La Fée Carabosse: The Shaun McGill Story

Photo courtesy Kathleen McGill

"To me, Shaun's great beauty came from inside. He was everything a parent could want and hope for. He showed a tremendous strength, helped me see other ways of life and not to be judgemental and showed us all what true love was.   Not once did I ever hear him complain and all he asked for was laughter and smiles, not sad faces. I know I'm stronger because of him and I try to be a better person because of him. I always enjoyed watching him skate." - Kathleen McGill

The son of Joseph and Kathleen McGill, Shaun McGill grew up in Mississauga, Ontario and started skating at the age of eight. He soon began train at Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club. An artist among athletes, he made his first big splash at the national level as a skater when he finished second in the novice men's event at the 1978 Canadian Championships in Victoria, British Columbia, beating a young Paul Martini. That autumn, he moved up to the junior ranks, finishing second at the Central Ontario Sectionals behind Brian Orser on his way to a third place finish in the junior men's event at the 1979 Canadian Championships behind Orser and Kevin Parker. He remained in the junior ranks until 1981, when at the age of nineteen he finished second behind Neil Paterson at the Canadian Championships despite competing with bone splints on both legs, which were taped for his free skating performances.

In 1982, Shaun moved up to the senior ranks, placing third at the Eastern Divisionals in Montreal that year behind Brian Orser and Gary Beacom and winning the Central Ontario Sectionals in 1983. However, in an age of Canadian men's skating when difficult triple jumps were becoming increasingly more valued than musical sensibility, he made the decision to join the professional ranks and tour with John Curry's company. Although his amateur competitive record might not have been as impressive as some of his peers, he gained respect from critics for his artistry. However, his turbulent off ice relationship with Curry spilled out on the ice. In his book "Alone: The Triumph And Tragedy Of John Curry", Bill Jones noted that "private off-ice turbulence frequently spilled out frequently into rehearsals."Shaun left the company and in 1985 joined fellow Canadians Gary Beacom, Gia Guddat and Kelly Johnston and John Thomas, touring Austria, England and Canada with legendary ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. He was rewarded with a bluesy solo act in the 1986 Canadian tour.

Video courtesy Scott Werry

Perhaps Shaun's most famous role as a skater was in the 1987 made for television production "Sleeping Beauty On Ice", choreographed by Lar Lubovitch. Appearing alongside Robin Cousins, Rosalynn Sumners, Lea-Ann Miller and Bill Fauver, Nathan Birch, Patricia Dodd, Catherine Foulkes in a thirty member cast, Shaun portrayed the wicked Fée Carabosse and owned the role to the extreme. Dance critic George Jackson lauded him for "intricate footwork, fleetness, and his streamlined silhouette," also noting that "McGill suffused his technique with a demonic intensity that made him right for the role of Carabosse in the televised ice version of 'Sleeping Beauty', Drosselmeyer in the Chicago ice spectacular of 'The Nutcracker', and for the personifications of character or mood in the solos he set for himself." In both December 1987 and 1988, he finished second at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain. He unfortunately lost the 1987 title to fellow Canadian Daniel Beland by less than a point.

Shaun appearing as Carabosse in "Sleeping Beauty On Ice"

Just as Shaun's professional career was starting to really take off, in 1989 at the age of twenty seven he was told that he was HIV positive. A January 25, 1993 article in "People" magazine, quoting his surviving long term partner Regis Gagnon shares the story of his diagnosis and final years: "'He was very calm,' recalls Regis Gagnon of skater Shaun McGill in 1989 after McGill was told he had AIDS. Gagnon, 32, a program adviser at the Ontario Ministry of Health, lived with McGill in Toronto for four years prior to McGill's death. 'I kept informed about the latest AIDS treatments. Shaun said to me, 'Just tell me what I need to know. I'll take the pills I'm supposed to take. But don't bother me. I've got work to do.' Gagnon claims McGill did some of his finest choreography and skating after his condition was diagnosed. 'There was an intensity, a real need to produce,' says Gagnon of his friend, who never won an Olympic medal but was regarded by his peers as one of the most creative skaters of his generation. 'He wanted to get his work out because he knew his time was finite.' McGill, who spent a lot of time traveling, was one who kept his condition secret for fear that he would not be allowed to enter the U.S., where most professional skaters find work with various ice shows. One spring day in 1991 his secret was nearly revealed. On his way to Baltimore, home base of The Next Ice Age, a professional troupe he was working with, he was stopped by U.S. immigration officials in Toronto. 'He didn't look totally well, so they look him into a room and interrogated him [about whether he had AIDS],' says Gagnon. 'He had to tell them something so he'd be allowed to cross the border. So he told them he had cancer.' The officials told McGill that they would have to confirm his statement and asked for the name of somebody they could call. He gave them Gagnon's. Then, while the officials left him momentarily unattended, 'Shaun sneaked out of the customs office, found a phone and called to tell me what kind of cancer he'd told them he had,' says Gagnon. 'It was pretty traumatic.' Only when McGill grew too weak to skate, shortly after that incident, did he stop performing. McGill's friend Tim Murphy, a co-founder of the Next Ice Age, remembers McGill's final performance with the company. 'He said, 'I think this is the last time I'll do this,' Murphy recalls. 'We had a little cry and a hug. It was the only thing I ever heard him say about how he was affected by AIDS.'"

