#Unearthed: The Mad English

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 'buried treasure' is an article called "The Mad English", which first appeared in the November 1949 issue of "Skating World" magazine. It was written by Swiss Champion Nigel Brown, the author of the outstanding book "Ice-Skating: A History". The article explores the impact of early British winter sports enthusiasts on Switzerland's skating culture - and the impacts of the Age of Austerity on skating tourism.


It used to be a common-place expression of the Swiss mountain villager to refer to the early English skaters that came to Switzerland in the '80's as the "Mad English." At first it was a term of indulgence, almost of adult tolerance for playful and charming strangers that to the rugged Swiss man of the mountains had not quite "grown up." Later it became a term of endearment, an amusing compliment for the citizens of the British Isles who came every year to the Alps for their pleasure. These holiday makers had found their way into the hearts of the hospitable Swiss and another strong link between the two nations had taken root.

Three-quarters of a century before the skaters came, the English traveller and holiday-maker came to the Alps.

Just after the Battle of Waterloo, when nearly all of Europe was still suffering from the effects of the Napoleonic Wars, the first English visitors came to Switzerland. They were the poets, Byron in a magnificentcarriage, Shelley on a donkey. The society of wealth and fashion followed in their wake and golden guineas flowed plentifully into the hands of Swiss hostelry along the shores of Lake Geneva. A George III guinea in 1816 glittered with regal splendour in the foothills of the Alps, for those English were rich and generous and its buying power was great.

The English poets were the first to sing Switzerland's song as a country of beauty and friendly land for travel. After them came the Alpinists, the pioneers of sport in Switzerland, their pockets heavy with golden sovereigns, and their hearts light with joy for the conquest of the Alps.

Together with the mountain guides of the little Swiss villages they formed ideal teams for the scaling of the alpine giants. The mountaineers pioneered the way to making Switzerland a land for holidays and healthy relaxation. After them came waves of English to the Alps seeking annual relaxation from the high and nervous tempo of a country that was in the full-blooded development of an industrial revolution.

St. Moritz in summer. Photo courtesy Library Of Congress.

But these visitors all came in summer, and when the first snowfall tipped the lower mountain peaks and the autumn mists descended into the valleys, the lights of the hotels dimmed and finally went out as the last of the English visitors left Switzerland for home.

A blanket of deep snow descended all over the Alps, and the many little mountain villages carried on their quiet and primitive life throughout the winter months as they had done for centuries before.

Winter was a sad place in the Alps in the 50's and 60's, for laughter and gaiety that echoed there in the summer months had gone when the hotel closed its doors and winter threatened. Deep snows blocking the Alpine passes were insurmountable obstacles to the travellers. Then about the middle of the 70's a party of English tourists who had spent the summer in the Alps thought how novel and what fun it would be to spend a winter holiday in Switzerland.

They packed the skates they had used in the 'fen country' and also took the sleighs they had often used for sliding down Hampstead Heath and set off for St. Moritz, the spa that was then known all over Europe for its healing waters and was a rendezvous of fashion in the summer months.

At Chur, which is now the rail-head of the famous Rhätische railway and takes the modern traveller via the Albula tunnel in two and a half hours to St. Moritz, the travellers of the 70's were obliged to hire a coach and travel along the route the Romans took over the Julier Pass and descend on the village of St. Moritz from the south instead of the present day northern cut. It took them three weeks, for heavy snows blocked the pass and blizzards howled at 8,000 feet, but all the rage of a winter's fury did not deter these winter sports pioneers.

When the news of their arrival spread round the village, the local inhabitants thought they were mad, for who but the English would wish to come in the depth of a winter to a Swiss mountain village 6,000 feet up to shut themselves in a half-open hotel while the cold inhospitable winter reigned in the mountains.

The epithet 'the Mad English' seemed right and proper in explanation of such behaviour.

Next morning with spades and brooms they were clearing a small corner of the frozen lake with snow and in the afternoon were skating on the natural ice of St. Moritz. This was an extraordinary spectacle for the sharp-eyed men of the mountains to behold, but a greater surprise for their ears to hear the gay laughter of the English in their mountains in winter-time.

Skaters valsing on ice in Switzerland. Photo courtesy National Heritage Institute, Bucharest.

A few days later the village band seated close by the lake edge was accompanying the skaters' graceful gyrations upon the ice with tuneful melodies of mountain music. In the evenings the English tourists would visit the native 'Stueblis' where a mountain orchestra made up of concertina and zyther placed gay music while Swiss and English danced the night away.

