#Unearthed: At The Rink - Halifax, Nova Scotia

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 #Unearthed comes to you from the third 1875 edition of "Colburn's United Service Magazine And Naval And Military Journal", published in London, England by Hurst and Blackett. The piece, penned by one Lieutenant C.R. Low, offers one of the most in-depth accounts of figure skating in Halifax, Nova Scotia during the Victorian era. I want to warn readers in advance of some of the extremely racist language used by Lieutenant Low in his description of a skating carnival held at the Halifax Skating Rink. For historical authenticity, I have elected to leave the language as is but have removed a certain word and replaced it with 'persons of colour' because yeah... I had to draw the line somewhere. Gross stuff I know, but this was the nineteenth century. At any rate, it's a compelling primary source.


What is the Rink? Nay, rather; good English reader, what is it not?

When snow covers town and country a foot deep, when gales of wind come sweeping over the rocky const from the restless Atlantic, when English girls and matrons are shivering over the fire at home,
unable to stir out, except at the risk of muddy skirts and bronchitis, and when English males are wasting time, money, and energy in club and billiard-rooms, for the very good reason that they have nothing else to do, the Nova Scotian, masculine and feminine, has the Rink - a clean swept surface of ice, over one hundred and fifty feet long by fifty broad, sheltered from snow and wind; where he and she are safe to meet other masculines and feminines ready to skate, chat, flirt, and sit with them, where they will hear all the gossip of the morning, afternoon, or evening, where they can make appointments for sleigh-drive or five o'clock tea, garrison reading or Philharmonic concert, where they can take any amount of exercise in any amount of pleasant company, where they can learn to cut the most intricate figure, and become perfect masters of the most graceful out-door art, where everybody is dressed to the very best advantage, seal-skin jacket or fur-coat, the hooped up skirt, showing the dainty boot and bewitching ankle, the short skating-jacket setting off whatever manly beauty there is to show, where everybody is good-tempered, chattish, pleased and pleasing. There I alter this, don't you wish you had a rink in England?

Skating in the open air, observes a friend at our elbow, is the true perfection of skating. Granted, but with a host of conditions. There must be no wind to blow you back, or over-hurriedly forward; to chill your very marrow when you pause for a moment, and take the breath out of your body just when you want it most. There must be no snow, new or old, to clog your skates, and trip you up, and cover treacherous cracks, and oblige you to keep looking at your feet and footpath. The ice must be free from frozen rifts and waves, inequalities and obstructions. Do you know the pleasure of striking against stick or stone, and suddenly finding yourself flying through air to light again on mother ice, in
undignified prostration of mind and body ? Did you ever hear of air holes made by nature, of fishing holes also made by man, and covered after a night with a thin coating of ice so as to deceive even a practised eye? Then again, the. pond or lake must not be miles away, so that you are tired before you reach it, and, when you have had your five, or ten, or fifteen miles spin, are weighed down with the prospect of a weary walk home, leg weary and stiff in the joints, in the early gloom of a January afternoon. There must be resting places, too, and a decent hostelry, or friend's house close by. How do you like sitting down on a frozen bank, or hard stone, or snow-covered bush, or, faute de mieux, upon the ice itself, chilled below and wind-blown above, and no sooner down than you have to spring up again in fear of colds and rheumatism? And do you never, good male reader, want a refresher, or feel that le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle when, after a couple of hours skating, your inner man pants for cool beer or something hot, and pants in vain? Or, if you are a lady, don't you think a cup of tea is all but indispensable, and certainly most desirable? You off skates and trudge home, exhausted and dry? Yes, and then there is the putting on and off of one's skates. True, it is not now as in days of yore, when Dickens' picture of Mr. Winkle with his straps and buckles was a sad reality. Time was when the best temper and the soundest, i e., the warmest constitution gave way under the five to ten minutes' boring of holes, and screwing of screws, and buckling of straps, which had to be gone through, with fingers like the ice itself, and body stiffened in all sorts of unwonted postures. Even gallantry became a bore, and Phyllis a nuisance, when her company doubled the process of gimleting,
screwing, and buckling; and you handled the charming little foot, with an inward wish that both it and its Balmoral boot were safely back with mamma in the drawing-room. Now the Acme has altered
all that. By the way, this is its head-quarters. The Acme skateworks are situated at Dartmouth, on the other side of the harbour, and close to the first of the long chain of lakes which runs northward across Nova Scotia. No better open air skating could possibly be had than on these lakes, and dear are the memories of bright days and moonlight nights upon their glassy surface with thee, oh fairest of nymphs, fur-skirted Phyllis, by our side ; but the above conditions hold good even of skating on the Dartmouth Lakes, and we have returned to our beloved Rink, with a blessing on its unsightly wooden walls, and shingled roof, and felt that, if not quite so romantic as the lakes, at any rate it was comfort- a sort of skating head-quarters and home.

The fact is there would be almost as little skating in Halifax as in London, if it were not for the Rink. True, the climate is very uncertain, and the snow may suddenly disappear, to be followed by a hard dry frost, but in the lakes and ponds, the new-formed ice rests upon the old under-stratum, and is brittle and bad for skating, "Shell-ice" as it is called; while even should there be a day or two of fine weather, the snow speedily returns again, and the Rink becomes a necessity once more. Snow, falling or fallen, is the normal condition of Nova Scotia in winter, as of Canada proper, only here on the coast, the sea-breezes with their fogs and rains do battle with the frost and snow, and often conquers; while in Quebec and Upper Ontario, far inland, the snow lies, white and dry, upon earth and water, from November to May. Great expectations are generally disappointed, as everybody knows.

We had heard so much of Canadian skating, that the first week or two of our rink experience made us wonder whether we had been the victims of travellers' tales and colonial bunkum. There seemed a sprinkling of really good skaters, men who twirled round half-a-dozen times on one skate, did shamrocks and giant-swings, performed harlequin-like antics and evolutions, and were to be seen occasionally bounding into mid-air, and coming down calm and composed, upon their feet again; ladies also, who did the double grape-vine, the cross-roll backwards, and, with skilful cavaliers, performed roses and lilies to the admiration of all beholders. But there, that was just it, beholders did admire. There was always a crowd round the set of Lancers. These gifted beings were evidently exceptions to the general rule of skaters. It seemed just as in England; a few first-rate performers and the rest comparatively nowhere. Considering the immense amount of practice these Nova Scotians had enjoyed from their very childhood, we judged that most of the, had not improved their opportunities, and certainly that we English who so seldom have a week's continuous snowless frost, need not be ashamed of our skaling public, or special skating stars.