Video courtesy Scott Werry

Shaun passed away on March 23, 1992 at the age of thirty, leaving behind his parents, partner, two brothers and coaches Jack Raffleur, Louis Stong, Bruce Lennie and Mrs. Ellen Burka. An ailing John Curry wrote, "Hard to believe that one so full of energy and spark should be dead". Nathan Birch recalled him as "one of the most inventive, artistic skaters of all time, and he really inspired younger skaters to push the envelope a bit and be more experimental." His former competitor Gordon Forbes recalled him as "a wild man; sad but funny, and incredibly talented." In a December 13, 1992 interview with the Calgary Herald, his mother Kathleen said that she hoped his legacy would live on and that "when people think of Shaun and Brian [Pockar] and Rob [McCall] and Dennis [Coi], I hope they forget AIDS and remember them for what they did for skating and for other people. They never did anything to make us ashamed. We're very proud of them."

Video courtesy Scott Werry

I never met Shaun McGill. I was eight years old when he passed away. However, as a young gay man who grew up skating in Canada in the era of Elvis Stojko pumping out quads yet looking to the Toller Cranston's of skating - the artists - as who I wanted to emulate, I can't help but personally feel some connection to Shaun McGill's story. I would have loved to have met him!

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Names, Names, Names!: The Skate Guard 2016 Canadian Championships Preview

With the start of the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships less than a week away here in Halifax, it was Skate Guards off and game faces on as several of Canada's top skaters took turns dishing the deets of their preparations for the competition and reflections on their seasons thus far in a series of Skate Canada teleconferences this week. Why not break out the bubbly a little early and pour yourself a glass to go along with this finely curated collection of questions, answers and quotes from the country's biggest stars? To borrow from the words of Edina Monsoon herself, it's "names, names, names" sweetie!


Photo courtesy Danielle Earl 

(on coming back and being injury free): "So far this year, it's been definitely a roller coaster.  It's half what I was expecting coming back: not knowing exactly what to expect coming back in competitions... [From Nebelhorn to Skate Canada] I think I've gone to both extremes this year. I'm really excited leading up to Nationals. My practices have been going really well. If I had any little injuries through the beginning of my season, they are completely healed now and I'm feeling better than ever. I haven't been practicing better in my life... Nationals is always my favourite competition of the year so I'm really happy to be back."

Read Kaetlyn's July 2014 Skate Guard interview.


Photo courtesy Danielle Earl

(on her season so far and goals in Halifax) "My season has been going pretty good so far. I'm happy with what me and my team have done. We've focused a lot on the second mark and skating the jumps proper with the music... I'm really happy with how I'm feeling going into Canadians. My goal is to hold my title and to try to beat the Canadian record."

(on competing at Trophée Éric Bompard during the Paris attacks): "It was a pretty scary experience because we didn't know what happened until the next morning and I didn't know what happened until after my practice. My practice was around 7:30-8 AM so I never grabbed breakfast, never turned my TV on... so I just went to practice, came back, had breakfast and Patrick Chan's coach was like 'did you hear what happened? Like, do you know if they're going to cancel the competition?' and I had no idea! As far as I knew, the competition was still back on and the ladies were in two hours, so I went back to my hotel room, took my hour and a half nap, was starting to get ready and my coach Lee Barkell phoned me and said, 'Gab, I'm sorry to say this, but the competition is cancelled.' My heart and soul was with France and I was terrified. I didn't know what to feel. I was disappointed I didn't get to finish the competition, but they said it was for our safety and that they had all athlete's best interests so I was just thankful that they were able to get everyone out safe and sound and everything."

(on rebounding to finish third in the free skate ahead of World Silver Medallist Alena Leonova and Four Continents Champion Kanako Murakami in the free skate at Skate Canada in Lethbridge): "I learned that I CAN do it and that I trust my training. I knew what I needed to do. I stayed calm. I didn't panic, I wasn't like 'Oh my God, If I don't do this, I'm going to be in this place.' I wasn't overthinking it. I was just trying to stay calm, stay in my bubble with me and my coaches, just focusing on me and what I can control and just having fun and enjoying the moment."

Read Gabby's July 2014 Skate Guard interview.


Photo courtesy Danielle Earl

(Meagan on confidence, changes and goals going into the competition): "I think we feel pretty good going into Canadians - a lot more settled and confident than we felt in the Grand Prix circuit. We've made some changes - a lot of changes - to our short program and we feel like the program as a whole is breathing and flowing a lot better which in turn helps us train it more consistently and improves our confidence. We had a great start to our season results wise but we weren't skating our very best so we're really hoping to come out and start this second half our season in Halifax with a bang with two personal best performances that will hopefully take us to our fifth national title."

(Eric on changing the short program and injuring his finger): "As Meagan said, we've restructured and that's led to everything being a lot more comfortable and I think it makes skating a clean program more achievable and a little easier. Basically, everything is right where we want it to be except that I sprained my finger yesterday at the gym and it's really annoying."

Read Meagan's July 2013 Skate Guard interview.


Photo courtesy Danielle Earl

(on going into Nationals and adding changing his free skate to add a second triple axel): "[I'm] excited. I finally feel for the first time this season that I'm calm, not feeling like I'm trying to catch up, not rested. I had a great break during the new year and was able to recuperate after [the Grand Prix] Final and reassess some little things that we needed to change in the program - more technically than artistically - for Nationals and moving towards the World Championships. So, it's good! Nationals is always a blast and sure, I'm going for my eighth title but I think there's a lot more at hand that I'm trying to achieve at Nationals in terms of adding technical elements and trying it for the first time and seeing how it works... and also, like I said at the beginning of the season just getting my legs under me this year and get myself ready for the next two years to make them a lot smoother than this year."