The figure-skater was the forerunner of winter sports. He was also the inspiration of the luxury hotel in the mountains in winter.

Group of skaters on the ice at Davos, 1912

A new era in the Alps was born, and other summer visitors to Switzerland discovered other spots that would make excellent places for a winter sports holiday. Davos, already renowned for its healthy position, became at a very early period of winter tourist development, a centre for figure skaters from the British Isles. The English Skating Club of Davos was the forerunner of what may be now referred to as the most famous ice skating club in the world, "The International Skating Club of Davos." It was the English figure skater who plabed the first rink at Davos, and today Europe's finest and largest open-air mountain ice arena is in Davos.

The English figure skater did much to make Switzerland a happy playground of health and fun in winter-time. Ever since those pioneer days over the Julier Pass in the 1870's he has been coming out to the Alps to enjoy his winter skating. Two great wars have been the only interruptions over a period of more than eighty years.

Skaters at Grindelwald, 1901

Now that the pound has been devalued and has sunk to the extremely low rate of about twelve francs, figure skaters who planned to visit Switzerland have been dealt a terrible blow. With money allowance at a restricted minimum, the devaluation means a further 31% loss, which in many cases mames a winter skating holiday fade into the background.

But encouraging news comes from Bern, where hopes are high that both Swiss and British financial circles will come to a successful agreement in the creation of the tourist franc, valued at 15.50 to the pound.

To some even then it may seem a venture of the "Mad English," for a holiday with so little money, but then they have always done unusual things and been all the happier for it.

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 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.

Brackets and Birdies: The Frances Fletcher Story

Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

"She is a skater of championship calibre, and her skating technique is almost faultless. Constant practice has enabled her to accomplish the most difficult and intricate skating feats. However, a lack of 'showmanship' and her disinclination to 'strike a pretty pose' have weighed against her in some championship events, and on occasions less skillful skaters have won the award." - "The Winnipeg Tribune", December 5, 1931

The daughter of Isabella (Johnston) and Robert Fletcher, Frances Josephine Fletcher was born May 6, 1914 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her parents were Scottish immigrants to Canada and her father was a physician. Frances, her parents and two older sisters lived in an apartment in the south end of the city with two live-in servants. The family were devout Anglicans.

Frances took up figure skating as a youngster at the Winnipeg Winter Club's rink on Roslyn Road. An article in the December 5, 1931 issue of "The Winnipeg Tribune" explained, "A serious illness, suffered when she was a little girl, which forced her to leave school, was the main reason for her taking up sports. Following her illness, the family doctor advised that she was made to play outdoors as much as possible to regain her health and strength. Taken away from school studies, she had ample time for games and soon took an active interest in all forms of athletics."

Under the tutelage of Manitoba's earliest professional instructors, Olaf Anderson, Paul Wilson and Ferdinand G. Chatté, Frances' skating quickly blossomed. In 1928, she finished second in the senior women's event at the Winnipeg Winter Club's annual club competition and first in the Tenstep and second in intermediate pairs with partner Elswood Bole. The following three years, she reigned as the club's senior women's champion. She made her first trip to the Canadian Championships in 1929, placing fifth in the junior women's event. In 1930, she appeared in The Skating Club Of New York's famous "Land Of The Midnight Sun" carnival at Madison Square Garden, which starred Sonja Henie. The same year, she got to watch Maribel Vinson win the bronze medal at the World Championships. Maribel came to perform in the Winnipeg carnival in 1932 and made a great impression on her.

In 1931, Frances made history as the first woman from Western Canada to win a medal at the Canadian Championships, finishing third in the junior women's event. This was quite a big deal at the time, because skaters from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal had completely dominated the sport throughout the roaring twenties. Frances' breakthrough would have served as an inspiration for one of her training mates, a little girl named Mary Rose Thacker, who went on to win three Canadian titles and two North American titles.

At the same time Frances was making headlines for her fabulous 'fancy' skating, she was earning great praise for her talent on the golf course. She took lessons from Eric Bannister at the Winnipeg Winter Club's golf school three days a week. In 1930 and 1931, she was the Manitoba junior ladies golf champion.

In the thirties, Frances abandoned figure skating entirely to pursue her education. After earning a Bachelor of Science at the University Of Minnesota and a short stint working at the Mayo Clinic, she relocated to San Jose, California. She married a man from North Carolina named George Caddinrus Moore and worked for the Veterans Administration as a medical laboratory technician during World War II. She later moved to Rochester, Minnesota, where she was active in the Cavalry Episcopal Church.

