#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...

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