(on finishing fifth in only his second time competing at the senior level at the 2007 Canadian Championships in Halifax and coming full circle almost ten years later): "Looking back at it now, it's really funny how serious it is and how important it is to skate at the National Championships and so on. You make it bigger than it is. Now, looking back and going into Halifax again nearing the end of my career, it's really exciting! It's a breath of fresh air to come in with the skills that I have and seeing how different of a skater I am now than I was then - I was just a young pup back then - and now I've developed into a really great athlete and I think a really great figure skater and well-rounded... which is really a bit of a full circle, starting there at only my second National Championships and now going for my eighth title, it's come a long way. It's a bit of a flashback and it's really actually interesting and fun."


Photo courtesy Danielle Earl 

(on feeling ready to compete in Halifax) "I'm feeling ready for Nationals next week. Training has been going fairly well. Some days are a little bit harder than the others, but I've been pushing through and I feel ready for next week."

(on training in the last two weeks at the Cricket Club and going back to his "Sinnerman" short program): "Training the few weeks leading up to Nationals has been very intensive. The main focus for us is the skating in the program and the choreography. We want to make everything very, very big and very mature and we've also worked on my old short program because I went back to my short program from last year, 'Sinnerman'. We needed to brush up that program, make it look nice and also working on the consistency of my elements. So yeah... the last two weeks have been intensive just making sure I'm ready for next week."

(on training focuses this season): "Well, first the main focus of this season was to improve on the skating skills and the overall skating, but to be honest with you I don't think it improved - like, maybe it did a little bit - but not as much as I'd like it to be but these past few weeks, I've been training very, very hard and making sure that I pay attention to the little details in my program and also at the same time, I can't completely give up my jumps. My main focus is on the skating skills but also on the jumps too just to make sure that when I completely focus on one thing, the other thing doesn't go away."


Photo courtesy Danielle Earl

(Kaitlyn on their philosophy and skating in her tenth Canadian Championships with Andrew): "Andrew and I feel really good right now. Obviously, it's been a great season so far. Not only have the results been very positive but I feel like we're really enjoying ourselves this year and we're growing with each competition and enjoying the day to day and I think that's really important with overall well-being. We're not spring chickens anymore and I think that happiness is an advantage and it helps us to perform better and better. We've of course been pushing ourselves to make little changes and work on details heading into Halifax. It's pretty exciting. It will be our tenth year together and Halifax is where it began in 2007, so it's nice to be coming full circle... We're feeling great and fit and really excited to be going to Canadians this year."

(Andrew on the decision to send The King packing and develop a new short dance after the Finlandia Trophy): "We definitely took all the feedback from the audience and the judges that we had at our first competition in Finland. We wanted to treat that sort of as the test run and see what the feedback was and see where that program could take us. After talking to everyone, we felt like we enjoyed the program but we felt in order to succeed this year, we could do a different [program] that would be better suited for this season. We wanted to make the change right away to ensure we had the longevity behind the program so that when it came to the championships we were prepared and ready. We feel like we've done a good job at adapting quickly to the new program but every day it grows more and more with us and we try to push ourselves to make sure we portray that Waltz feeling throughout the program."

(Kaitlyn on choosing "The Blue Danube" for their new short dance): "It was a pretty split second decision though. We came back from Finland and the day we came back we had our debrief meeting and I said 'OK, something needs to change'. Our minds went to starting something new and 'Blue Danube' might have been the first song we listened to and we were like 'OK, this is it, this is going to be the right thing' and we were on the ice that night re-choreographing. Sometimes I think when you're in a very dire situation you make those split second decisions that end up being the better ones in the end and so I'm happy that we made that decision. We miss Elvis of course but I think we ended up with the right program in the end."

(Andrew on winning the bronze medal with Kaitlyn at the 2007 Canadian Championships in Halifax): "There was so much emotion in that whole Nationals experience. That was our first senior competition together as a team. We went out there and we didn't know what to expect. I mean, I had been to Nationals with different partners but being there with Kaitlyn was a very different experience and a memorable one because that special journey that we had that season was a whirlwind of emotions. {We were] going through the free dance and finishing the free dance... and then as people were skating, knowing that we were going to finish on the podium was just so amazing. It seemed like all that hard work that season had really paid off and it ingrained a strong memory in us."

(Kaitlyn on being starstruck on the podium in Halifax in 2007): "As Andrew said, so much happened that year but Halifax holds a very special place in my heart. It was my first Canadian Nationals, first competition with Andrew, first competition IN Canada, first senior... there were so many firsts. We just had fun. We were kids! We were doing that Canadians more for fun than for anything else because our goal (or so we thought) was just Junior Worlds. We were competing to MAYBE make National Team so when we ended up on that podium with Marie-France and Patrice and Tessa and Scott... I get chills just thinking about it. We were just starstruck and so excited! I don't think anybody really understood just how really surprised we were. We kind of got thrust into the spotlight and then we're here now, ten years later. It's an incredible feeling now under such different circumstances but nonetheless, we're still the two kids that are having fun and it's been a great, great journey."

Enjoy these interviews, sweetie darling? Keep yourself glued to the blog over the next two weeks as I chat with more of figure skating's names, names, names. You also are NOT going to want to miss some of the most fascinating stories from Canadian skating history you can shake a Skate Guard at!

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Immigrants And Illusion Spins: Bringing Skating History To Life At Pier 21

You really want to see someone geek out? Pump me full of the dark roast from Norbert's Good Food in the Halifax Seaport Market and let me fawn over figure skating memorabilia. Today, the delightful folks at the Canadian Museum Of Immigration at Pier 21 let me do just that.