To strengthen which opinion we soon noticed that several of the best skaters in the Rinks were officers of our garrison, some of whom had indeed enjoyed two or three years' training in Montreal or Quebec, but others only a season in Halifax. Proof positive, we discovered, after a band-day or two, that only one single set of Lancers could be formed at one time, from sheer want of skilled skaters. On one, and only one occasion during the whole of the last winter, did we see two sets on the ice together,and the skating of set No. 2 was very lame, to say the best for it. Lack of men rather than ladies was the cause of this, and possibly a few of both sexes were kept back from dancing by a dislike to appear prominently in public, but we repeat, that first impressions of Haligonian skating were disappointing. "We have no skaters to compare with those of Quebec and Montreal. Now and again one of them comes down and opens our eyes for us." The speaker was one of the best performers in the Rink, and most candid Haligonians will, we think, agree with him. The ice lasts longer in Canada proper, and the closing of the St. Lawrence to all navigation during the winter months, sets a great many men comparatively free from business, and gives them leisure to skate their very feet off. There was a grand skating tournament in Montreal this winter, with a champion gold medal, and all sorts of prizes, open to the whole Dominion; and every inducement held out to all the skating clubs and rinks, from the Atlantic to Lake Superior, to send in their best men to the contest; but there were no competitors from Halifax, wicked rumour said because there were none who had a chance of carrying off even a consolation prize.

"A Corner Of The Rink - Halifax, Nova Scotia". Engraving by Henry Buckton Laurence.

On the other hand it is amusing to see how completely our Haligonian cousins think and speak, scorn English skating, refusing to believe that there ever is any, except once in a thousand years. Some few things are popularly supposed not to exist among us, e.g., good dentists, sunny days, and skating. "You get along very nicely, considering that this is your first season," remarks a fair critic, as we go round the Rink with her. " Have you ever skated at home ?" inquired another, and so on. (Mark, good reader, that England is always "home" amongst Canadians). And we fancy that they are a wee bit disappointed when a fresh arrival from the old country can hold his own at all on skates, and goes along on the outside edge, like one of themselves. The great difference, after all, between the skating here and in England, is the number of ladies who skate, and skate well many of them, better than the men, except in figures where strength rather than grace is needed, or, in which skirts and ankles would be unbecoming. Until very lately it was extraordinary to find any girls at all on English ice, and even now, we doubt whether an average of more than one per cent of our lady skaters at home can do anything beyond simple straightforward strokes. Here a girl learns to skate as uaturally as to walk, and the ice, instead of presenting a dismal monotony of trousers and other sober-coloured male garments, as in England, is brilliant with gay dresses and piquante costumes, and resounds with such merry hum of conversation and euphonistic tones, as can only come from ladies' tongues, or rather from a judicious mixture of tongues, male and female together. A truce to criticism, let us take the Rink under three aspects, as true as we can make it.

Scene I. - Any morning from Christmas to April. Time, noon. Dramatis persona, about fifty ladies and gentlemen. We are seated on one of the benches which line three sides of the Rink, pausing before we put on our Acme's to see who is who. This is the time for beginners, also for those more advanced, but in the agonies of a new figure. The ice is too crowded in an afternoon, and, besides, if one has to fall it is just as well to have as few spectators as possible. Here is Mrs. A. creeping along as if her feet were tied together, persistently trying to walk, and every now and then giving a grand
totter, as though seized with the ague. There! She is down! No, she makes a convulsive effort, and staggers to a form. A little further on is Mrs. B., who came out by the last mail, and has not yet attained to the infantine accomplishment of standing alone. Mr. B. is holding her up, and as she is decidedly his better-half in person as in name, he seems to have no easy task of it, especially as her feet shoot forward without the rest of her body agreeing thereto. Here again comes Mrs. C. in brave fashion. It is her second season, and she is going round the Rink, hand in hand with Captain D. "Four times round - a quarter of a mile! Well then, I've done half a mile without stopping. Not so bad, is it?" she asks, triumphantly, slopping before poor Mrs. A., who is sadly meditating upon another venture, yet loath to quit the friendly bench. Ah! Rhere are Mr. and Mrs. E. and their three youngsters. He in uniform - fur coat and cap, and long boots - standing on the raised platform, giving sage instructions to Master George, who is trying the outside edge. Mrs. E. skating, with Miss Jane in tow; while their eldest hopeful is flying after a comrade in helter-skelter chase, doubling and twisting about, and coming, at this instant, into over close proximity to old Mr. F., who is gravely trying a loop, and who, we doubt not, is wishing this particular boy, and all others at school or Jericho, or anywhere out of the
way. There are plenty of children in the Rink, pleasant enough to gaze at, as they glide about in fullest of all full enjoyment, tumbling over, and picking themselves up, like balls of india rubber; but not so pleasant when you are skating and find them between your legs, or right in the way of your most elegant "ransom." Happy age of childhood which fears no fall, and has scarcely four feet to fall through! Look at that wee toddles of five, going along on a pair of skates, very toys for smallness, with her fat little red-sockinged legs, and funny little muff hung round her neck. Look again at that lanky boy of fifteen, doing the "railway-step" at railway speed. He just shaves past G. of the Rifles, coming backwards down the ltink, and is away at the other end and back again, before that gallant officer has quite recovered his balance. In the centre, and keeping a space to themselves, is a quartette, Captain H. and Lieutenant K., with two Haligonian belles, doing "roses" and "chain ransoms," gliding round and about each other in graceful curves, now meeting, now separating each other in a separate circle to meet again. Very pretty, is it not ? And well these young ladies know how much their "ransoms" set off their figures, and work havoc in their partners' hearts, or, if they don't know it, it is not for want of fair speeches from the gallant soldiers, we go bail. Miss L. is practising in a corner there, by herself; or at least, as much by herself as Mr. M. will allow. Thump! There goes N. down on his back, a regular cropper. He has been trying an "eight" for half-an-hour, and cannot come round on his right foot, do what he will, as he remarks to a sympathizing friend, while gathering himself up, and brushing off the white ice-shavings with which he has powdered himself in his fall. Lunch time, and the Rink is quickly emptied. Mr. P. escorts Miss Q. down the road. Mrs. R. collects her chickens, and leads them off to make havoc of a leg of mutton. Captain S. and Lieutenant T. take lingering leave of Mrs. V. and Miss W.; and all the alphabet from A to Z disperse, like the workers at the Tower of Babel, and with almost us much chattering. Drop the curtain!