Frances passed away on November 24, 1998 at the age of eighty-four. Her obituary made no mention of her pioneering achievements in sport. 

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 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 1969 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Program of the 1969 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

In 1969, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto played host to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors, countless hockey games... and from January 21 to 27, the Canadian Figure Skating Championships. In actuality, the majority of the event was hosted by the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club with compulsories and junior events held at the North Toronto Arena but the senior free skating events at the city's most well-known event venue drew in impressive crowds. A couple of things made this particular event historically significant.

Bruce Lennie, Donna Taylor, Linda Carbonetto, Jay Humphry, Anna Forder and Richard Stephens. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

For starters, it was the first Canadian Championships where an opening ceremony was included. After flag-bearers Karen Magnussen and Jay Humphry were escorted to center ice by twelve young skaters, Norris Bowden - the competition chair - made a speech and Linda Carbonetto read the competitor's pledge. David Dore symbolically cut a white ribbon to complete the ceremony.

It was also the first year that the value of school figures was reduced from sixty to fifty percent. This fifty/fifty split between figures and free skating better balanced the playing fields and gave stronger free skaters more of a fair shake than the sixty/forty split that had favoured school figure specialists for decades. From unlikely upsets to new emerging stars, the 1969 Canadian Championships certainly wasn't short on drama. Today, we'll explore the skaters and stories that made this sixties skating event so sensational!

Congratulatory letter from Dr. Charles Snelling. Courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.


Twelve year old Julie Black of Port Edward claimed the novice women's title while Oakville's Linda Tasker and Allen Carson took top honours in the novice pairs event. To the delight of Cricket Club members, Roger Uuemae and Peter Penev took the top two spots in the novice men's event. 

Judy Currah and Keith Caughell receive an award from the Province of Ontario after winning the 1969 Canadian novice dance title. Photo courtesy Elgin County Archive.

Victoria, British Columbia's Linda Roe and Kevin Cottam took an early lead in the novice ice dance event but were thwarted in their quest for gold by Judy Currah and Keith Caughell of the St. Thomas Figure Skating Club.

Mary Petrie McGillvray. Photos courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray (right), Toronto Public Library (left), from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Making up for Roe and Cottam's last minute loss, eighteen year old Paul Fisher of the Victoria Figure Skating Club moved up from sixth after figures to claim the junior men's title. The Granite Club's Mary Petrie fended off a challenge from Mary McCaffrey of the North Shore Winter Club to win the gold in junior women's. Impressively, Mary also won the junior pairs event with partner Bob McAvoy, defeating a very young Sandra and Val Bezic. Like Mary, twelve year old Sandra Bezic did double duty in singles and pairs. In the junior women's event, she moved up from fifteenth after figures to finish sixth overall... no small feat!

Paul Fisher, John MacWilliams and Ron Shaver on the junior men's medal podium. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Although the Granite Club's Brenda Sandys and James Holden won the rhythmic free dance (as it was called) the lead established by Louise Lind and Barry Soper in the compulsories was too much for them to overcome and they settled for silver. Beth Rabolsky and Richard Dowding took the bronze ahead of Elizabeth Hayden and Eric Loucks and Diane Bentley and Bob Baxter.


Anna Forder and Richard Stephens. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

In a class of their own, Anna Forder and Richard Stephens finally managed to win the senior pairs title that had eluded them the last two years. Having skated in the shadow of Betty and John McKilligan for some time, Forder and Stephens hailed from Fort Perry, Ontario and were coached by Marg and Bruce Hyland. Their free skating performance was nearly flawless and featured a split double Lutz and fine side-by-side camel spins. The battle for silver and bronze was between two junior teams 'skating up' in the senior ranks. Incredibly, Mary Petrie won her third medal of the competition - her only silver - with partner Bob McAvoy. Mary recalled, "It was a busy, fun year for me... No one competes in three events anymore... not like the very old days. Bob and I were pushing the bar higher in pairs by including double flips as our individual jumps. Most were doing Salchows or toe-loops or even just a single Axel. By placing second in senior pairs we were eligible to go to the North American Championships in Oakland, California."

