The First Summer Skating School In Canada

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In modern times, we take it for granted that any elite Canadian skater would have the opportunity to train year round. This simply wasn't always the case. In the early twentieth century a number of skating clubs still operated solely on outdoor ice and with the thaw, the skates returned to the shelf. Though a handful of Canadian skaters travelled abroad in the summer for a couple of weeks to train in year-round rinks, but it wasn't until the roaring twenties that there was really any serious discussion of year-round skating in North America.

Many elite Canadian skaters got their first taste of summer skating in 1932, when they travelled down to the United States to perform in North America's first Mid-Summer Carnival, supervised by H.L. 'Jack' Garren at the newly opened Lake Placid Arena, site of the 1932 Winter Olympic Games. By the outbreak of World War II, summer skating had exploded in the U.S. There were about a dozen schools in all, the most popular being in Lake Placid, Colorado Springs, Sun Valley and San Francisco. Detroit even boasted a summer skating school in a cold storage warehouse called 'The Ice Box'. While Canadian skaters were thankful for the opportunity to receive expert instruction 'closer to home' during the warmer months, they no doubt longed for a summer skating school of their own.

Otto Gold teaching his daughter Frances at the Kitchener Summer Skating School. Photo courtesy University of Waterloo Library, Special Collections And Archives.

The first summer skating school in Canada officially opened its doors on July 15, 1940, after three years of offering ice time in July and August on an informal basis. Held in Kitchener, Ontario, the school operated for six weeks and promised "a professional staff of unquestionable merit", lounge and locker room accommodations and the use of Canada's "largest swimming pool within a mile of the Club." The instructors at the Kitchener school in the summer of 1940 were Otto Gold of the Minto Skating Club and Madge Austin of the Toronto Skating Club. Compared to the flashy summer schools in America, which offered ice dance conferences and open competitions, the Kitchener school was a decidedly modest affair, but within a year it had proven successful enough to expand to an eight-week program.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In 1942, the famous summer school at the home of the Porcupine Skating Club, the McIntyre Community Building in Schumacher, Ontario, opened its doors. Madge Austin was the head instructor, and was supported by Beryl Goodman, Robert Courter and Freddy M├ęsot. The brand new half a million dollar facility gave skaters access to a gymnasium, game rooms, lounges, a ballroom and a host of outdoor summer activities within walking distance. It also offered skaters three patch sessions a day and the opportunities to appear in two carnivals and take the new CFSA dance and figure tests. It made the school in Kitchener look like small potatoes.

Otto Gold

However, Otto Gold's modest summer skating school in Kitchener persevered through the War years. Among its more prominent attendees were perennial U.S. Champion Gretchen Merrill, future Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion Barbara Ann Scott and future Canadian Champion Roger Wickson. A popular feature of the school was a weekly session where skaters could exhibit their free skating program before an audience. Today, we call sessions like this simulations. 

In 1942, the first summer skating school on the West Coast opened at the Forum Arena in Hastings Park, Vancouver. In 1944, Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders opened a summer school in Niagara Falls. In 1946, Mary Rose Thacker organized a school in Nelson, British Columbia. In 1947 came Sadie Cambridge and Albert Ender's summer school in St. Catharine's and Osborne Colson's Summer Ice Club in Toronto. In 1948 and 1949 came Gerrard and Betty Lee Blair's school in Cobourg, Ontario and Marcus Nikkanen's school seven miles west of Toronto. 1950 brought the first summer school in the Prairies, held at Edmonton Gardens, and Beryl Goodman Williamson's Royal City Summer School in Guelph, Ontario. In 1952, Arnold Gerschwiler came over to teach at Lewis and Eleanor Elkin's new school in Stratford On Avon. 

These new schools, coupled with the success of the Schumacher school and the popularity of the schools 'south of the border', were the death knell to Otto Gold's pioneering effort in Kitchener. He disbanded Canada's first summer skating school in the late forties and spent his summers teaching in Lake Placid.

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