I appreciate so much the staff at Pier 21 graciously taking the time out of their busy schedules to offer me a behind the scenes glimpse of the exhibit "Perfect Landings, Immigration and Figure Skating in Canada" which opens this Saturday in partnership with Skate Canada and runs through March 20.

(L) Plaque presented to 1941 Canadian Waltz Champion F.K.J. Geiser by the St. Hyacinthe Figure Skating Club. Geiser was a German immigrant who served on the CFSA Board Of Directors for twenty years and made massive contributions as a Builder in Canadian figure skating, particularly in Quebec. (R) Skates made by Hungarian (Roumanian) cobbler turned skate maker John Knebli. Knebli and his beloved wife Elizabeth's business John Knebli, Ltd. made custom skates for a who's who of skating... Toller Cranston, Peggy Fleming, Liz Manley, Elvis Stojko and Brian Orser included. Barbara Ann Scott won her 1948 Olympic title in St. Moritz wearing skates made by Knebli. Photos used with permission of the Canadian Museum Of Immigration At Pier 21.

I don't feel I am overstating my enthusiasm one iota when I say that this exhibit is an absolute must see for skating history buffs. "Perfect Landings" focuses on the impact of immigrants on Canada's figure skating history. From lushly illustrated panels featuring skaters like Louis Rubenstein, Otto and Maria Jelinek, Hellmut May, Carole Jane Pachl and Ellen Burka to walkable floor patterns of school figures, the exhibit is curated in such a way that both those who know plenty about the sport's history and those who know little but are inspired to learn will be engaged equally. The memorabilia that will be on display is just stunning. There's a pair of skates that are over a century old that were designed right here in Nova Scotia by the Starr Manufacturing Company and another made by the late, famed skate maker John Knebli, whose first steps on Canadian soil were at Pier 21, the very site of the exhibit! It was incredibly cool to check out Petra Burka's 1964 Olympic gold medal and her sash from the 1965 World Championships. As I put on a pair of gloves and had a chance to hold Petra's medal from the 1964 Innsbruck Games, I joked to historian Erica Gagnon that this was the closest I'll ever be getting to an Olympic medal! We also had a chuckle over the iconic costume German born Victor Kraatz wore to skate his "Riverdance" with Shae-Lynn Bourne at the 1998 Nagano Olympics will be displayed as well. Deciding on how to much booty to stuff into the posterior of Victor's pants proved a major debate for the staff. In the end, they elected for a modest rump instead of the "sexy Flanders" look.

L-R: Petra Burka's bronze medal from the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck and her sash from the 1965 World Figure Skating Championships at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Photos used with permission of the Canadian Museum Of Immigration At Pier 21.

"Reel Around The Sun", anyone? We were all in agreement that the mere sight of the costume Victor Kraatz wore to skate his "Riverdance" is bound to stir up more than one 'discussion' about the judging at that competition. Yes, we're looking at you, Yuri Balkov. Photos used with permission of the Canadian Museum Of Immigration At Pier 21.

Historian Steven Schwinghamer and I chatted about why "Perfect Landings" is such a must see exhibit for those travelling to Halifax for the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships: "Halifax, I think, is a great location for the event. We've had the privilege of hosting a few major skating championships over the last couple of decades. Wish we could have more, but there is a track record - for example, the '90 Worlds - but there were also some other national competitions that were held here. But the history in this city goes deeper. You can go back to 1885, in the Public Gardens - in the Commons now we have the Oval - but there was ice waltzing, these big public events and people were crazy about it! This event helps people anchor the history not only of skating but of manufacturing with Starr Skates but it connects it with the larger tapestry. Not only with skating as a discipline in Canada [but with] the techniques, the training, even the tools of figure skating all being profoundly influenced by the contributions of immigrants. For me (principally I'm an immigration historian) this exhibit, through the lens of figure skating, brings us to some of the major issues of immigration in Canada. Whether it's questions of admission, people coming as refugees, but also integration and impact. Of course, through figure skating we see the impact of so many influential athletes and builders. If people are looking to understand the context of the event both locally and in a bigger, national picture, hopefully this exhibit will do that for them."

Skates made by John Forbes' Starr Manufacturing Company. Photos used with permission of the Canadian Museum Of Immigration At Pier 21.

This Saturday from 1-3 PM, Haligonians will have a chance to learn more about the exhibit and meet Pier 21's big bear Fenton at the Emera Oval and win prizes including tickets to the competitions at the Scotiabank Centre. But what about those of you who already have your tickets? Just bring your stubs on down to Pier 21 to receive fifteen percent off your museum admission.


"There was a young skater named Toller,
Who made people laugh, scream and holler.
He'd do a mazurka,
For a lady named Burka -
Providing she paid him a dollar."

- "Toller", Elva Oglanby, 1975

The Canadian Museum Of Immigration at Pier 21 will also be hosting a free screening of the 2007 documentary "Skate To Survive", written by Michael Kainer and directed by Astra Burka. The forty-eight minute piece was featured at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and the Jewish Eye World Jewish Film Festival in Ashkelon, Israel in 2008 and intimately tells the story of Ellen Burka, a Holocaust survivor and the iconic coach of such Canadian skating greats as her daughter Petra, two time Canadian Champion Jay Humphry and of course, the legendary Olympic and World Medallist and six time Canadian Champion Toller Cranston. If you're not familiar with Mrs. Burka's story, I am going to absolutely insist that you make the time to listen to Paul Dore's two part interview with her on Open Kwong Dore podcast. I promise you, after you do, you'll be fighting me for front row seats honey... and you will lose! The documentary is at 7 PM on Thursday, January 21 and if you come an hour early, the Museum's staff will be offering visitors a special introduction to the "Perfect Landings" exhibit. I'll also be kicking around and would love to chat with any of you that will be in attendance!

