, followed by Windsor's Darin Matthewson and Ruptash. Further down the standings were some notable names you just might recognize! In fifth and ninth were 1988 Olympians Neil Paterson and Lyndon Johnston and in seventh was future World Champion and two time Olympic Medallist Lloyd Eisler.

Rosemary Barth and Keith Davis

Kerry Leitch students took the top two spots in the novice pairs event, which consisted solely of a free skate. Rosemary Barth of Kitchener and Keith Davis of St. Catharines claimed the gold; Penny Wilson of Ingersoll and William Thompson of Waterloo the silver. Representing the North Shore Winter Club, Bonnie Epp and David Howe were third. Leitch remarked, "I didn't expect the novice level to be as high as it was and I'd say it's one of the highest in the last five years. It's surprising. The standards are improving so fast." If anyone would have known, it would have been Leitch. His teams had won the novice pairs titles at the Canadian Championships for five straight years.

Pint sized Torontonian Tracey Wainman led the pack of skaters from British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the novice women's school figures. An impressive free skater, the eleven year old coasted to victory with a program that included a full slate of double jumps, including double Axels. Bolstered by a second place finish in the figures, Ann Parfitt-Lewis of the Inlet Skating Club took the silver despite being fourth in free skating. Montreal's Nathalie Barrette was third and Katherina Matousek, second in the free skate, just missed the podium. People were already started to go 'Tracey Wainman crazy' in Thunder Bay, but the CFSA opted to keep her off that particular year's Junior World team, stating that they felt it was best that she prepare for the move up to the junior ranks first. Mrs. Ellen Burka concurred with their decision and praised her young pupil thusly: "I would say she has a computer mind. The way she skates figures, the way she thinks things out. She never asks, 'why do I do this wrong?' She knows almost immediately and says, 'I will correct it.' She doesn't even have to talk about it."

Despite stiff competition from Becky Gough and Mark Rowsom, Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler won both the short program and free skate in the junior pairs event and glided to gold. In third place were Bill O'Neil and Eisler's future partner Katherina Matousek.

Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber

In an impressive field of fifteen junior ice dance teams, Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber of Toronto led the way from start to finish. With no skaters from the area competing in the event, Johnson (a former Thunder Bay resident) was very popular with the local crowd. Nova Scotians Gina Aucoin and Hans-Peter Ponikau claimed the silver, followed by Ontarians Darlene Wendt and Wayne Hussey, Terri-Lynn Black and David Dunstan, Quebec's Sylvie Ethier and Jean Bernier and Vancouver's Tracy Wilson and Mark Skokes.

Kay Thomson

Twelve year old Charlene Wong, who was only ninth in figures earlier that month at the Eastern Divisional Championships, took a surprise lead early in the junior women's event ahead of Toronto's Kay Thomson and Vancouver's Yvonne Anderson. Thomson rallied back in the free skate to take the gold in her first appearance at the Canadian Championships. Anderson and Calgary's Kathryn Osterberg knocked Wong right off the podium. In fact, she ended up down in ninth. One of the biggest surprises in the event was Montreal's Jamie Lynn Kitching, who moved all the way up to fourth overall... from unlucky thirteenth.

Brian Orser in Thunder Bay in 1979

Sixteen year old Mark McVean of Ottawa lead the way after the junior men's school figures, followed by Campbell Sinclair of Ottawa and Mitch Giffin of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Interestingly, none of those three talented young men ended up translating their early leads to a medal in Thunder Bay in 1979. After the short program another young man, Kevin Parker of Campbellville, appeared to be the skater to beat. Instead, rebounding from a ninth place finish in the figures, Penetanguishene's Brian Orser made history as the first man in history to land a triple Axel at the Canadian Championships. In fact, he did two of the latter in his free skate. Parker dropped to second and Shaun McGill of Mississauga, sixth after figures, claimed the bronze ahead of Vancouver's Bruno Delmaestro. In his book "Orser: A Skater's Life", Brian recalled the excitement in Thunder Bay thusly: "It was my first competitive triple Axel, the first ever done at Canadians... The Axel was the talk of the town. It was the novelty of the skating world. There were huge headlines. People would flock to the practice sessions after I won, just to see me land a triple Axel, and I would oblige. I have to admit that I loved it all, but it was also during this period of euphoria that I realized the people would expect the triple Axel now, and I was bound to it."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Joanne French and John Thomas. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Patricia Fletcher
and Michael de la Penotiere
In contrast to the whopping field of fifteen in the junior ice dance event, only seven senior couples competed in Thunder Bay in 1979. As expected, Toronto's Lorna Wighton and Oakville's John Dowding defended their title with aplomb after spending the previous year training in Hungary. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The top three placements from 1978 never wavered... Betty Callaway had improved Wighton/Dowding's compulsories. Lorna had very deep knees in the Viennese Waltz... Lorna and John's charming waltz OSP, coupled with exquisite choreography in their free dance to excerpts from 'Swan Lake', could not be surpassed. Their use of a central theme had such an impact compared to the multicut bits and pieces thrown together that talk of their dance spread worldwide." Patricia Fletcher and Michael de la Penotiere claimed the silver, followed by Nova Scotians Marie McNeil and Rob McCall, Joanne French and John Thomas and Lillian Heming and Murray Carey.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

