John Zalvidar Machado, A Forgotten Canadian Champion With An Unforgettable Story

Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

Born February 17, 1897 in Plainsfield, New Jersey, John (Juan) Zaldivar Machado was the son of Cuban born banker José Machado and his Nova Scotian born wife Eleanor Esmond Whitman. In 1902, Señor Machado moved the family to the Ottawa area when he was appointed President of the American Bank Note Company.

Left: John's father Jose A. Machado. Right: Minto Skating Club trophy for Best Boy Skater, 1914.

John grew up in a large log house on Lac Bernard with his parents, older brother José, younger sisters Angela, Cecilia, Theodora and three servants named Hattie, Jessie and Eva. John spent his youth attending Presbyterian church services, studying at Lisgar Collegiate and skating with his sister Theodora at the prestigious Minto Skating Club. When The Great War broke out in 1914, he was the Club's 'Best Boy Skater'.


During The Great War, John enrolled in studies at Harvard University in Massachusetts but in 1917, he interrupted his education and travelled to France with the United States Army Ambulance Service. He earned the Croix de Guerre for his military service. A clipping from the April 10, 1919 issue of "The Ottawa Journal" noted, "Sgt. Machado offered his services in the C.E.F. in September 1916 but was turned down, and in the spring of 1917 he went to France as a volunteer, without pay, in the American Ambulance Service with the French army. In September 1917, the U.S. took over this service and since that time it has been a portion of the American Expeditionary Forces, though still serving in the French army. Sgt. Machado was second in command of his ambulance section, which was attached to the 41st division of the French army. This is one of the most famous divisions of the 'shock troops' and was known as 'La Division Granit', taking part in many of the great attacks both before and after July 18, last. Sgt. Machado saw active service with the division at many points on the front from the North Sea to Lorraine and finally accompanied the unit into Germany and was for a time stationed at Cologne. Later he returned to France with his section and when they had gathered to say good-bye to those with him they had worked so long, the French officers gathered to express their thanks and appreciation and bid them adieu. The French Government at their departure presented the American Ambulance Section with the Field Service Medal in commemoration of their service."

Upon returning from France, John immersed himself in his studies, graduating from Harvard in 1920. He returned to Ottawa to work as a salesman and spent considerable time practicing at the Minto Skating Club, focusing particularly on improving his school figures. In 1921, he made his debut at the Canadian Championships, earning top three finishes in both the men's event and pairs, skating in the latter event with Alden Goldwin. The following two years, he was a medallist in the men's event at the Canadian Championships. The February 18, 1922 issue of "The Ottawa Citizen" described his performance at the 1922 Canadians thusly: "John Machado, Ottawa, came on with a dash in an 'S' before music started. He raced down beautifully, jumped and changed to back inside circle. He tried successfully the spins that had brought [Melville] Rogers to the ice and did some very pretty spirals and seemed to combine a grapevine and Virginia creeper all in one, showing wonderful balance. He covered the whole rink with his patterns and did some wonderful spins on one foot, without touching the other to the ground or losing his balance, jumping and changing edge during the jump frequently. He finished with a long, beautifully executed jump and straight run out to the center of the ice, reversing on the way."

John and Bet (Blair) Machado. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

In 1924, John returned to the Canadian Championships with a renewed vigour, claiming both the men's title and pairs titles, making history as the first skater of Latin American ancestry to win a national title. His pairs partner, Elizabeth 'Bet' Blair of Saint John, New Brunswick, became his wife that September. Unable to successfully defend his men's or pairs title in 1925, John and his wife Bet moved to Montreal and joined the Winter Club, where they took first prize in a Waltzing contest. In Quebec, they raised two children - a son (also named John) and a daughter (Nora).

Competitors and judges at the 1927 Canadian Championships. Back: Miss Morrissey, Dorothy Benson, Margot Barclay, John Machado, Elizabeth (Blair) Machado, Cecil MacDougall, Mr. Sharp, Norman Mackie Scott, Evelyn Darling, Constance Wilson, Jack Eastwood, Maude Smith, Bud Wilson. Front: Kathleen Lopdell, Paul Belcourt, Frances Claudet, Jack Hose, Henry Cartwright, Isobel Blyth, Melville Rogers, Marion McDougall, Chauncey Bangs. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

In 1927, John and Bet made their return to the Canadian Championships, finishing third in the pairs event behind Marion McDougall and Chauncey Bangs and Constance and Montgomery Wilson. It would be the Machado's final appearance in the pairs event at the Canadian Championships. The Machado's relocated to Toronto, where John became involved in the management of the Toronto office of the Canadian Bank Note Company (the successor of the American Bank Note Company) around the time his father Juan retired as the company's President after over thirty years of service.

John Machado, Biddy Clarke, Margaret Henry and Stewart Reburn. Photo courtesy Hilary Bruun.

Increased responsibilities couldn't keep the successful engraver from carving out time to etch fancy figures on the ice. He was a regular in skating carnivals of the period and in 1929 starting competing in fours skating. He was part of the winning Toronto Four at that year's Canadian Championships. With Veronica Clarke, Margaret Henry and Stewart Reburn, John defeated fours from the Minto Skating Club, Granite Club and Montreal Winter Club and won the Earl Grey Trophy. Three years later at the Granite Club, John, Veronica Clarke, Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn again won the Canadian fours title, making John a four-time Canadian Champion. In 1933 and 1934, that four-time Canadian Champion succeeded J. Cecil McDougall, serving as President of the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada. Around the same period, he was serving as a director of the Toronto Golf Club.


In January of 1936, John became a naturalized Canadian citizen. Interestingly, he was actually an American citizen at the time of all four of his Canadian title wins. His eleventh hour citizenship allowed him the opportunity to travel to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where he was to act as Canada's judge at the Winter Olympic Games. It didn't all go as planned. After spending six hours outside in a snowstorm evaluating the men's school figures while suffering from pneumonia, John ended up deathly sick and had to pull out. He was replaced mid-competition by a German judge. National bias and politics were very much a thing in judging back in those days and without a Canadian judge on any of the panels, no medals were won by the Dominion's top skaters.

Sadly, John passed away after a brief illness only six years later, on April 19, 1942 in a hospital in Toronto. He was only forty-five years of age. After his death, his widow Bet donated the John Z. Machado Memorial Trophy to the Toronto Skating Club, which was awarded to the best senior ice dance team in the club's competition for many years.

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