Mary Petrie McGillvray and Bob McAvoy. Photo courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

Sandra and Val Bezic took the bronze ahead of Steven and Nancy Dover. Maureen Walker and Dick Shedlowski, also initially scheduled to compete, withdrew. Sandra recalled, "We wore green (ugh) and we qualified for our first international, North Americans in San Francisco. Our short program was Ellington's 'Caravan' and jazz really worked for us... I would have been twelve - so it's mostly all a blur. I think I recall performing at Maple Leaf Gardens and being in awe of the building."

Anna Forder and Richard Stephens, Mary Petrie and Bob McAvoy and Sandra and Val Bezic on the senior pairs podium. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.


Left: Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie. Right: Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine and Mary Petrie McGillvray.

'Skating up' in the senior ice dance event, Louise Lind and Barry Soper stood third after the compulsories but dropped behind Hazel Pike and Phillip Boskill after the newly introduced OSP. Mary Church and Tom Falls performed a showy free dance that was a hit with the audience but received low marks from several judges who deducted for illegal moves. The judges in question were (of course) met with a chorus of boo's.

Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper at the 1969 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The winners, coached by Marijane Stong, were Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie. Marijane pushed the rules for Taylor and Lennie, choreographing their free dance to Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart In San Francisco". It was one of the first (and last) instances of vocal music being used in amateur competition prior to the relatively recent ISU rule change which wisely allowed vocals to used in eligible competition. Church and Falls and Pike and Boskill made it a podium sweep for Torontonians, with Patricia and Derry Allen of the Hollyburn Country Club and Lind and Soper rounding out the field of five.

Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie, Mary Church and Tom Falls and Hazel Pike and Phillip Boskell on the senior ice dance podium. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.


Jay Humphry

Jay Humphry hailed from British Columbia but trained at the Cricket Club with Mrs. Ellen Burka for most of the year. Despite having seven challengers in 1969, few doubted that he'd have much difficulty defending the senior men's title he'd won the year prior in Vancouver. He certainly delivered with his "Orpheus In The Underworld" free skate, although David McGillivray and Toller Cranston gave him a run for his money. Jay's winning program featured a triple toe-loop, three double Axels, three double Lutzes and three other double jumps.

At that point in time, Toller Cranston was training for part of the year in Lake Placid and working as a groundskeeper at the Mirror Lake Inn for room and board. He was also - in his words, not mine - "in the worst shape of [his] entire career." It was not long after this event that his journey with Mrs. Ellen Burka began and he emerged as Canada's leading man.


Linda Carbonetto in Toronto in 1969. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

After the school figures, sixteen year old defending Canadian Champion Karen Magnussen, Linda Carbonetto and Cathy Lee Irwin were neck and neck, with Magnussen taking an ever-so-slight lead over her eleven rivals. The media hyped up a rivalry between Magnussen and Carbonetto, noting that Magnussen had won the previous year when the Canadian Championships were in her home province but that this year the event was hosted by Carbonetto's club.

Karen Magnussen. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

In the free skate, Cathy Lee Irwin omitted several jumps from her program due to a hip injury but skated a fine program. Karen Magnussen missed both of her double Axel attempts and Linda Carbonetto skated the performance of her life in front of a hometown crowd, earning a 6.0 for artistic impression from one judge. Jim Proudfoot of the "Toronto Star" remarked, "Miss Carbonetto, of course, realized that she could win last night only if she was superb. She was better than that; she was perfect." In the end, four judges voted for Carbonetto, three for Magnussen and the Canadian Champion was dethroned. Sandra Bezic recalled, "Linda Carbonetto is a sweetheart - a gentle spirit - and skated a brilliant program to win. The best knees ever."

Linda Carbonetto. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Later, Karen Magnussen reflected to sportswriter Jeff Cross, "I learned a lot from that. It sure made me come back fighting hard. But I just wasn't myself in that competition. It was the only year I can remember that I couldn't get myself up for the championship. I am usually so excited and ready to go, but in Toronto my heart just wasn't into it." She, of course, went on to prove herself time and time again, winning the Olympic silver medal in 1972 and World title in 1973. 

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 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.

A Johannesburg Jumper: The Eric Muller Story

Arthur Apfel congratulating Eric Muller at the 1950 South African Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

The son of Helene (Ruzicka) and Dr. Isidor Muller, Eric Ludwig Muller was born in Vienna, Austria on November 7, 1922. He was the youngest of three children and his older siblings, Kurt and Elisabeth, were fraternal twins. His father was an engineer with business interests in South Africa. In his youth, he attended a boys school called the K. K. Staatsrealschule, which in 1935 was renamed the Robert Hamerling-Realgymnasium. 