A young Barbie and Paul

In the absence of the previous year's champions Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan, it was fifteen year old Barbara Underhill of Oshawa and eighteen year old Paul Martini of Woodbridge's year to make a move. The unique team with two different coaches (Barbara worked with Anna Forder-McLaughlin; Paul with Judy Henderson) took a massive lead over Susan Gowan and Eric Thomsen of Vancouver and Lee-Ann Jackson and Bernard Souche of Cambridge in the short program, earning first place marks from all seven judges. With a thrilling free skate, Underhill and Martini won their first Canadian senior title. Jackson and Souche placed second in the free skate but had to settle for the bronze overall behind Gowan and Thomsen. Bowmanville and Oshawa natives Andrea Derby and Jim Sorochan finished fourth. Underhill and Martini's victory in 1979 marked only the third time in the history of the Canadian Championships that a pairs team had won the junior and senior titles in successive years.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Vern Taylor and Brian Pockar. Photos courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

In the senior men's field of eight, nineteen year old Brian Pockar of Calgary defeated twenty year old Vern Taylor of Toronto by a hair. How close was it? Pockar had ten ordinals and 80.40 points; Taylor eleven and 79.90. Both men skated extremely well in the free skate, but the judges ultimately opted to reward Pockar's more well-rounded performance over Taylor's eight triple free skate. Taylor's athletic effort earned a standing ovation from the appreciative Thunder Bay crowd and top marks for technical merit in the free skate. Taylor's loss was dictated by the fact that he had been sixth after the figures and short program. Pockar's performance was nothing to sneeze at in itself. He fought hard, saying he felt like he'd "run a five minute mile." Brockville's Gordon Forbes took the bronze, followed by Don Mills' Gary Beacom, Montreal's Daniel Beland, Coquitlam's Jimmy Szabo, Vancouver's Dennis Coi and Windsor's Kevin Hicks.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Janet Morrissey

In the senior women's school figures, twenty year old Deborah Albright of Toronto and nineteen year old Carleton University student Janet Morrissey led the pack, with twenty year old defending champion Heather Kemkaran of Toronto trailing in third. A clean as a whistle short program gave Kemkaran a three ordinal and 0.64 lead on Morrissey heading into the final phase of the competition. Morrissey rebounded in the free skate, earning first place ordinals from eight of the nine judges, the gold medal and a trip to the 1979 World Figure Skating Championships in Vienna, Austria. Kemkaran was second; Albright third. In an interview in the February 5, 1979 edition of "The Globe And Mail", Morrissey exclaimed, "I just can't wait... 'I've never been to Vienna or anything. I'm just so hyped up... I put in one of my triples, one of my best efforts at it. And I had two double Axels, one in a combination... I did kind of a fluke thing at the end where I tripped on one of my jumps but, aside from that, I was really happy with the way I skated.''

The February 5, 1979 issue of "The Ottawa Journal" noted, "It has not been an easy road to the top for Morrissey. She was never one of those young 'phenoms' who burst on the skating scene with a big buildup and ride up the ladder in the early stages in a wave of publicity. It was easy to stay relatively unnoticed skating out of Nepean when the focus was on the Minto stars of the past few years. Lynn Nightingale was Ottawa's and Canada's queen of the ice, with a gracious manner, a great talent and a show-stopping personality on the ice... As Morrissey worked her way into the limelight there was never a suggestion from her that her talents were being overlooked by media, fans and particularly judges who aren't supposed to be influenced by reputation, but frequently are. She just kept working, smiling, skating and improving, believing that if there was any justice in the world at all that her day would come." It did in Thunder Bay.

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