Scene II. Saturday afternoon, 4 p.m. Band of the 60th Royal Rifles. Full concourse of skaters. The fifty have grown into 500. A crowd of spectators standing and sitting, walking on the side platform, old dowagers keeping watch over their fair daughters, like hens who have hatched a brood of ducklings whom they cannot follow, but who return to their sheltering wings now and again in the pauses of the music. Know, reader, that a gentleman engages a lady as his partner for a piece in the programme, be it overture, waltz, pot-pourri or what not, and during that piece, they skate together, separating at its close, unless willing to run the risk of being chatted about by the fluent tongues which belong to the observant eyes of the Haligonian world on these Rhadamanthine benches, wherefrom their doings are watched by a hundred daughters of Eve, and mothers in Halifax. Very little figuring is done on a Saturday afternoon. A few gentlemen in the centre of the Rink are performing mystic evolutions, but they are acknowledged proficients. These are not brave enough to risk a fall on Saturday afternoon. But round and round the borders of the ice, in a circle four to six deep, moving from left to right, never in the opposite direction, so that there is no meeting, in one long endless ring, go the great mass of skaters, two and two, lady and gentleman, hand in hand, chatting, laughing, flirting ; some couples doing the outside edge in parallel curves, some the "cross-roll," right foot with right foot, left with left; some going along face to face, the gentleman skating backwards, the lady forwards (a capital aid to conversation, but requiring great skill and practice on the man's part to guide himself and his partner in such a crowd) ; some whirling along swiftly, some more sedately; but most of them just going ahead in plain straightforward strokes and even time, especially when the band commences, and they strike out in conscious or unconscious time to the music. There! the Blue Danube waltzes! And straightway a hundred fresh couples have started, and the great circle thickens, and the partners glide past, meeting kaleidescope fashion into one another, until the eye grows weary, while voices raised high in rivalry to the music, make a confused roar, and the head grows dizzy with the endless circling round and round. Woe to the man who tries to cross the stream of skaters, and to the unlucky one who stumbles. There is a hole on the off-side, soon known and avoided, for there goes a cavalier nearly dragging down his lady, and over him in a moment is cavalier No. 2, while No. 3 only saves himself by grinding the heels of his skates into the ice in most unorthodox and ice-tearing fashion. " Drat those boys, why don't some one keep them at home? Did you see how nearly I fell over one just now?" "Oh dear! my skate is coming off. Please take me to a seat." "Can't see one unoccupied." " Never mind, there is mamma, I can stand by her." Will you come round with me the next piece?" "Delighted." " Did you go to the 87th hop last Monday? Aawfully jolly, eh?" " Good lot of chalk on the floor, wasn't there?" "Oh, Mr. M., will you come to five o'clock tea?" " Thanks; engaged for two more dances. Come a little later if that will do." And so on. The band stops. Rush of ladies to seats. Thinning of ice. Crowding of platform. Man with big wooden rake goes up and down the Rink, sweeping off the snowy shavings which the skates have cut from the ice, and nearly sweeping sundry unobservant skaters from their feet at the same time. More music. The Lancers. A set is formed in the middle of the Rink. Great crowding round of spectators. Notice that nearly all the movements in every figure are done by a series of ransoms. If we can only muster one set in the Rink, at any rate that set is worth looking at. Grand chain; Finale. Music ceases again. Gas lighted. Double row of jets running the whole length of the building. We don't know why, but everyone skates best by gaslight. Whew, what a crowd! The band plays a gallop. Everybody skates round, and yet the platform and benches seem as full as ever. 5.30. The crowd thins rapidly. 6 p.m. Desertion and loneliness. Scene closes.

Scene III. - It is carnival night. A fancy ball upon the ice. The Rink is gaily decorated. Strips of calico, red white and blue, are carried in and out along the cross beams of the roof, making a tent
like covering, very simple but very pretty. Flags and banners are grouped on the wooden pillars, and along the walls, with mottoes, shields and devices here and there. Drapery hides the unsightly
woodwork. The great barn is a fairy palace; many lights, gay colours. A crowd of spectators filling the platform below and the gallery above. The latter is ordinarily reserved for the band, but it is now the ladies' gallery for the evening, into which, by dint of playing cavalier des dames, we and a few other male beings have been admitted, and from which we look down on the ice below. There are no skaters at present, but one or two strange costumes are to be seen among the crowd on the side-platform, and a glance through the momentarily opened door of the ladies' room, as we passed by, has revealed the fact that the fair shepherdesses, flowergirls and gypsies are congregating there, waiting until their numbers are sufficiently large, to make a grand and simultaneous entree. Lively recollections come into our mind of those delightful periods of childish expectation, when we sat in Franconi's or Astley's, waiting for the bell to tinkle, and the gaily caparisoned chargers to be led forth. Only here is ice and not sawdust. The ladies' room is immediately below us, and we gaze down expectantly. Ah, a buzz, a turning of all eyes to our South Pole, here they come - two and two - "the Grand Fairy Troupe of the Sink Circus, in their magnificent spectacle of all countries," as Astley would have had it. First appears an Indian squaw, in dress embroidered with beads and porcupine quills, and witii necklace of bears' claws round her neck ; but oh; how different to the wizened, coppercoloured,hideous specimens of womanhood, with baby slung behind, and pipe in mouth before, who represent the squaw of actual life in the streets of Halifax! With her, a Polish lady, in square shabracque, and plentiful trimmings of white fur. Then winter in white dress, sprinkled with swans' down for snow, and a robin perched on her shoulder. Then a lovely poudre shepherdess, in rose-coloured skirt and white bodice, crook, and basket of flowers. What Elysian fields can there be where such shepherdesses tend their flocks ? Now a tall stately Spanish girl, in black dress and lace mantilla. Now a witch, in scarlet petticoat and steeple hat. Well chosen character, who would not be spellbound by such a fair enchantress? Now a vivandiere in blue, with gaiters and pantalettes, and orthodox barrel slung from her shoulder. Is there anything in it, we wonder ? Now a sober-hued Chezzetcook girl, in dark homespun dress, and kerchief over her head, carrying her basket of eggs. Oh, dear! They come trouping in too quickly for anything. Gypsies and Highland lassies, soubrettes and peasants, Dolly Vardens and French marquises. A brilliant series of colours spreading over the ice, and bewildering our dazzled eyes, as they glide about, hither and thither. Meanwhile another stream has issued from the opposite side. Sailors and Zouaves, jockeys and Turks, Highlanders and Chinese, courtiers and footmen; two Arab chiefs, tall and stately, in turban, and long flowing robes of scarlet and white; a fireman in helmet and scarlet Garibaldi ; an Austrian Hussar in busby and pelisse; a carter, with smock-frock and whip; a police sergeant; an old man with white flowing locks and knee-breeches; an Esquimaux in coat and hood of unpiucked sealskin; a trapper from the Far West in dress of deerskin ; two jolly little bear cubs; another little fellow in Chinese costume, correct even to the pig-tail which swings from beneath his broad flat hat, and which gets lugged now and again by those noisy and troublesome [persons of colour], who begin to act Christy Minstrels in most exaggerated burlesque, so soon as they are fairly launched on the ice. The band strikes up. Ladies and gentlemen pair off together. The carnival has begun. Round and round go the mummers, a huge circle of every colour under the sun, and meanwhile fresh arrivals keep pouring in, until full two hundred costumes are represented. A roar of laughter as a great bottle of Bass' ale, with its well-known triangular red trade mark, skates solemnly into the arena. Another burst, as atin coffee-pot makes its appearance, handle and spout complete. All very well to look at, but, considering that the dwellers in bottle and coffee-pot cannot sit down, and are in durance vile for the whole evening, we would prefer not acting either coffee or beer. Besides, those plaguey [persons of colour] won't let them alone, but gather round, hustling and tapping them, to the imminent danger of capsizing both. What is this? His Satanic Majesty apparently? A figure all black, even to his face, with long elf-locks floating about his shoulders, and imitation snake coiled round his sooty figure. "Snake charmer," we see written down in the newspaper catalogue next day. A hideous costume at any rate, and any snake a fool to be charmed with it, Look at this thing like a walking feather-bed. "Tar and feathers," says the newspaper. No accounting for taste, say we. Here is a "Sepoy Prince,' whose " make-up seems to consist principally of a night-gown tied round the waist, and a pair of loose white drawers. And here again is a gentleman who represents the United States, in a hat with "E pluribus unum" printed on it in large letters, and with a carpet-bag and umbrella, which he carries round for two whole mortal hours! Some costumes require courage. Here is a tall man in Sarah Gimp's skirts and coal-scuttle bonnet; and here an equally big baby, in white dress and cap, and with a feeding-bottle. But baby has a mask on to hide his blushes, if he has any. A Zouave takes him- her we mean - in his arms, and tries to skate with his burly burden across the Rink, coming, as might be expected, to untimely grief. Historical costumes ought to carry their titles about with them. Who is to know that this tine young fellow in black velvet represents Sir Walter Raleigh? And what is the distinctive dresses of Anne of Gcierstein and Earl Warwick's page? We. suppose the latter must be the gentleman whose lower rig gives us cold shivers, and will assuredly give him rheumatism. Fancy flesh tights with the thermometer outside far below freezing point! One character, at any rate, we can identify. Here is a blue frock-coat, with front of white lace, and any number of decorations (masonic), face of reddish hue, spectacles, huge epaulettes of curtain-fringe, and high cap with higher plume, is His Royal Mightiness the Shah! Last time we saw His Majesty he was warbling, in those justly celebrated tones of his, "Oh, have you seen the Shah?" at a crowded barrack entertainment. He is led round the Rink occasionally by two obsequious attendants, and looks a little - just a little - uneasy on his skates, but royalty must not be criticised, so refrain our pen! They are forming the usual set of Lancers. Sir Walter Raleigh and the Spanish lady. A French gendarme and a demure quakerress, whose sad-coloured dress, and close white cap, form, in our humble opinion, one of the most effective costumes of the evening. The third couple are the Zouave and Vivandiere, and last, an Albanian, whose scanty white skirt looks as shivery as the page's tights, and who pairs off with a shepherdess. What is the matter? A sudden rush to one side of the Rink. A roar of merriment. The coffee-pot has come to grief. Those [persons of colour] have thrown it down, and lo! The wearer stands confessed, and thenceforth skates with one arm through the spout, sole relic of his past greatness. Bass' ale preserves his legs and bottle, though not without some trouble. He is a clever rogue, and when God Save the Queen is played, takes out his cork, as a good and loyal subject, to the great amusement of the Rink. God save the Queen! Time to go home, and to end this sketch. So pick we our way, past the refreshment-room, where thirsty souls in varied garb are drinking to their next merry meeting, into the frosty air, and through the crowd of sleighs, into the snowy road beyond, and so home.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The Legendary Night Of Figure Skating

