Canadian Jewish Heritage Month

In March of 2018, Canada's Members of Parliament voted unanimously to recognize May as Jewish Heritage Month. Skate Guard celebrates the important history of Jewish skaters in Canada with this timeline of milestones.

1879 - Louis Rubenstein, the son of Polish Jews, made his competitive debut at the Victoria Skating Club Tournament for The Gold Medal Presented By Alexander Buntin, Esq. in Montreal.

1888 - Abraham Rubenstein was the runner-up at the Fancy Skating Tournament For The Championship Of The Dominion Of Canada in Montreal. During his competitive career, Abraham was a top-three finisher at several events in Quebec and Ontario.

1890 - Moses Rubenstein won the Fancy Skating Tournament For The Championship Of The Dominion Of Canada in Ottawa. Moses' impressive competitive record in fancy skating competitions included wins in events in Montreal, Ormstown, Saint John and Burlington, Vermont.

Moses Rubenstein. Photos courtesy Canadian Jewish Heritage Network, Jewish Public Library Archives (left) and Musée McCord Museum (right). Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission..

1890 - Louis Rubenstein was selected to represent Canada at an international competition in St. Petersburg, Russia commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Neva Skating Association. He was harassed by police officers and told to leave the country within twenty-four hours because, "We cannot permit Jews to remain in St. Petersburg". He pleaded his case to the British Ambassador Sir Robert Morier, who returned his passport with the words "British Subject" crossed out and replaced with "L. Rubenstein, Jew". He was advised to compete in the World Championships but leave the country immediately thereafter. He won a gold medal in Russia and went on to serve as President of the International Skating Union of America and one of the founders of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada, one of the precursors to Skate Canada.

1891 - A 'lady skating prize' contest was held in conjunction with a skating carnival in Boston. The only entrant - and winner by default - was Moses, Louis and Abraham Rubenstein's younger sister Rachel.

Louis Rubenstein. Photos courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (left) and Musée McCord Museum (right). Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

1923 - America's Lillian Cramer made history as the first woman of Jewish heritage to compete in a major international figure skating competition in Canada. She placed fourth in the International Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa, which have been recognized today as the first North American Championships.

Harry Landa

1928 - Harry Landa, the son of a Russian born blacksmith from Saskatchewan, was refused admission to the Saskatoon Skating Club because he was Jewish. Two years later, he was encouraged to perform a comedy act in the club's ice show. His double act with Frank Smythe was called "Where Was Moses When The Lights Went Out". In the late thirties, Harry performed as a figure skater and barrel jumper in several carnivals in Manitoba with a group of ten skaters from the Saskatoon club. When the Jewish community in Brandon found out about him, he later recalled, "It was really something. They were amazed and came to see me en masse."

1930's - Norman Mandelson Samuel was the first (and at the time only) Jewish person to gain admittance to the Toronto Skating Club. The exception to the Club's 'unwritten rules' for admission was likely made due to the fact he was married at the time to Constance Wilson, the Canadian and North American Champion, and was the son of a prominent British politician.

1934 - The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal opened its doors. One of the architects behind its design was Canada's first Olympic figure skating judge, J. Cecil McDougall.

1935 - Canadian born Jewish hockey and skating coach Ernest Batson travelled to Great Britain to play hockey with the Streatham team. While in England, he worked with elite figure skaters Megan Taylor and Freddie Tomlins.

Otto Gold

1938 - Otto Gold emigrated from Czechoslovakia and established himself as one of Canada's top coaches. His students included Barbara Ann Scott, Donald Jackson and Mary Rose Thacker. He was inducted into the CFSA (Skate Canada) Hall Of Fame in 1990.

1947 - The Icelandia Skating Rink in Toronto was picketed by two hundred members of the National Federation of Labor Youth, YWCA, Varsity Student Christians, Toronto Jewish Youth Council, the Hillel Foundation, Toronto Labor Council, B'nai B'rith, General Wingate Branch of the Canadian Church and United Church Young Peoples after the management refused to admit a young Jewish girl. Just two years prior, the Icelandia rink had come under fire for refusing to admit a young person of colour. In the "Jewish Western Bulletin", columnist Phineas J. Biron writes, "We [are] fully aware that anti-Semitism and Jim Crow are two sides of the same fascist coin."

