The Whole Kit And Kaboodle

Loew's Theatre in Montreal. Photo courtesy City Of Montreal Archives, Collection Cinémathèque québécoise, 1999_0580_PH_07.

An unlikely mecca for Vaudeville shows in the thirties, Montreal's Loew's Theatre (built in 1917) was notorious for its blackface minstrel shows and tramp comedians. In 1931, its star attraction was a pair of conjoined 'Siamese twins' from the Philippines named Lucio and Simplicio Godina who sang, danced and roller skated for gawking curiosity seekers. Seven years later, the venue played host to an equally unusual attraction - an ice show.

Manager Howard Knevels brought in a revue called The St. Moritz Ice-Skating Carnival over the holiday season in 1937. It opened on New Year's Eve and enjoyed a short run with a cast of twenty five skaters. A 'glittering' set painted with Swiss mountain slopes and trees played backdrop to a tiny stage of artificial ice. Three opening acts - impersonator Beatrice Howell, banjo player and MC Ken Harvey and a team of 'comic tumblers' - preceded the ice show, which "The Canadian Jewish Chronicle" described as "a rapid fire production... that is undoubtedly the most spectacular, novel and entertaining ever offered in any theatre in this city."

Kit Klein

Interestingly, the star wasn't even a figure skater. An American speed skater named Kit Klein who had won the Olympic gold medal in the fifteen hundred meter race at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and gone on to do advertisements for Camel cigarettes had top billing. She was supported by barrel jumper Bobby Hurd, ice dancers Irene and Dick Meister, a sister act, a chorus of twelve 'beautiful ice skating maidens' and an ice comedian from Nova Scotia named Douglas Duffy. The highlight of the show? A matador act with a two man skating bull.

The Ice Follies, Ice Capades and Sonja Henie's Hollywood Ice Revue all made stops in Montreal in the years that followed but the interest generated by The St. Moritz Ice-Skating Carnival at Loew's never ultimately translated to a static series of Vaudeville style ice shows in Montreal. Only three years after the The St. Moritz Ice-Skating Carnival, Loew's Theatre was converted to a film cinema. It remained in operation through the nineties until being partially demolished and transformed into a Club Med and later, a Foot Locker shoe store.

Though we often look at history through people and events, it is important to remember that exploring the past through locations can be just as meaningful. Whether a frozen tennis court in the Himalayas, a bullring in Mexico or a Vaudeville theatre in Montreal, figure skating has made its mark in some pretty unique places.

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