Photo courtesy Bryan Adams / Library And Archives Canada

On March 2, 1999, history was celebrated and made in Toronto, Ontario, when a who's who of Canadian figure skating took to the ice at the inaugural ice show at Air Canada Centre in a show called The Legendary Night Of Figure Skating. Held as part of the facility's opening ceremonies, the mammoth effort celebrated Canada's rich figure skating history. The event was sponsored by AOL Canada, Doulton Fine Fragrance Collection and The Bay and Wittnauer Fine Swiss Watches.

Show program, courtesy Sandra Bezic

The Legendary Night Of Figure Skating came about when IMG Canada approached Sandra Bezic and asked her to produce and choreograph the show. She enlisted Michael Seibert as a co-director. Wayne Abbott edited the biographies in the show's program; Marvin Dolgay worked his magic with all of the music. Every living medallist at the Canadian Championships was invited to participate, along with several 'stars of tomorrow' scouted by the CFSA. Quoted in the February 17, 1999 issue of "Blades On Ice" magazine, 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott remarked, "It is a great honour to think that this unique event is being held for Canadian skaters, former, present and future... We are all looking forward to meeting skaters and friends we haven't seen in years. This will be a memorable event."

A memorable event it was. A crowd of eighteen thousand attended the star-studded gala and a portion of the proceeds were donated to the CFSA for skater development. Live performances were interspersed with historical video footage. Performers included Brian Orser, Sheldon Galbraith, Osborne Colson, Donald Jackson, Liz Manley and Josée Chouinard and circular stages were set up around the ice for speakers to introduce performances and educate the audience on the accomplishments of the illustrious alumni of Canadian skating in attendance. I spoke with Sandra Bezic about the show. She recalled, "For me, that show was a labour of love. I wanted to honour all the Canadian Champions in the best way possible, and give them their proper due. For many, it had been years and years since their accomplishments were acknowledged. We seated them all together across the downstage platform and I will never forget their tearful reactions during dress rehearsal when they first saw their biographies we had woven throughout the show... I'm pretty sure Brian Orser opened as Louis Rubenstein. We tried to get him to skate on late 1800's blades, but I don't remember if that came to fruition.  I talked Osborne Colson into performing!  He had agreed, then pulled out, then finally after much cajoling - begging - he showed up and was magnificent! Toller was another I talked into performing. It was the first time I met a young dance team - Marie France and Patrice. I was blown away by them and thought 'these two are special!' Every one of the champions who could and wanted to, skated out in the finale. Almost everyone did! Everyone got their full title announcement. So fun. Val and I did a back inside death spiral." A highlight of the event was a torch-passing ceremony where champions of yesterday passed the baton to these 'stars of tomorrow' including Emanuel Sandhu, Patrick Chan and Christopher Mabee. Memorably, 1972 Olympic Silver Medallist and 1973 World Champion Karen Magnussen passed the baton to her nine-year old student Mira Leung.

Among the dozens upon dozens of luminaries who participated in some capacity were Barbara Ann Scott, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Petra Burka, Charles Snelling, Frances Dafoe, Tracy Wilson, Donald Gilchrist, Donald McPherson, Tracey Wainman, Suzanne Morrow-Francis, Maria and Otto Jelinek, Lynn Nightingale, Margaret Roberts and Bruce Hyland, Debbi Wilkes, Vern Taylor, Barbara Gratton, Jennifer Robinson, Michelle McDonald and Martin Smith, Ron Shaver, Barbara Berezowski and David Porter and Jay Humphry. Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler brought down the house with their "Patricia The Stripper" program and Toller Cranston even came out of retirement to skate his signature "I, Pagliacci" program! The three notable absences were Elvis Stojko, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz and Kurt Browning. At the time, Bourne and Stojko were both injured and Browning was in Alberta with his sick mother. Videotaped messages from Bourne and Kraatz and Stojko were included in the edited "Ice Legends" broadcast on Global television, which was ultimately hosted by Browning, who also penned a beautiful piece for the show's program. Additional footage was aired on Debbi Wilkes' delightful "Ice Time" television show. Unfortunately, a union strike affected the event being aired in its entirety. Issues surrounding the costs of clearing footage and music and lighting for TV may have also been contributing factors to this gem of an event not being given the attention it was so obviously due. Sandra Bezic recalled, "I don't like shooting a show that isn't conceived for TV from the get go, or doesn't have proper budget for it, as it always looks horrible on air - and I probably was upset with whatever hacked product did make air."