When Eric was thirteen, he and his mother emigrated to South Africa aboard the Giulio Cesare,  following his father who emigrated separately aboard the Giulio Cesare's sister ship Duilio. Their decision to relocate was a fateful and timely one. The following year, The Aliens 1 Act of 1937 was enacted by the South African government. This Act put into place an Immigrants Selection Board, which screened each immigrant from outside of the British Empire. The Act was enacted with the goal of reducing Jewish immigration to the country. 

Between 1933 and 1939, over five thousand Jews emigrated from Austria and Germany to South Africa, hoping to escape the anti-Semitic wave in Europe... and Eric and his mother were two of them. Had they stayed in Vienna, they very well could have lost their home and possessions before losing their lives in Nazi concentration camps. Eric's siblings names weren't among ship manifests so it is unclear what their fates were during the War. The fact that the Arolsen Archives - International Center on Nazi Persecution lists numerous Kurt and Elisabeth Muller's isn't encouraging, to say the least.

Prior to World War II, Eric was educated at Jeppe High School in Johannesburg. In 1937, less than a year after he arrived in the city, an ice rink was set up during The Empire Exhibition, funded by a gold mining company. Afterwards, the setup was moved to Springfield under the name the Wembley Ice Rink. It was at this rink that Eric began pursuing the art of figure skating. This was the same year the South African Ice Skating Association (SAISA) was formed. 

Eric and Arthur Apfel were among the country's first serious figure skaters. In those early days, there was little professional instruction, so amateur skaters like Eric and Arthur had to help each other when training for the first SAISA figure and dance tests, which were modelled after the tests of Great Britain's National Skating Association. Their progress would have greatly depended on trial and error, reading books and the advice of foreign skaters that visited Johannesburg.

During the War, the skating club at Wembley Ice Rink's membership swiftly dropped from four hundred to two hundred. Ice dancing contests (the country's first competitions) ceased and the number of shows and tests taken declined drastically. Forced to hang up his skates, Eric joined the South African Corps of Signals, a branch of the South African Army. He did radar research work and was on active service on several coastal radar stations in the Special Signal Services division. He was fortunate enough to be able to keep up his education through the War, and earned an engineering degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in March of 1944.

After the War ended, Eric dusted off his blades and resumed skating at the Wembley Ice Rink in Johannesburg. Inspired by the success of his friend Arthur Apfel, who won the bronze medal at the 1947 World Championships in Stockholm, Eric entered the South African Championships the following year and took first place. He went on to win another three National titles in 1949, 1950 and 1951. All of these events were open to both men and women. He also won an open free skating competition at the Johannesburg rink in 1950 and the 1950 and 1951 National ice dance titles. At the free skating competition in 1950, he defeated Travers Penrose, one of the country's most dominant skaters in future years. When Eric won the 1950 South African title, he was the only skater in the competition to do a Lutz, loop and Salchow jump. Arthur Apfel remarked in a short write-up in "Skating World" magazine, "Muller skated with his usual accuracy in the figures and performed some fine high jumps in the free." 

The fact that both Arthur and Eric, two of South Africa's first elite skaters, were Jewish is certainly an interesting historical note - especially so considering that during wartime in South Africa, many Jewish immigrants to the country were treated quite poorly. One of the country's political parties had enacted the The Aliens 1 Act of 1937, while another argued that it was too lenient. A great many Afrikaners people openly espoused pro-Nazi views. For two Jewish athletes to emerge victorious in the post-War years was indeed significant.

Eric set aside his skates at the age of twenty-eight after winning his final two National titles in 1951. He and his wife Lily had three children, but one of their sons sadly passed away. He acted as director of the engineering company his father had founded, which had nearly three dozen property holdings, and worked as an associate building contractor with The South African Institute Of Electrical Engineering.  He was extremely active in the Johannesburg community, serving on nearly thirty suburban committees, including the Johannesburg Emergency Campaign. He served as a Chairman of King David Schools and as a council member of the South African Board of Jewish Education, and was an active member of the Linksfield-Senderwood Hebrew Congregation. In his spare time, he enjoyed playing the piano, coin collecting and tennis. 