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Gold For Kurt: Kurt Browning's Gold Medal

The daily coverage on Skate Guard leading up to the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships continues with a really heartwarming story about a skater you MAY have heard of? His name's Kurt Browning and he's kind of a big deal in these parts.

In March of 1990, Kurt won his second of four World titles here in Halifax and for decades now, he's been bringing huge smiles to the faces of Maritimers by returning year after year as the perennial and always show-stopping star of Stars On Ice. One story many might NOT know or remember is that of the gold medal that Canadian skating fans gave Kurt after his third Olympic experience in the Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. It was meant to represent the Olympic gold medal he unfortunately never won but that his fans always steadfastly believed he deserved... and it came from right here in this very province.

Four Nova Scotia women - Bev Pettersen of Upper Tantallon, Colleen Hennessy of Bedford and Barb Snarby and Dorothy Anne MacKinnon of Liverpool - started a nationwide campaign for gold donations after Browning apologized for missing his final shot at Olympic gold. They came pouring in from coast to coast - gold-filled teeth, old wedding bands (including his own mother's), watches, chains, bracelets, brooches, gold-tipped fountain pens and gold nuggets from the Yukon River. The article "Browning Gold Rush" from the March 23, 1994 issue of The Mail Star explains how Bedford goldsmith Don Bell volunteered weeks of his time to work on the creation of the medal, which would normally cost between forty and fifty thousand dollars to design. It featured a maple leaf, an outline of Canada and a figure of Kurt in the middle. So much gold was donated that enough was leftover to make him a lapel pin as well. Of the medal, Bell said, "Every time I get talking about it, I get all choked up. It's amazing the amount of things that people sent in. To have the people part with something that's part of them just to say this is for Kurt, this is because we are proud of him, is heartwarming." Petterson said of her Gold For Kurt campaign that "it took more than a decade of work for him to earn the fans he has, so it's for his whole career of skating amateur. He's been a great role model and represented Canada so well."

The medal was presented to Kurt at the World Trade And Convention Centre in Downtown Halifax in April of 1994 by a six year old skater with cancer registered with the Children's Wish Foundation named Megan Rendall and in turn, Kurt made a five thousand dollar donation to Muscular Dystrophy Of Canada, a cause he represented. The article "Golden tribute honors Browning" from the April 9, 1994 issue of The Chronicle Herald gives an adorable account of the presentation: "After the medal presentation, Browning leaned down and kissed her cheek and she ran off stage, grinning ear to ear. The tiny six-year-old said later she wanted to marry Browning." If that doesn't make you smile, what does?

On the presentation, Kurt said in the April 7 edition of The Mail Star's article "All that glitters" that "it's an unusual situation and a very unusual honor... For me it's the last seven or eight years of my career. It's kind of a symbol of the support that everyone has given me for those years... It has nothing to do with getting gold medals at the Olympics, because to be happy I don't need one." Whether he needed that symbolic Olympic gold medal or not, I think it speaks to the impact he made to an entire country that he received it. That medal shines as a golden example if there ever was one of the impact a great skater can make on a nation and it makes me smile to know that it came from right here in Nova Scotia.

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Turning Up The Tempo

After last season, I made a very intentional decision to focus the content of the blog on celebrating figure skating's unique and colourful history. To be honest, I kind of promised myself that I'd steer away from event coverage and interviews. However, with the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships being held right in my own backyard this year, in the spirit of breaking New Year's resolutions in January it only seemed appropriate that I rolled up my sleeves, took one for the team and gave you all the inside scoop. Over the next two weeks, I'll be putting the Belita book on hold and giving you a behind the scenes glimpse at all the action in Halifax. 

Just what can you expect? This week, I'll be sitting in on Skate Canada teleconferences and giving you a pre-competition glimpse at how some of the favourites are feeling heading into the competition. I'll also be heading over to the Canadian Museum Of Immigration At Pier 21 to give you a sneak peek of the upcoming Perfect Landings exhibit which will be bringing skating history to life by sharing the stories of the immigrants who have helped shape Canadian skating history... names like Petra and Ellen Burka, Otto and Maria Jelinek and of course Louis Rubenstein and Carole Jane Pachl, both of whom where featured earlier this month on the blog. What else is coming? A four part series on Halifax's skating history which will be released from Sunday to Wednesday of Nationals Week that you absolutely do not want to miss as well as four more must read stories from Canadian skating history... biographies of Shaun McGill and Guy Owen, a Kurt Browning story you may not know and the crazy tale of an icy fight that got way out of control.

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial... BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! I will be talking to skaters past and present through the week of the competition and asking the questions others aren't. That's where you come in...

It's time to turn up the tempo from Waltz to Quickstep. Starting tomorrow and for the next two weeks, Skate Guard's going daily! 