Without a doubt, never before or since have so many of Canada's skating's luminaries appeared in one event together nor has skating's history been celebrated in such an all-encompassing manner in this country... and this largely forgotten show has to be one of the most overlooked gems of all time. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Sjoukje's Sidekicks: Six Sensational Dutch Skaters Of The Sixties

Sjoujke Dijkstra, Wouter Toledo, Nico and Jopie Wolff; Photo courtesy Nationaal Archief (National Archives of The Netherlands)

In the late fifties and early sixties, Sjoukje Dijkstra and her friend and training mate Joan Haanappel's successes drew an immense amount of interest to figure skating in The Netherlands. Interestingly, the country where ice skating history all began had shown more interest in speed skating, 'touring' (traversing long frozen canals and rivers on skates) and hockey in the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Until these two talented women came on the scene, figure skating was about as popular as alpine skiing in Bermuda. At the same time these two talented young skaters were bringing attention to the sport, so were others... and today we'll meet some of those sensational skaters whose stories many aren't too familiar with!


Photo courtesy Nationaal Archief (National Archives of The Netherlands)

Making their international debut in the 'unofficial' ice dance competition at the 1951 World Championships in Milan Italy, Catharina and Jacobus Odink reigned for over a decade as Holland's first great ice dance team. Training in The Hague at what was then Holland's only indoor rink, the couple gallantly waltzed their way through almost a dozen major international competitions in the fifties, becoming the first Dutch ice dancers to compete at both the European and World Championships. Their best finishes came at the 1958 European Championships in Paris and the 1958 European Championships in Bratislava, where the placed a creditable sixth... to this day still the highest finish ever by a Dutch ice dance team at that event! The Odink's won six consecutive Dutch titles from 1956 to 1961, retiring from competition the same year the World Championships in Prague were cancelled as a result of the tragic Sabena Crash that claimed the lives of the entire American team. Their early successes paved the way for ice dancing to be taken seriously as a discipline in The Netherlands.


Photo courtesy Nationaal Archief (National Archives of The Netherlands)

Amsterdam's Lia Does rose through the ranks of Dutch figure skating while Sjoukje Dijkstra was at the height of her success. She made her debut in the senior ranks in 1969, winning her first of two Dutch titles that year in the North Brabant city of Den Bosch. Does' Olympic dreams were all but squashed when American born skater Dianne de Leeuw opted to take advantage of her dual citizenship and skate for the country of her mother's birth. Stronger in freestyle than in the figures, Lia placed seventeenth at the 1970 European Championships, her only major international competition. It was two spots higher than de Leeuw would place in her debut at the same event the following year.


Sjoukje Dijkstra and Wouter Toledo; Photo courtesy Nationaal Archief (National Archives of The Netherlands)

Born May 17, 1944 in The Hague, Wouter Toledo started skating at the age of five when his father
took him to the city's only ice rink. Quickly showing promise, he made his debut at the Dutch Championships at the age of thirteen. The same year, he became the first men's skater from The Netherlands to compete at the European Championships, which then didn't have lower age limits. From 1958 to 1964, Toledo won an impressive seven Dutch titles as well as a bronze medal in ice dance at his National Championships with Truusje Geradts. Frequently criticized by the Dutch press for his weakness in the jumping department, he began training in Great Britain and Davos under famed Swiss coach Arnold Gerschwiler, who also coached Sjoukje Dijkstra and Joan Haanappel. The March 3, 1964 issue of "The Telegraph" noted, "The training under Gerschwiler gave him more security. He became physically stronger, which had benefited his jumping ability. A place in the top eight is probably too much to ask, but the determination of the Hague-born skater has no end." Toledo's best effort internationally was a twelfth place finish at the 1961 European Championships in West Berlin. The Dutch newspaper "New Leidsche Courant" noted, "His role was modest, not striking, but not shameful." The Royal Dutch Skating Association provisionally registered him for the 1964 Winter Olympics, but after he finished fourteenth at that year's European Championships, his entry was withdrawn. After a nineteenth place finish at the 1964 World Championships in Dortmund, he retired from competitive ice skating at the ripe old age of nineteen and placed sixth at the World Roller Skating Championships.

Toledo coached for many years at the Haagsche Ijsclub Houtrust in The Hague but had a stroke at the age of fifty seven and then underwent chemotherapy for rectal cancer in 2003. He returned to coaching and now teaches seniors to skate. He also still ice dances, colostomy bag and all, in his seventies. In a 2015 interview with Rietje Krijnen for "Stomavereniging", he joked, "People find it foolish that I talk so openly about even fool me so openly about it. What do I care about that now?
The Stoma is my salvation... I sometimes say to people: I shit in my stomach. At first they look at me weird, but if you explain it, it's fine."


Photo courtesy Nationaal Archief (National Archives of The Netherlands)

Hailing from De Lier, a small village in South Holland, siblings Jopie and Nico Wolff started their career skating in the shadows of the Odink's but came into their own in the early sixties, reigning as Dutch ice dance champions from 1962 to 1964. Alternating training time between The Hague and Great Britain with Roy Callaway, the talented young team made their international debuts at the ages of eighteen and twenty at the 1964 European Championships in Grenoble, placing tenth in a field of thirteen teams. 

Jopie and Nico Wolff

At their only World Championships later that winter in Dortmund, they finished dead last but captured the hearts of the West German audience. The March 13, 1964 issue of "The Telegraph" reported, "Heartwarming was the [appearance] of Jopie and Nico Wolff, the first Dutch couple registered again for an international tournament for many years...  It was surprising to see how strong the pair has progressed and how well the free dance was executed. In a spiral, where Jopie Wolff is almost horizontal across the ice, her brother fell because he just got... her skirt beneath his skates. The pair recovered immediately and was at the end a heartfelt applause from the hundreds of viewers." Retiring from the competitive ranks after that event, the Wolff's are remembered in Holland as an absolutely charming young ice dance team who never quite reached their potential internationally.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

It's All About That Lutz, 'Bout That Lutz, No Double...

I'll do it for posterity, but judging by how knowledgeable all of you fabulous Skate Guard readers are, I probably don't need to tell you that the Lutz is a toe-assisted jump from a backward outside edge with a complete revolution to the backward outside edge of the other foot. I also probably don't need to tell you that its inventor was an Austrian skater by the name of Alois Lutz. But who was this mystery man and how did his invention get attributed to him? 

We know that dear Alois was a skater at the Kunsteisbahn Engelmann (Engelmann rink) in Vienna. Alternating accounts citing a grand total of - wait for it - zero primary sources, alternately trace his grand performance of the Lutz to the years 1913, 1917, 1918 and even 1923, long after his reported death. It's been said he died of pneumonia or the Spanish flu in his early twenties, but again, no primary sources there either. More uncited sources have even claimed Alois Lutz performed the jump during a hockey game, that he was from Switzerland, that he was one of "skating's great champions" and that the inventor of the Lutz' first name was actually not Alois but Alfred. To be blunt, the lack of information about this little known, young skater and the origins of his invention has inspired many writers over the decades to repeat unsourced information or in most cases, just plain make stuff up.