Elliot Wolf, the long-time principal of King David High School Linksfield recalled, "I remember Mr. Muller very well, as an executive on council of the SABJE and as a parent. He was a remarkably good-looking man with European charm! He was a great architect and was in fact responsible for designing many of the buildings of the King David Schools. I still cherish vivid memories of him as he supervised the building operation on the school premises. I knew nothing of his figure skating talent."

In the seventies, Eric relocated to Beverly Hills, California. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985 and passed away in Los Angeles on April 19, 2006 at the age of eighty-three. His gravestone reads, "A man of vision, courage, wisdom and humor."

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 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.

Asian Canadian Skating Pioneers Through The Years

Ari Furukawa and Tsutomu Tom Kimoto skating in Slocan, British Columbia, circa 1945. Photo courtesy Nikkei National Museum.

"I have... gone skating several times... I really did have fun. We used to walk all the way down to the lake to go skating. The scenery around there is just beautiful!" - Handwritten letter from Kimi Yamamoto, a student at the Tashme Evacuation Center, 1943

When Barbara Ann Scott was busy practicing double Salchows and double threes during World War II, over ninety percent of the Japanese Canadian population were being forcibly relocated to internment camps. Families were separated; houses were confiscated and sold. Men were forced to toil away on farms and do back-breaking road work. 

Behind the high wire fences that separated the detainees from the rest of the world, some chose skating as an escape from the harsh reality they were facing. An excerpt from the January 16, 1942 issue of "The N.C.", quoted in Yon Shimizu's "Exiles", stated, "When the extreme cold sets in, they have very little to do. However, these young men recently solved the problem by building a skating rink on the ball ground, sprinkling water over the entire surface. The older men find skating very hard to master, but the young men are deriving much enjoyment from this winter. Haruo Murata seems to be the ace skater of the lot, followed by his older brother, Gisuke, and George Funamoto... Skating has indeed become very popular in our camp, with nearly thirty men participating in the sport."

Japanese Canadian detainees in British Columbia selecting skates in 1943. Photo courtesy National Film Board of Canada, Library and Archives Canada.

In 1943, twelve young Japanese Canadian men from the Tashme Evacuation Center east of Hope, British Columbia were assigned to work in the forests of Ontario. When they missed their appointment with a National Selective Service officer, it was feared that they'd escaped. They'd simply gone skating on a nearby pond. 

In the fifties, Canadian figure skating was about as white as you can get. Some skating clubs had decades old policies that denied membership to would-be skaters that didn't already know someone who was a member. These policies were a convenient excuse for club officials to turn down Jewish people, people of colour and people of Asian heritage. 

One of the very, very few Asian Canadian skaters to compete in the fifties was young Tazuko Oishi. She placed a disappointing fourteenth in the novice women's event at the Western Canadian Championships in Trail in 1955 and never made it to the Canadian Championships. She and her friends Asako Sasaki and Miyoko Chiba skated out the Vernon Figure Skating Club in the Southern Okanagan valley of British Columbia.

Nearly a decade later, a small group of very talented young Canadians of Japanese ancestry burst onto the scene and made history as the first Asian Canadians to compete at the national level. The first was Hamilton, Ontario's Janice Maikawa. She made her first appearance at the Canadian Championships at the age of thirteen in 1967, placing eleventh in the junior women's event. Two years later, she won the Western Ontario senior women's title. At the 1971 Canadian Championships, she placed eighth in the senior women's event and second in novice pairs with her partner Reid MacDonald. In 1972, she placed fourth in junior pairs and sixth in the senior women's event. A wiz in school figures, she placed second to Karen Magnussen in the first phase of the competition that year. Had it not been for a disappointing free skate, she would have made the Olympic team. Janice's expertise in figures was a juxtaposition to Sarah Kawahara's brilliance in free skating.

Sarah Kawahara winning the junior women's event at the 1967 Central Ontario Championships. Photo courtesy Sarah Kawahara.

Choreographer extraordinaire Sarah Kawahara won the Central Ontario Championships at the junior level in 1967 and made her debut at the Canadian Championships in 1968, finishing just off the podium in the novice women's event, right behind Sandra Bezic. Four years later, young Naomi Taguchi of the North Shore Winter Club placed sixth in the novice women's event at the Canadian Championships. Three years prior, she had bested twenty six other young women to win the Juvenile Girls title at the B.C. Coast Championships.

Sarah Kawahara performing a layback spin. Photo courtesy Sarah Kawahara.