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Otto Gold: The Coach Who Got On The Right Train

You think Gracie Gold was the first Champion skater with that lucky last name to stand on a figure skating podium? Guess again, sweet pea. Born May 18, 1909 in Prague to Mr. and Mrs. Francis Gold, Otto Gold may be best remembered as a skating coach in North America but in his youth in what was then Czechoslovakia he established himself as a force to be reckoned with a skater. At only seven years of age, he took lessons from three time Olympic Gold Medallist Gillis Grafström. Although he never represented his country at a World Championships or Olympic Games, Otto appeared at the European Championships held in Berlin in 1930 and turned more than one head by literally coming out of nowhere and snatching the silver medal behind two time Olympic Gold Medallist Karl Schäfer of Austria, Grafström's rival.

More interested in being at the boards than in continuing a competitive career, Otto turned professional in the early thirties. His first coaching engagement was in Arosa, Switzerland. After coaching in Switzerland, Otto returned to his native Prague to teach before appearing alongside World Professional Champion Pamela Prior and the Brunet's in the show "St. Moritz And The Engadine Express" at the Coliseum in London, England.

Otto Gold, Joy Ricketts and Andrée and Pierre Brunet in "St. Moritz And The Engadine Express"

Otto liked it so much in England that he stayed and coached at the Bournemouth club for a time before again returning to Prague. He never should have come back. With World War II brewing, Otto managed to escape from Czechoslovakia in 1938 just two hours before the borders of the country were closed and general mobilization was ordered. He only had time to pack his bags, hop on a train and make his way to England for a brief stopover before heading for Canada, where he'd arranged to start a new life as a skating coach.

In Canada, he established himself by opening the first summer skating school in Canada in Kitchener, Ontario. He also taught at the Minto Club, in Vancouver and Lake Placid and at the Crystal Ice Skating Rink in Norwalk and continued to perform in club ice shows for a time. In 1942, Otto coached Mary Rose Thacker to her third and final Canadian ladies title. In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen on February 3, 1942 he was asked to compare Thacker with Sonja Henie and responded that comparing the two "would be like comparing Jack Dempsey with John L. Sullivan; nobody really knows. They are of different eras so one can one can only guess." He said of Thacker that "Mary Rose is blessed with much natural talent but her greatest asset is her capacity for work. Her school figures are almost perfect, but her free skating can be improved still more."

Otto took his job seriously. He had a reputation for being a stern coach with 'piercing black eyes'... but he got results. Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott King, who took from Otto, once said "I think it's very good to have a coach that doesn't praise you much." He complimented her after a competitive performance but once during their seven year partnership. In David Young's book "The Golden Age Of Canadian Figure Skating", Young wrote that "one time, Barbara Ann was having trouble with a three-change-three which required that the right knee be turned out. After two days of turning the offending knee inwards, Otto ordered her to go home and write out one hundred times, 'When doing a three-change-three, I must keep my right knee turned out.' With her busy schedule, the youngster felt she was overloaded, and now she had an additional burden. So, her homework done, she scribbled out the hundred lines with a pencil. It didn't matter if Otto could read it or not - he knew what it said. The coach took one look at the assignment and said 'Do it again, in pen and ink. He paused and added, 'And neatly!' It was a lesson she never forgot, and a coaching attitude that years later she determined was entirely sound. Scott King said that "a teacher must take it for granted that you respect him, or you would be wasting your time taking advice from him."

In the mid sixties, another Olympic Gold Medallist - Dorothy Hamill - had a warmer experience with the tenured coach who allowed her to lodge with him and his wife. She did recall in her book "A Skating Life: My Story" that in Lake Placid, "the top coaches, about seven of them in total, each had his or her own section in an L-shaped pattern down and across the ice. No one but the student taking a lesson could enter that privileged zone. Not every coach was allotted a patch and some of them shared. I was a very impressed that Otto Gold had his own spot and no one else could ever use it but him."

Otto worked with a who's who of Canadian figure skating through his career as a coach. Among them was none other than Donald Jackson, who under Otto's tutelage won his first senior medal at the Canadian Championships in Galt in 1956. Jackson and Otto parted ways in 1957 when the Czechoslovakian born coach began to devote more and more time to the grooming of his own daughter Frances' career. She was a prodigal young star at the Minto Skating Club and finished sixth while representing Canada at the 1961 North American Championships in Philadelphia. The next year, in the wake of the Sabena crash that wiped out the entire U.S. team, Frances applied for American citizenship and made an attempt at the U.S. title, finishing fourth. Interestingly though, like all of Otto's students, Frances was a wiz at school figures and finished second in that phase of the event at those 1962 U.S. Championships.

However, when asked which of his students was his prize pupil in a January 1962 interview in the Reading Eagle, Otto responded with a smile: "That's easy. Who else but the great Barbara Ann Scott, the pretty Canadian, who became the world's champion in 1947, and has a room full of trophies and medals that attest to her progress." In the same interview, Otto spoke about the mounting popularity of skating in North America, crediting his pupil Barbara Ann as well as Dick Button and Hayes and David Jenkins for generating incredible interest in the sport at the time. He was also asked about judging, to which he responded with a smile, "there are complaints always but I've never found where the winner didn't deserve to win. As long as the judges have open minds, there should be no complaints."

Later in life, Otto was predeceased by his wife and moved back from Bell Island in Norwalk where he had resided for some years to Willowdale, Ontario. He passed away in Scarborough Hospital on April 6, 1977 from injuries sustained in a tragic fire, leaving behind his daughter Frances Gold Lind and two grandchildren, and was interred in Spring Grove Cemetery in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He may have been a tough cookie as far as coaches go, but Otto was responsible for helping some of the sport's biggest stars along in their pursuits for excellence and I don't know about you, but he certainly earns my respect.

