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.

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