A Western Wonder: The Roger Wickson Story
With a huge thanks to the wonderful folks at the White Rock Museum and Archives and Burnaby Public Library, I'm happy to be able to share the story of a wonderful Canadian figure skater who has somewhat 'fallen through the cracks' of history!
The son of Gladys (Rogers) and John Arthur Wickson, Ralph Roger John Wickson was born May 2, 1927 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He spent much of his childhood in Winnipeg, where his father's parents lived. It was in Manitoba that he and his younger brother Malcolm took up figure skating. It wasn't until the family moved back to British Columbia when his father started working for the government that they really began taking the sport seriously.
Roger performing a backbend cantilever in 1941. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
Under the tutelage of Canadian Champion Mary Rose Thacker, the Wickson boys represented a steady stream of British Columbia skating clubs throughout their careers - Connaught, University Hill, Vancouver and Kerrisdale among them. Their father, an avid sportsman who served as secretary of the James Bay Athletic Association, was one of the founders of the latter club. John Arthur Wickson and his brother Gordon (Roger's uncle) were also part of the group of westerners that formed the first section in Canada in 1947 - the Western Canada Section of the CFSA.
Ross Smith, Barbara Ann Scott, Sheila Smith, Suzanne Thouin and Roger Wickson with their trophies at the 1944 Canadian Championships in Toronto. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
After winning the Connaught senior men's club title in 1941 and the 1944 Canadian junior men's title and the bronze medal in the senior men's event at the 1946 Canadian Championships in Toronto, Roger made history at the first Western Canada Sectional Championships, held January 15 and 16, 1947 at the Wascana Figure Skating in Regina, winning the senior men's event and becoming the first skater from his club to hold a senior men's Sectional title. During this period, he was also a member of the Connaught Figure Skating Club's championship four.
After finishing second at the 1948 Canadian Championships behind Wally Distelmeyer, twenty one year old Roger made history again at the 1949 Canadian Championships. In front of a crowd of nine hundred spectators at the Minto Skating Club, he became the first man from British Columbia to claim a Canadian senior men's title. Described as a "dark horse" winner by the press though he was a perennial (and often unopposed) champion at the Western Sectionals, he was largely unheralded in the Ontario and Quebec skating communities who largely controlled the sport at the time.
Roger Wickson and Suzanne Morrow at the 1949 Canadian Championships
At the 1949 North American Championships in Philadelphia, Roger finished fourth behind a trio of Americans - Dick Button, Jimmy Grogan and Hayes Alan Jenkins. The following year, he moved up from second after the school figures behind another British Columbian skater, Bill Lewis, to defend his Canadian title.
Roger Wickson, Barbara Gratton, Suzanne Morrow and Peter Firstbrook at the 1950 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
However, Roger's first and only trip to the World Championships that year would not yield any such comeback. Buried in the standings after the figures, Roger's free skating effort wasn't enough to move him out of eighth place. In 1951, his home club hosted the Canadian Championships for the first time. Under tremendous pressure, he lost his Canadian title to a young up-and-comer named Peter Firstbrook. At the North American Championships that followed, he finished dead last. It was with those losses that Roger's relatively short, roller coaster career ended in disappointment.
Artray Studio photo of Roger Wickson boarding a flight for England in 1950. VPL access number: 84467A. Photo courtesy Vancouver Public Library.
Seven years after his father's death, Roger returned to competitive figure skating at the age of thirty two, teaming up with two young Capilano Winter Club skaters - Nancy Paulson and Vivian Percival - in an attempt to reinvent himself as an ice dancer. Reinvent perhaps is not the best word, as Roger and June Hockley had competed in the Waltz and Tenstep competitions at the Canadian Championships in 1950, but finished dead last. Roger and Vivian fared slightly better, claiming the bronze medal in the Silver (junior) dance competition at the 1960 Canadian Championships, and then Roger promptly retired from skating again. He settled in Vancouver and managed a building supply company. He never married, passing away of a heart attack on June 6, 1985 in Crescent Beach, British Columbia at the age of fifty eight. He may not be one of Canada's most remembered men's champions, but he certainly did a great deal to put British Columbian skating on the map.
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