A precocious and brilliantly artistic free skater, Sarah Kawahara was Osborne Colson's star pupil. He coached her from her second figure test to her Gold figure, free and dance tests and the senior ranks at the Canadian Championships. Sarah recalled, "Janice Maikawa and I were good friends back in the day. She had great school figures. Mary Jane Halsted was our figure coach. I used to go out to Hamilton and stay with Janice’s family. Mary Jane would pick us up and take us to Guelph Summer School. My coach Osborne Colson would go to Banff, Alberta in the summer and he wanted me to study with Mary Jane for a couple summers. In those days I was not aware of any barriers. I loved to skate and my parents were willing to get me to the rinks. Osborne Colson was my driving force and inspiration. I was always in the minority in everything I did. I studied ballet at the National Ballet. My Mom would take me on the bus and subway to class. I was the only Asian in the classes at the time. Same with drama class. I was one of two Asian kids all the way through high school at Forest Hill Collegiate. I never really thought much about it. Being an only child I was fortunate that my parents gave me every opportunity to learn related arts, like piano, drama, ballet. My parents were evacuated inland from British Columbia to Montreal where they met. I was born in Montreal. We moved to Toronto when my Dad was transferred while working for Procter and Gamble's TEK HUGHES brushes."

Charlene Wong

Charlene Wong of Pierrefonds, Quebec made history in 1983 as the first Asian Canadian skater to win a medal at the senior level at the Canadian Championships. A wonderful all-around skater, Charlene won the figures at Canadians at both the junior and senior level and worked with Sandra Bezic to showcase her artistic side, always showing up at events with well-packaged programs and consistent jumps. She made history again in 1988 as the first Asian Canadian skater to compete at the Winter Olympic Games. Like Sarah Kawahara, Charlene arguably made her most important contributions to skating as a professional. She won the U.S. Open professional title in 1990, toured with Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and coached Mirai Nagasu to the U.S. junior and senior titles in consecutive years.

Netty Kim

At the age of fourteen, Netty Kim made history as the first Asian Canadian winner of the Canadian junior women's title in 1991. Four years later in Halifax, the pre-optometry student from the University of Waterloo became the first skater of Asian heritage to win the senior women's crown. She was the daughter of Korean immigrants who ran a convenience store in North York. 

An Asian Canadian woman didn't win the Canadian novice women's title until 2007. The winner that year was Rika Inoda of the North Shore Winter Club. Two years prior, Japanese born Utako Wakamatsu made history as the first Asian Canadian skater to win a medal in senior pairs at Canadians with her partner Jean-Sébastien Fecteau.

Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe

Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe teamed up in 1986. Megan became the first ice dancer of Chinese descent to win a medal at the Canadian Championships in both junior (1994) and senior (1997).  Megan and Aaron reigned as one of Canada's top dance teams for a decade, winning an incredible ten consecutive senior medals at Canadians and representing their country at six Four Continents Championships, five World Championships and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino. Today, they are without a doubt two of Canada's absolute best ice dance coaches and in 2011, they worked with Nam Nguyen, the talented young son of Vietnamese immigrants, who went on to win his first of two Canadian titles in 2015. Megan recalled, "Back in 1990 at our first Nationals in novice there weren't many Asian Canadian ice dance teams and very few Asian dance teams on the world scene in general. It did feel a little lonely out there at the beginning! Gradually this changed and today's ice dance scene looks much different and is far more inclusive. I hope that the cultural diversity of competitive dance continues to broaden."

Patrick Chan

Moncton, New Brunswick's Hugh Yik accomplished a series of historic firsts in 1997 and 1998, when he became the first Asian Canadian skater to win the novice and junior national titles in successive years. Ottawa born Patrick Chan repeated Yik's novice/junior feat in 2004 and 2005 and became the first man of Asian descent to win the Canadian senior men's title in 2008. Patrick, of course, went on to win three Olympic medals, three World titles and three Four Continents titles.

While Canadian skaters of Japanese, Chinese and Korean heritage may be very well represented at the elite level now, it's important to recognize that it absolutely hasn't always been this way - and that diversity is something always worth celebrating.

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 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.

Devoted To Evolution: The Joel B. Liberman Story

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

"As a rule an author has one or two popular ways of contrasting the past with the present. He can treat the past as lying in comparative doleful ignorance, or he can explain that the past was infinitely superior to the day we live in. Of course, either method is the popular journalism of the moment, and in reality there is no sharp contrast, but a gradual transition which leads the past into the present." - Joel B. Liberman

Born January 17, 1883 in New York City, Joel 'Joseph' Brandon Liberman was the son of Lewis and Elina (Helena) Liberman, immigrants from Warsaw, then part of Russian Poland. After arriving in America, Joel's father passed away. His mother later remarried to Isidor Munstock, a merchant of hunting supplies. He grew up in a large, wealthy, blended Jewish family.