I was able to find - another drumroll please - a total of two primary sources that even confirmed the existence of Alois Lutz as a competitive skater, and they were both from the same competition. He competed in the Herren-Junioren-Kunstlaufen (junior men's class) on January 28, 1917 at the Austrian Championships held at the Engelmann rink. A who's who of Austrian skating including World and European Champion skaters like Fritz Kachler and Eduard Engelmann, Jr. were present. He finished fifth and dead last, behind Karl Krondutl, Heinz Matauch, Emil von Bertanlaffy and Rouland Zlamal. The February 2, 1917 issue of "Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt" noted that "the ice conditions were excellent" at this event and gave accounts of the performances of top senior skaters like Gisela Reichmann and Paula Zalaudek but no mention was made of Alois Lutz performing his famous jump. Similarly, the January 29, 1917 issue of "Fremden-Blatt" offers a full, varied account of the competition, lists Alois Lutz in the result lists and gives zero mention of his performance or the jump. 

Based on repeated claims that the first skater to perform a double Lutz (in practice) was fellow Austrian Karl Schäfer, I think it's fair to make the assumption that the fact that Alois Lutz even got credit for his invention tied back to the fact that he came up with it at the Engelmann rink in the company of so many influential members of the Austrian skating community. An account from Captain T.D. Richardson in his book "Skating With T.D. Richardson" noted, "There is a popular jump called the Lutz which I first saw performed by that grand skater Paul Kreckow at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio in Milan in the early 20's. It is a joyous affair and should be tackled, once its technique is understood, with complete abandon." The dating of Richardson's recollection implies that it really wasn't long before the jump's popularity spread internationally.

The fact that Alois Lutz, an unheralded junior skater, invented a jump that's a mainstay of figure skating today and was actually credited for it should be an inspiration to all young skaters even today to get out there and try new things in the air. If that's not a motivation to make history, what is?

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The Other Barbara Ann's: A Forgotten Era Of Canadian Women's Skating

Barbara Ann Scott

If you don't know the name Barbara Ann Scott, you lose your princess points and perhaps this isn't the blog for you. It's as simple as that! The four time Canadian Champion, two time European Champion, two time North American Champion, two time World ChCampion and 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist captivated an entire country. She has been lauded in the history books for inciting generations of Canadian skaters after her to lace up and take to the ice. As fabulous as Barbara Ann was (and she was) the truth is she wasn't alone. In the era preceding her dominance of Canadian women's skating, a host of other incredibly talented skaters also captivated audiences from Victoria to St. John's, each leaving their own imprint on the Canadian skating zeitgeist. You don't as often hear their stories though! That changes today, thanks to a handful of old newspaper articles, carnival programs and M. Ann Hall's wonderful book "The Girl And The Game: A History Of Women's Sport In Canada". Get ready to meet some of the leading ladies you didn't know near as well!


Born April 12, 1910, Frances Claudet Johnson was the daughter of a British-born mining engineer. Her family was trapped in Europe during World War I. They fled to to Ottawa, where Frances took up skating at the Minto Skating Club at the age of ten. A six time winner of the club's Malynski Cup for ladies skaters, Frances also won a pair of medals in the junior women's event at the Canadian Championships in 1928 and 1929.

The 1927 Minto Four: Frances Claudet, Paul Belcourt, Kay Lopdell and Jack Hose. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada. 

In 1931, she teamed up to skate pairs with Chauncey Bangs and in their first try, the duo incredibly beat the North American Champion brother and sister pairs team of Constance and Montgomery Wilson, two of the most eminent skaters of that era. Bangs was an experienced pairs skater, winning the 1927 and 1928 Canadian pairs titles with Marion McDougall, but the lesser experienced Frances held her own when the duo hit the international stage. They won the silver at the 1931 North American Championships and in 1932 placed in the top six at both the Olympics and World Championships. Bangs retired from competition that year (sadly dying from illness only ten years later) but Frances wasn't finished yet.

After teaching music at Elmwood School in Rockcliffe Park - where a young Barbara Ann Scott was among her piano students - Frances staged a comeback effort in 1935. However, it would be her former pairs rival Constance Wilson who would win her ninth and final Canadian women's title that year. Frances would end up third. She went on to skate in the Ice Follies, later acting as the tour's choreographer for an incredible thirty three years.

Photos courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell

Frances passed away in her home in Fairfeld, Connecticut on October 17, 2001. Quoted in the "Legendary Night Of Figure Skating" program in 1999, she said, "Skating changed my life. Never too serious about it, I was always completely surprised when I won anything. I loved it passionately. In the spring when the natural ice at the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa started to melt, it was like watching someone die. I would often rush there after school and get down and kiss the ice goodbye."


Hailing from the Granite Club, Eleanor O'Meara started skating at the age of nine and won her first skating competition in 1931 as a teenager. Three years later she'd claim the silver medal in the junior ranks at the Canadian Championships behind fellow Torontonian Margaret Leslie. In 1936, she succeeded perpetual winner Constance Wilson and won her first of two senior Canadian titles, the other being in 1938. After finishing third in 1939, O'Meara decided to give pairs skating a go but she never seemed to be able to keep a partner for long. In 1940, she won the bronze medal in the women's event and in pairs as well with Donald Gilchrist. The following year, she teamed up with Ralph McCreath to win both a Canadian and North American pairs title but their partnership too was short lived because of the War.

Eleanor O'Meara and Ralph McCreath

With a new partner and game plan in 1942, she was incredibly back to successfully defend her senior pairs title with a new partner, Sandy McKechnie. A busy skater at those 1942 Canadian Championships in Winnipeg, O'Meara also won a fours title with her former partner Donald Gilchrist and a Waltz title with McKechnie. With Gilchrist, she earned the silver in the tenstep. When did this woman have time to even retie her skates? With the 1943 Canadian Championships cancelled due to World War II, O'Meara made the decision to go pro and perform in benefits and skating shows for the troops until learning that the big ice shows sold millions of war bonds by giving performances where admission could only be obtained by buying a victory bond.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Her program to "Prelude G Minor" and "Carmen" was praised highly when she toured with the Ice Capades. She was lauded by one California columnist as being the "greatest natural skating ballerina", even moreso than Sonja Henie.  A Boston newspaper in 1945 raved, "Eleanor stands alone - she's marvellous. She's a Toronto girl but has achieved frozen fame on every major ice rink in North America."

A MacLean's Magazine article from February 15, 1944 said of O'Meara: "Call it oomph, showmanship, or whatever you like, Eleanor O'Meara has learned to combine her great natural skating ability with her refreshing beauty and personality." She toured with Ice Capades for only three years, retiring from skating in 1946, married a judge in 1947 and raised five children in Toronto. O'Meara died of cancer in Toronto on March 21, 2000 at the age of eighty three.


Of the five Caley sisters of Toronto, Dorothy and Hazel were the two that made the biggest mark in skating. After winning the Canadian junior women's title in 1936, Dorothy Caley moved up to the senior ranks and won the senior title in 1937 on her first try. The defending champion Eleanor O'Meara had to settle for silver that year. They traded places in 1938 and by 1939, Dorothy Caley turned to fours skating, winning the North American title in Toronto with her sister Hazel, Ralph McCreath and Montgomery Wilson.

Left: Dorothy Caley. Left: Hazel Caley.

