Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The 1963 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

At the Canadian Figure Skating Association's three day Annual General Meeting in Calgary in late October 1962, the announcement was made that the city of Edmonton, Alberta would play host to the Canadian Figure Skating Championships for the very first time. The event was slated for February 7 and 8, 1963 at the Royal Glenora Club. With three of the four defending senior champions - Donald Jackson, Maria and Otto Jelinek and Virginia Thompson and Bill McLachlan - having left the amateur ranks, press from Halifax to Vancouver were left to hurriedly speculate as to who would fill their very big shoes. Attendance proved to be strong but the CFSA expressed disappointment at both Canadian network's disinterest in covering the event on television. Doug Peckinpaugh recalled, "We couldn't even give away the rights to either network."

Linda Ann Ward and Neil Carpenter. Photo courtesy Cambridge Sports Hall Of Fame.

Jennie Sanders of the East York Skating Club defeated two other Ontarians, Gloria Tatton and Marjorie Hare, to win the junior women's competition. The junior pairs event was won by young Linda Ann Ward and Neil Carpenter of the Galt Figure Skating Club. Bunne Lilley, a seventeen year old student and John Booker, a twenty three year old mathematics teacher, coasted through the American Waltz, Paso Doble and Rocker Foxtrot to claim the junior ice dance title. The event very well could have just been held in Toronto as six of the seven teams who participating all represented the Cricket Club. Two of the three men on the junior men's podium would go on to win senior men's titles in the years that followed. Jay Humphry of the North Shore Winter Club was the champion and a young Toller Cranston, then coached by Eva Vasak, claimed a bronze medal for the Lachine Figure Skating Club.

Jay Humphry. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The senior ice dance event was expected to be a nail biter. The second and third place teams from the previous year had reversed their positions from the 1962 Canadian Championships in Toronto at the 1962 World Championships in Prague and no one knew quite what to expect. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recounted the events at the Edmonton competition thusly: "Behind the Mitchell's in 1962, Paulette Doan and Ken Ormsby, students at the same business school and perfect partners on ice, had the edge. Paulette at 19 had achieved a degree of perfection and a personality on ice unmatched by few of her time. Ken showed her off. The Westminster, Quickstep and Argentine set the stage for their victory. Donna Lee and J.D. ended, disappointed, in second. Carole Forrest and Kevin Lethbridge, 1962 Junior Dance Champions, earned third and their first World team berth."


In the senior women's school figures, Wendy Griner took a substantial lead over her Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club rink mate Petra Burka. An outstanding free skate and a total score of 1326.4 points gave Griner the gold in a unanimous decision from all seven judges. The bronze medal went to Vancouver's Shirra Kenworthy, representing the Capilano Winter Club.

With the Jelinek's out of the picture, the press machine was busy singing the praises of Sheldon Galbraith's latest star pair Gertrude Desjardins and Maurice Lafrance. Desjardins and Lafrance had been the previous year's runner-up's but had finished two spots behind the 1962 bronze medallists Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell at the World Championships in Prague. In her 1994 book "Ice Time: A Portrait Of Figure Skating", Wilkes recalled, "When we arrived in Edmonton, there was a picture of Gertie and Moe under the caption 'The Favourites'... We drew first to skate. We felt the draw was fixed. Guy was freaking out. Everything was against us. The big Cricket machine was going to run right over us. We didn't skate very well. It wasn't disastrous, but we weren't top notch. Fortunately, Gertie and Moe didn't skate very well either. It was a squeaker, but we beat them four judges to three. Once we had the title, we started to relax and improve. The experience also fixed our idea about skating first out of the warmup. Important, yes, recipe for doom, maybe not."

Gertrude Desjardins and Maurice Lafrance. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

At the 1962 World Championships in Prague, Donald McPherson had delivered a phenomenal performance in the free skate and just narrowly missed the podium in fourth place. After finishing second for three straight years behind Donald Jackson, the eighteen year old student of Dennis and Winnie Silverthorne finally his own chance in the spotlight in Edmonton. Representing the Stratford Figure Skating Club, he was the unanimous choice of all seven judges and won the gold medal with 1273.80 points. Donald Knight, who had placed third in 1962, moved up to take the silver. Jay Humphry, 'skating up' after winning the junior event, took the bronze. Due to Humphry's age and inexperience, Bill Neale of Fort Erie was instead named as the third member of the Canadian men's team that would be sent to the 1963 World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo.

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