Carole Jane Pachl. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

1955 - Carole Jane (Jarmila) Pachl won her first of three Canadian titles. She represented Canada at three World Championships and the 1956 Olympic Games. Carole Jane grew up during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Because her paternal grandmother (Karoline Kohn) had been Jewish, her father was forced to close his factory and was imprisoned in a labour camp. Her mother, an actress, faked insanity in order to be sent to an asylum instead of the camp. She emigrated to Canada in 1948, was taught by a Jewish coach, Otto Gold, and married a Jewish man, Leonard Pedvis.

1955 - Max Gould won a silver medal in the junior ice dance event at the Canadian Championships with partner Helen Lawson. After seeing one of Sonja Henie's pictures in the forties, Gould quit his job as an executive with a shoe company and "set off on [a] loony adventure to learn to learn the 'fancy skating' he had seen in the film." He later served as a CFSA executive and judge and acted as Donald Jackson's manager.

Otto and Frances Gold. Photo courtesy University of Waterloo Library, Special Collections & Archives.

1958 - Otto Gold's daughter Frances won the silver medal in the junior women's event at the Canadian Championships. She went on to represent Canada at the North American Championships and placed fourth in the senior women's event at the U.S. Championships.

1964 - Petra Burka made history as the first Canadian skater of Jewish ancestry to win a medal in figure skating at the Winter Olympic Games. The following year, she was the first Canadian skater of Jewish ancestry to win a World title.

Petra Burka

1967 - The same year as the Six Day War in Israel, The Arbutus Club in Vancouver was one of few sporting facilities in British Columbia to advertise figure skating lessons in the "Jewish Western Bulletin". 

1970 - The same year the Supreme Court Of Canada saw its first Jewish justice, B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League launched an opposition campaign against The Granite Club's alleged anti-semitic membership policy. After the League argued its case in North York Council, an agreement was reached when three representatives of Toronto's Jewish community met with club representatives. Though the club didn't publicly admit to having discriminatory membership policies, it released a statement saying, "Acceptance is based on the character of the proposed applicant. As race, religion and national origin are deemed to have no proper bearing on an individual's worth, they are not considered in the determination of the acceptance of applications for membership."

1975 - Dr. Yasha Smushkin, a former coach at Moscow's All-Union Sports Scientific Research Institute of Physical Culture, began teaching at Marg and Bruce Hyland's Ice Skating Centre in Toronto. A poem he wrote appeared in various Toronto newspapers: 

"I couldn’t be a champion
In my country of Soviets.
There, I, a nonparty Jew
Many restrictions and limits had.

I was left indeed no choice
But to forever leave my stepmother-land,
Make my way to America
And build my life there.

I became a pathfinder-immigrant
Laying the way for other sportsmen like me.
I became the champion, and as my prize
I got not a medal, not a cup, but destiny."

1977 - The Samuel Moscovitch Arena in Côte Saint-Luc, Quebec opened its doors. It was named after Côte Saint-Luc's first Jewish mayor, who served as the Chairman of the Combined Jewish Appeal and Director of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. The rink was the long-time home of the CPA Côte Saint-Luc.

1980 - CFSA double gold medallist Barb Aidelbaum embarked on a successful coaching career in British Columbia. In addition to working with figure skaters of all levels, Barb founded the Arbutus Club Summer Hockey School and taught power skating to countless NHL players.

1981 - Louis Rubenstein was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame.

1984 - Louis Rubenstein was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame.

1990 - Myra Freeman, who later served as Nova Scotia's first female and Jewish Lieutenant-Governor, served as the Festival Chair of the World Figure Skating Championships in Halifax.

1991 - Legendary broadcaster Johnny Esaw was honoured as Sportsman of the Year by the Jewish Community Centre of Toronto. He was inducted to the CFSA (Skate Canada) Hall Of Fame six years later.