Dorothy and Hazel first learned to skate together in their backyard in Toronto, which their father flooded every winter for his daughters to practice on. Like Eleanor O'Meara, their former training was at the Granite Club. With the war putting an effective stop to any Olympic aspirations for either sister, they decided to join the professional ranks. They had dreams of touring in Australia but when Sonja Henie extended an offer to the sisters to join her tour in 1940, they put those didgeridoo dreams away quickly too. Their first show was at Radio City in New York, which had an ice theatre recently opened by the Rockefeller's. Given to whim, both sisters were known to improvise their routines. They also reportedly refused to have a manager, turned down all movie offers and only performed when they felt like it. In 1941, Hazel married and had a child and took some time away from the sport, but was back skating with her sister Dorothy by 1943, who had been skating both solos and duets with Fritz Dietl in the meantime.

Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada

Dorothy married the Chief Magistrate of Ontario, the Honourable Arthur Otto Klein and had two children. She passed away on September 5, 2012 in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Her obituary said, "Outgoing, charming and high-spirited, Dody loved the camaraderie of Granite Club Ladies curling, often writing or directing the light-hearted annual Robertson Ladies Bonspiel show. She golfed enthusiastically as a York Downs and a Saugeen Golf Club member, devising an alternative method of scorekeeping to recognize the joy of many 'great shots' on a hole. Her eternal passion was creating her exuberant and ever-changing garden, where she might be found, or lost, late into the night, tending the flowers and baby trees that found their way to the gardens of her many friends."

Hazel (Caley) Waite McTavish, a mother of four, passed away at the age of ninety eight in January of 2016. Her daughter quoted her as once saying, "I've had some hard times but everyone does. I've had a wonderful life."


Like the Haley sisters, Norah McCarthy grew up skating outside of Montreal with her sister Tasie, a Canadian junior women's champion and senior fours champion in her own right. Their father was a railroad official and sports promoter. When he was transferred to North Bay (an area that lacked a skating coach at the time), Blanche McCarthy would drive her two daughters all the way to Ottawa to train in the winters. In the summer, the sisters trained in Lake Placid and were popular stars of the carnivals put on for locals there.

Norah McCarthy and Donald Gilchrist

Training for eight months a year and being tutored paid off for Norah McCarthy in 1938, when she won the Canadian junior women's title. The next season she'd win silver in the senior ranks and in 1940, she won her one and only Canadian senior women's title. In 1939 and 1940, she'd also won the Canadian senior pairs title with Ralph McCreath. The cancellation of the 1940 Winter Olympics after she'd been named to the team in two disciplines meant an uncertain future for the young skater who was described in magazines as "a beautiful black-haired skating cutie" and had trained all her life for that moment. She stuck it out for another season, finishing third in the women's event at Nationals and winning a bronze in the Canadian women's medal sweep at the North American Championships in 1941, but opted to turn professional in 1942. She balanced a highly successful career touring North America with the Ice Follies with an incredible busy life that included time spent coaching younger skaters, playing tennis, horseback riding, swimming, sailing, canoeing, fishing and hunting. Among her skating students were the famous Dionne Quintuplets. McCarthy married 1942 Canadian Men's Champion Michael Kirby and had eight children. She was honoured by Skate Canada when she attended the 2013 Canadian Championships in her hometown of London, Ontario and sadly passed away in May of 2019.


Mary Rose Thacker and Dorothy Caley

Born April 9, 1922, Winnipeg, Manitoba's Mary Rose Thacker was perhaps of all of the women mentioned here the most successful as a singles skater. She won the Canadian senior women's title in 1939, 1941 and 1942 in addition to two North American titles. However, the advent of World War II hampered her participation in Olympic or World competition. Like McCarthy, Thacker was named to the 1940 Olympic team that never was. A diminutive skater at five foot four and one hundred and fifteen pounds, Thacker was a shy brunette with a confidence that exuded when she took to the ice. Her coaches were Leopold Maier-Labergo and Ferdinand G. Chatté.

Mary Rose was particularly known as a strong free skater and actually finished ahead of Barbara Ann Scott in winning her 1941 and 1942 Canadian titles. She started skating at four years old and was also an exceptional equestrian, swimmer, ballet dancer (trained at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet), fencer and spoke several languages.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In 1942, Mary Rose turned professional. After a short-lived marriage that saw her relocate to Jamaica and a stint of shows, she turned her attention to coaching. In 1945, she became the first professional coach at the Vancouver Skating Club. The following year she opened her summer school in Nelson - one of the first such schools in British Columbia. She taught in Victoria, Seattle and Bremerton, raised three daughters and found time to sculpt, play the piano and paint. In 1976, she teamed up with Ron Vincent and Frank Nowosad to found the Canada Ice Dance Theatre. After training elite level skaters for over thirty years, she passed away in July of 1983 in Victoria, British Columbia. She was posthumously honoured by Skate Canada (CFSA) with an induction to the organization's Hall Of Fame in 1995.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The Gate On The River Scheldt

Photo courtesy The Metropolitan Museum Of Art; used for educational purposes.

Skating's depictions in visual art never fail to fascinate and the period engraving "Skating before the St. George's Gate, Antwerp" is no exception. The scene was painted by renowned Brabant artist and printmaker Pieter Bruegel the Elder and etched by Ioan Galle, the grandson of Haarlem born engraver Philip Galle. Varying sources conversely date the piece to either 1553 or 1558, so we'll go with the 1550's. It is an extraordinarily vintage depiction of figure skating at any rate! From an artistic perspective, Ger Luijten's book "Dawn Of The Golden Age" noted that this engraving's compositional structure "serves as yet another reminder of that master's (Bruegel's] continuing influence on seventeenth-century Dutch art." The engraving depicts solo and pairs skating and even one skater performing an outside spread eagle long before the move was ever described in any figure skating textbook in front of St. George II Gate on the River Scheldt in Antwerp, located in what was then the Duchy Of Brabant (now Belgium). 

What I particularly love about this piece isn't even the depiction itself but an accompanying inscription, written in Old Flemish. Translated and billed as "The Slipperiness Of Human Life" in the delightful 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" by Arthur Goodfellow, the inscription reads thusly in English:

"Skating on ice outside the walls of Antwerp,
Some slide hither, others hence, all have onlookers everywhere;
One trips, another falls, some stand upright and chat.

This picture also tells one how we skate through our lives,
And glide along our paths; one like a fool, another like a wise;
On this perishable earth, brittler than ice."

Profound and perceptive, these words from centuries past still very much resonate today and probably will in centuries to come.  

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

I feel like The Fairy Godmother from Cinderella. I got a request from a reader to write about this competition and POOF - this poof's granting that very wish! Today we'll be setting our time machine for January 17 through 20, 1968 and looking back at that year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships which were held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the (then) newly finished Spectrum Arena. The event, which featured one hundred and thirty eight entries from coast to coast of the States, was enough to make anyone who had been involved in the regrowth process in U.S. figure skating following the 1961 Sabena Crash proud.

The 1968 U.S. World team. Photo courtesy Judy Sladky.

Honorary chairman of the event, former U.S. Champion James Lester Madden, said at the time that "the crop of young talented skaters... here clearly indicates how successful this rebuilding program has been. Once again, the United States is reaching a pinnacle in the uphill struggle to dominate international figure skating events." The last part of his statement was key. As 1968 of course was an Olympic year, not only were spots at the World Championships in Geneva on the line but precious berths on the Grenoble Olympic team were at stake as well.