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

From Czechoslovakia To Canada: Camel Spins With Carole Jane Pachl

Photo courtesy City Of Ottawa Archives

Yarmila 'Carole Jane' Pachl was born November 23, 1938 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her father Jan was a prominent chocolate manufacturer and her mother Jarmila a stage and film actress, so you might think her childhood might have been easy street. That simply was not the case. Her father, who opposed the Nazis during World War II, was put in a concentration camp and was fortunate enough to escape with his life. Meanwhile, his daughter was busy exploring her passion for figure skating and looking toward a brighter future. In the December 3, 1955 edition of The Ottawa Citizen, Carole Jane explained that she "loved figure skating so much that Mother took me to England where the famed Arnold Gerschwiler took a look and thought I had some promise. In early 1947 we went to St. Moritz and had some intensive coaching from Gerschwiler - that really got me enthused. I wanted to live on my skates." Despite the young skater's promise as a skater, the road to glory would definitely end up taking a curve ball. As Carole Jane's wealthy father fell out of favour with the Communists in Czechoslovakia, they seized most of his possessions and the family were forced to flee to a new life and safety in Montreal.

When she arrived, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Carole Jane divided her ice time between the Forum and Verdun Auditorium because both spaces offered the young skater free ice time. At the Forum, she'd skate extremely early in the morning and was only allowed to turn on one lightbulb while she practiced. Hockey players would file in before their early morning practices just to marvel at the young skater's obvious talent. Doors opened relatively quickly for the young skater who at the time couldn't speak a word of English when the Montreal Skating Club's then-president John Lockerby sponsored the child's early citizenship (ahead of her parents and older brother) so she could cross the U.S. border to train in Lake Placid alongside Dick Button with coach Gustave Lussi. In her free time, she enjoyed reading, collecting records and skiing. She even won a slalom race in the Laurentians.

Building on the sound skating technique taught by Lussi, Carole Jane began working at the Minto Skating Club with another famous skating coach of the era, Otto Gold, who had of course coached 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott. She passed her gold tests in both Canada and the U.S. by the age of fifteen and a year later was one of four Canadian ladies skaters who made the trip to Oslo, Norway to compete in the 1954 World Championships where she finished eighth despite a leg injury.

The following year Carole Jane won her first of three consecutive Canadian titles as a bit of a dark horse, as she'd missed competing at Canadians the previous season after winning the bronze medal in 1953. One judge remarked, "Pachl was like a runner in a long-distance race. She didn't lead in compulsory figures and she didn't lead in the free skating - the leaders were constantly changing - but she was the most consistent competitor, and that consistency paid off." As Canadian Champion, Carole Jane headed to Vienna, Austria where she finished sixth and made quite the impression on judges, the press and the people watching, so much so that offers to turn pro arrived in only her second trip to Worlds. She turned down the offers saying "I wish to represent Canada in the 1956 Olympics in Italy - I am a Canadian, you know." The Czech turned Canadian had every reason to be confident. She was attempting double axels when many of her rivals were lucky to land their double lutzes and flips, and she had an influential coach on her arm. As talented a free skater as she was though, she was no lover of figures. She once said, "I hated them. I used to daydream through the figures thinking about the free-skating part, My father got so mad at me once for not concentrating that he took my skates and threw them in the garbage."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The next season, Carole Jane achieved her dream of attaining one of the two ladies spots at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, finishing an impressive sixth in a field of twenty one skaters and besting future Olympic Gold Medallist Sjoukje Dijkstra in the process. Canadian Champion turned lawyer Ralph McCreath managed the Canadian skating team for the COA in 1956 and once recalled, "She was a breath of fresh air around the team. She was bouncy and vivacious and certainly was an asset to the team. She was a sensational skater and a really great competitor. Everybody loved her." It wasn't really all roses though. In a 1986 interview in The Gazette in Montreal, Carole explained that "three days before the competition my foot caught a crack in the ice during practice and I fell and hurt my back. They treated me for three dislocated vertabrae. But I skated anyway." Missing Worlds, she returned to Canada where her injury received a much more grim diagnosis - something was indeed broken. She explained that "they froze my back and I was able to compete (and win) in the Canadians. After that I was in a cast from my chest to my hips for ten weeks." And that's how Carole Jane retained her Canadian title.

The following season, Carole Jane's last in competition, she would win her third consecutive Canadian title, take the silver medal behind Carol Heiss at the North American Championships and finish an impressive fourth at the World Championships in Colorado Springs, missing out on the bronze medal by only six points. A professional career was out of the question for the talented young skater, who was still actively receiving plenty of offers from tours. In Dick Bacon's article "Pachl earned skating titles the hard way", Carole Jane explained, "My father wouldn't sign permission. He didn't think it was right to lead a gypsy life. He thought I should learn some accounting and live a normal life."

In the sixties, Carole Jane operated a hockey school at the Verdun Arena where Donnie Marshall and Phil Goyette of the Montreal Canadiens often stopped by to help out and also for a time taught figure skating. She also taught at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York for a time. She dropped the use of her middle name Jane (which she admittedly used to sound more like Barbara Ann Scott with the three names) and answered to Carole Pedvis after marrying a food broker named Leonard Pedvis. She raised two daughters, Natalie and Kim, while working part time in the public relations industry and doing accounting for her father the former chocolatier and Holocaust survivor before moving to Florida.

Although Carole Jane never won a Olympic or World medal, this talented Czech turned Canadian skater indeed did make quite an important contribution to Canadian figure skating. She paved the way for some very talented Canadian ladies skaters like Wendy Griner and Petra Burka who would both find considerable success internationally in the sixties and she did it with style... which is no small order for anyone.