Joel B. Liberman's draft registration card from 1918, the same year he first competed at the U.S. Championships

In the era when socialite Irving Brokaw reigned supreme as the 'skating king' of New York, Joel took up everyone's favourite sport. His skating career wasn't a success from the very start though. When he first participated in the U.S. Championships in 1918, he finished in last place in the men's event.

Grace Munstock and Joel B. Liberman

Throughout the roaring twenties, Joel was a perennial competitor in contests both in New York and elsewhere. In 1923, he won an informal waltz contest held at the first North American Championships in Ottawa with Florence Wilson. That same year, he joined forces with Clara Hartman, Paul Armitage and his stepsister Grace Munstock as the New York four. The first year they entered the U.S. Championships, the Boston four pulled out because of one of the member's illness, so the title wasn't officially 'won'. In 1924 and 1925, the New York four became U.S. Champions. Grace and Joel also won a trio of medals in the pairs event at the U.S. Championships, each time finishing behind Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles.

Grace Munstock and Joel Liberman

Though Joel was certainly a talented skater, his most important contributions to the figure skating world were unquestionably 'off-ice' ones. He was a well-respected judge and referee who officiated at numerous U.S. and North American Championships. He served as an official at the 1930 and 1932 World Championships and 1928 and 1932 Winter Olympic Games. He also served for many years on the executive of the Skating Club of New York and Artists' Skating Club.

Joel's service to the USFSA spanned three decades. He served as the Association's Secretary from 1924 to 1928, and then again in 1931 and 1932. As head of the USFSA's Test Committee in 1922, he was the one who recommended the adoption of the eight test system. As head of the Amateur Status Committee, he developed the first code of rules on sanctioning. A regular contributor to "Skating" magazine, he took great pains in educating the skating world about the rules and regulations of the sport. He was the person responsible for penning reviews of the both first Olympic Games and World Championships on U.S. soil.

From 1934 to 1945, Joel served as head of the USFSA's Judges and Judging Committee, playing an important role in the sport's evolution in America during World War II. In 1942, he penned the Judges Manual, which was sponsored by Heaton R. Robertson. Robertson later remarked, "His Judges Manual... marked the pioneer effort to lay down a better interpretation of the principles upon which judging should be based. The subject of judging is a very large one... We should be most grateful to Mr. Liberman for his splendid work in laying such a substantial foundation for its development."

Outside of the skating world, Joel was a very successful patent and corporate law attorney with an office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. He served for eight years on Board Of Directors of the Lionel Corporation, which manufactured toy electric trains. He was also a director of a lighting business, Holophane Company, Inc. 

Joel B. Liberman's sketch of Jackson Haines

Joel was also a talented artist who spent two years studying with French born painter Nan Greacen Faure. His painting "Sutton Place" won award at an exhibit of the Bar Association Of New York in 1948. 

Joel B. Liberman's sketch of Ulrich Salchow

Joel lived for many years in Scarsdale Village, New York with two of his sisters, a chauffeur and housemaid. He passed away at the Community Hospital in Elizabethtown, New York on July 31, 1955 at the age of seventy-two as a result of pneumonia and a heart attack. Following his death, a trophy in his memory was donated to the winners of the U.S. junior pairs title. In his obituary in "Skating" magazine, Howard Meredith wrote, "He was a lawyer by profession, a linguist and antique collector by avocation, and in his later years an artist. Skating was perhaps his favorite sport but tennis, handball, sailing and swimming had also been part of his athletic curriculum. He was a fine gentleman and a loyal friend and those who knew him over the years will miss his wise counsel and advice."

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 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.

Asian Heritage Month and Canadian Jewish Heritage Month

May is Asian Heritage Month, Canadian Jewish Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month! Skate Guard celebrates the important history of skaters of Asian and Jewish heritage with extensive timelines from Canada and around the world, as well as required reading lists of past stories featured on the blog.

You can find all of the special content for Asian and Jewish Heritage Month by tapping on the top menu bar of the blog or visiting the following pages:

You can also check out U.S. Figure Skating for special content celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

To nominate skaters of Asian and Jewish heritage to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here.

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