1991 - Mira Novek, a young skater from the Seven Oaks Figure Skating Club in Winnipeg, won three medals at the Magic City International Figure Skating Competition in Minot, North Dakota. She was a grade five student at the Ramah Hebrew School.

1993 - Tamara Ruby of Côte Saint-Luc, Quebec, a student at McGill University, made history as the first woman to represent Israel at the World Championships. Her competitive ice dance career ended when her Ukrainian partner Konstantin Kaplin quit prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Newspaper clipping about Tamara Ruby. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Jewish News".

1995 - The Canada Centre in Metulla was built with generous donations from the Canadian Friends of the Israel Ice Hockey and Figure Skating Association and the United Israel Appeal of Canada. Businessman Edward Bronfman arranged for a four million dollar shipment of skates to be sent to Israel.

1995 - Assasinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was honoured with a moment of silence before Michael Shmerkin's medal winning free skate at Skate Canada International in Saint John, New Brunswick. Shmerkin was the first Israeli skater to win an international competition in 1993, when he won the Grand Prix St. Gervais in France. He had considerable ties to Canada: he trains at The Canada Centre in Metulla and it was in part through Canadian fundraising that he was able to emigrate from Russia to Israel. 

1996 - Seventy-six year old Harry Levine won a silver medal at the Max Gould Memorial Dance competition in Toronto. A World War II veteran, Levine performed comedy acts in ice shows in Saint John, New Brunswick in the fifties.

2001 - Sydney Gelfer of the Connaught Skating Club won the national juvenile dance title with her partner Paul Gagnon at the Skate Canada Junior Nationals in Kitchener, Ontario.

2002 - Holocaust survivor Joseph Kohn, a long-time President of the Moncton Figure Skating Club, was honoured with a Community Service Award at the Atlantic Jewish Council's Biennial Convention. He emigrated to Canada in 1949 after being imprisoned in Nazi slave labour and concentration camps during World War II.

2006 - Kyra and Dylan Moscovitch won the Canadian junior pairs title. Dylan went on to win an Olympic silver medal in the team event at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, the Canadian senior pairs title and two medals at the Four Continents Championships with partners Kirsten Moore-Towers and Lubov Ilyushechkina.

2008 - Astra Burka's film "Skate To Survive" debuted at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and Jewish Eye World Jewish Film Festival in Ashkelon, Israel. It chronicled the story of Mrs. Ellen Burka's youth during The Holocaust, emigration to Canada and the beginning of her coaching career at a time when skating clubs were very anti-Semitic.

Toller Cranston with Mrs. Ellen Burka. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

2010 - Mrs. Ellen Burka was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame.

2010 - Toronto skater Elizabeth Lazarev represented Israel on the Junior Grand Prix circuit.

2012 - Philantropist and businessman Evan Kosiner founded Skate To Great, a charity that has collected and distributed thousands of new and used pairs of skates to young people facing economic barriers to figure skating.

2012 - Petra Burka was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame.

Mark Gorodnitsky. Photo courtesy Clément Bucco-Lechat.

2016 - Canadian born Jewish skater Mark Gorodnitsky represented Israel at his first of five World Junior Championships. He went on to win a national senior men's title and represent Israel at two European Championships. His sister Maya also represented Israel internationally.

2018 - Danish born David Igor Birinberg, who got his start in skating at the Nepean Skating Club in Ottawa, represented Israel at the World Junior Championships.

2020 - Tel Aviv born Netta Schreiber, a two-time representative of Israel at the World Championships, began skating for Canada.

2020 - Sara Yacobi-Harris, a former national competitor in novice ice dance with her brother Raphael, founded No Silence on Race, an initiative which aims to build "inclusive Jewish spaces in Canada that are reflective of the racial diversity that exists within our communities and throughout our history."


Carve out some time to read these Skate Guard blogs from years back highlighting the stories of people of Jewish heritage who left their mark on figure skating in Canada!