Let's start by taking a look at some of the names and winners in the novice and junior categories. In the novice ladies event, two fourteen year old's battled it out at the top for the gold, with Peg Naughton of the Long Island Figure Skating Club edging Patti Miller, the leader after the schoool figures. Among the novice men, the winner was Dean Hiltzik of the Metropolitan Figure Skating Club in New York. He vaulted from fifth after the figures to win and the winner in figures, Kim Flynn of Denver, fell to fifth overall after the free skate. Talk about movement in the standings! Barbara Ray of the El Camino Figure Skating Club dominated the junior women's event and the junior men's event was full of names, names, names: Gordon McKellen, Jr., Ken Shelley, Atoy Wilson and John Baldwin among them. Perhaps the biggest story in the novice or junior ranks came in the Silver Dance competition. The January 22, 1968 "Toledo Blade" reported, "Joan Bitterman and Brad Hislop of the Seattle, Washington Skating Club, won the Silver Dance despite an injury suffered during practice, which required 15 stitches inside and 25 stitches outside on his right forearm occurred when another skater doing a jump came down on the Seattle skater's arm. The injury caused Hislop to withdraw from the senior men's competition but he insisted on performing in the Silver Dance in which he and Miss Bitterman finished first in the preliminaries Thursday. Margaret Millier and Donald Bachlott of Wilmington, [Delaware] and Philadelphia, were second in the event." Third of the eleven teams competing were Caren Cady and Warren Danner.


The heavy favourites in the pairs competition were of course Seattle's Cynthia and Ron Kauffman. The two time and defending champions were lucky to even compete. Ron Kauffman was a private in the Army and was given temporary duty in order to allow this even happen. Skating in matching marine blue costumes, the nineteen and twenty one year old siblings easily trounced the competition despite a disastrous final minute in their program, where they slipped on their death spiral and Cynthia missed a camel spin. 1967 bronze medallists Betty Lewis and Richard Gilbert of the Skating Club of Boston were heavily favoured to claim the silver but dropped to fourth behind California's Roy Wagelain and his new partner Sandi Sweitzer and a young JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley of the Arctic Blades Skating Club in Paramount. Starbuck and Shelley were both sixteen and just moving up from the junior ranks. Their impressive transition earned them the third spot on the U.S. Olympic team.


Eleven teams competed in Philadelphia for the Gold Dance title. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Everyone expected a tight competition in Philadelphia because Lorna Dyer and John Carrell had retired, but from the first compulsory it was apparent that no one could surpass Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky. They compounded their strength and accuracy in the free dance with an exquisite slow part and novel moves throughout. Ann and Harvey (Skip) Millier moved up from fifth to fourth after the free dance." Silver medallists were Vicki Camper and Eugene Heffron of the Detroit Skating Club and bronze medallists Debbi Gerken and Raymond Tiedemann. Roger Berry of Los Angeles, who had won the silver medal with his partner Alma Davenport the year before and finished ninth at the World Championships one spot behind Schwomeyer and Sladky, took a plunge down to sixth with his new partner Gaie Shoman.


As was absolutely expected, nineteen year old World Champion Peggy Fleming of Colorado Springs took a commanding lead after the six school figures with a score of 76.76 to Tina Noyes' 72.69. Dawn Glab's 71.73 and Janet Lynn's was 71.65. In the January 28, 1968 issue of the "Chicago Tribune" Fleming noted that she was "used to skating on gray ice with more marks. This is light blue and it's difficult to follow the tracings. If you can get by in this situation, you can get by anything." Many thought the ice was in Philadelphia was tinted for aesthetics on the Wide World Of Sports broadcast but officials attested the hue was added to cover hockey lines and make figure tracings more visible to judges.

Peggy Fleming

Any challenge Fleming might have had in the figures was forgotten by the time she took the ice for her free skate. In her 2000 book "The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories", she recalled her win thusly: "If there was ever a championship that I was meant to win, it was that National title in Philadelphia in 1968. I couldn't wait to show everyone how much I had worked that past year. For the first time, I wasn't that nervous. My training had gone well, and I had avoided injuries... Everything felt right. I just knew when I stepped onto the ice that I was going to be great. I couldn't wait for the music to start, and when it did, I had a feeling of ease, comfort and flow. The jumps seemed effortless, and the crowd gave me adrenaline that felt like it was physically lifting each jump higher. From beginning to end I remember one thing, one constant in my performance: I am completely enjoying this."

Fleming earned five 5.9's for technical merit and three 5.9's and two perfect 6.0's for composition and style. Many still believe it was the greatest performance of her career. Nineteen year old Noyes of the Skating Club of New York finished a strong second and a fourteen year old from Rockford, Illinois named Janet Lynn captured the attention of America's skating establishment with a performance that belied her years. She earned the fourth spot on the Grenoble Olympic team, edging Glab and Eastern Champion Wendy Lee Jones of the Hershey Figure Skating Club.


From 1964 to 1967, Gary Visconti of the Detroit Figure Skating Club and Scott Ethan Allen from Smoke Rise, New Jersey traded places at the top of the U.S. men's podium. One had two medals at the World Championships, the other an Olympic Bronze. By 1968, Allen was a freshman at Harvard University and Visconti had been given leave from Naval Reserve duties to compete, with twenty one months left to serve. He was stationed at the Grosse Ile Point Michigan Naval Air Station. It was supposed to be a battle royale between these two men but in fact, neither of them won the figures or the free skate in Philadelphia.

In the school figures, Visconti's nineteen year old training mate Tim Wood was victorious with a score of 132,48 to Visconti's 130.29. The 5'10" political science major at John Carroll, coached by Ron Baker, had a decisive lead but the rest of the men were nipping at his heels. A crowd of seven thousand packed the Spectrum Arena for the free skates. That's when a fourth man entered the conversation. John Misha Petkevich, a philosophy student at the College Of Great Falls in Montana was fourth after the school figures. Well behind the leaders with a score of 70.72, the podium seemed a world away but a spectacular performance won him the free skate, a standing ovation and a spot on the 1968 Olympic team. In the January 29, 1968 issue of "Sports Illustrated" magazine, he said of his come from behind medal win: "I was nervous about this thing all day. I had planned to try this triple flip about midway in my routine, see? But then I pulled a muscle in my leg, and I decided I better not go for it. So I gave them everything else I had. And suddenly, about three quarters of the way through, I knew I had them, and I just sort of said, 'Thanks, God, for letting me win,' and went right on skating." Wood took the overall title, with Visconti second. Visconti recalled, "I always give them everything I've got when I'm out there. But that's what this sport is all about. It may sound funny, but this sport is tougher than anything else I can think of. Anyone who says we're not athletes ought to try it one time. It takes strength and coordination, but you know what I'm really trying to do? I'm trying to bring some grace to it. I'm trying to be - well - a boy Peggy Fleming. It's tough." Allen surprised many by dropping down to fourth. His dream of defending the Olympic Bronze he'd won in 1964 in Innsbruck was not meant to be; he earned the third spot on that year's World team instead.

There you have it folks... the 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships! One thing's for sure in this case... whoever said history is something best left in dusty library books clearly doesn't hasn't discovered how enthralling skating's history can be.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

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