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Louis Rubenstein, The Grandfather Of Canadian Skating

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Born September 23, 1861 in Montreal, Québec, Louis Rubenstein went on to undoubtedly become one of the most influential and important figure skating pioneers. His parents, Max and Leah Rubenstein, had emigrated to Canada from Poland eleven years before his birth, and were one of only roughly two hundred Jewish families living in the city at the time. Louis' first introduction to the sport came in 1864, when Jackson Haines came to the city to give his final North American performance before heading to Europe to spread the gospel of skating there. He would have been only three years old at the time. Inspired by Haines' performance, Louis took to the ice and soon joined the highly esteemed Victoria Skating Club and skated alongside his brothers Abraham and Moses.                                                        

Although Louis was quite well respected by his peers for his excellence in school figures, he lost by exactly one hundred points in his first recorded competitive appearance in 1879 to older competitors Messrs. Periera and Barlow. He rebounded to win his city's championships and in 1883 won his first unofficial Canadian title (unofficial because there was no official national governing body of skating regulating competitions yet, but we'll get to that later) at his home rink. As early as the following year, Louis was invited to participate in a series exhibitions and competitions in Atlantic Canada including stops in Saint John, Bathurst, Chatham, Moncton and Halifax. A poster advertising his 1884 appearance in St. Stephen, New Brunswick described his appearance as "the event of the season". Louis held court at the national competition in Canada for seven consecutive years in the 1880's and also garnered considerable attention at the Montreal Winter Carnival, of which skating was an important component. He won five North American titles as well, starting in 1885 and two U.S. Championships in 1888 and 1889. His travels during that decade took him everywhere from New York to Detroit to Vermont to Picton, Ontario. How did he find the time to do it all? Although Louis was a partner in the family business, which was a silver, gold and nickel plating and manufacturing firm, it appears his role might have been more on paper than in getting hands-on as he would have required significant time to travel in the winters from event to event for weeks or months at a time. He was a bachelor though, very much married to his work on the ice... and he was lauded as North America's best skater in newspapers everywhere.

Photo courtesyMusée McCord Museum. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Why settle for the best in North America? By the end of the 1880's, Louis was eager to take on the rest of the world. Kevin B. Wamsley and Don Morrow's excellent book "Sport In Canada: A History" offers a great explanation of just how he came to compete against the world's best: "When news of the St. Petersburg (Russia) 'world' championship - staged to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the St. Petersburg Skating Club - reached Montreal in mid-December 1889, the choice of the most appropriate and deserving representative to be sent by the Amateur Skating Association of Canada was a foregone conclusion. Four hundred dollars was raised to defray Rubenstein's expenses. In early January 1890, he boarded the Cunard Royal Mail steamer Etruria in New York carrying letters of introduction from Canada's Governor-General, Lord Stanley, to the foreign office and the British ambassador in St. Petersburg". Knowing full well that under the czarist rule in Russia, anti-Semitism was alive and thriving, Louis wasn't exactly expecting to be welcomed with open arms when he arrived in Russia. Gay skaters in Sochi, anyone? I digress. What he was walking into was such a shitshow that even the December 30, 1889 edition of the Montreal Gazette wrote prior to his departure that "our skaters can now wait confidently for the cablegram that shall inform us the redoubtable Louis has either carried off the championship in triumph or is snugly incarcerated in the Trubetskoi Bastion." Oh good.

Right photo courtesy Musée McCord Museum. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Although the voyage over the Atlantic was smooth sailing, what happened when Louis arrived wasn't. He checked into the Grand Hotel d'Europe and within a few days found himself summoned to the cop shop. He was interrogated and asked if he was Jewish. Responding yes, his passport was seized but he was released. Returning to practice, he was hauled back into another police station days later and told to leave the country within twenty four hours. The reason? "We cannot permit Jews to remain in St. Petersburg". Louis plead 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.

Photo courtesy Musée McCord Museum. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Skate Louis did... in front of members of the very Emperor who opposed him (Alexander III)'s court. Part of the competition, which included school figures, special figures and specialties was won by the outcast from Canada. In winning a gold medal, he defeated skaters from Austria, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. He explained his experience in letters home that were published in Montreal newspapers: "Instead of what we call our list in Canada there are three separate competitions in Russia. The real figure skating or what we call list skating goes under the name diagram skating in Russia. There are two other departments - special figures and specialties - and in these there is a tendency to acrobatic work, which would not be recognized as fine skating in Canada." Safely returning home to Montreal by way of New York, Louis retired from the sport in 1892 after capping off his career with another U.S. title for good measure.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Every bit as important to his on ice contributions to skating were Louis' off-ice ones. He was made honorary secretary of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada and would later serve as its president. He was instrumental in forming the International Skating Union of America as well and also presided over that organization. Just incredible if you ask me.

Think his story ends there? Guess again sweetie. During the summers Louis was competing as a skater, he was an avid and quite successful cyclist. He became the president of the Canadian Wheelman's Association for eighteen years and was the man behind the success of the 1899 World Bicycle Meet which was awarded to Montreal. He bowled, played billiards, curled and was president of the Canadian Bowling Association, Montreal Athletic Commission, the Montreal branch of the Royal Life Skating Society, Montreal Amateur Athletic Association and Young Men's Hebrew Association. He was even a city alderman for seventeen years. He undertook the sale of the family business in 1929 and it remains in operation today. How this man found time to sleep is beyond me. Posthumously, Louis was recognized by inductions into the Canadian Sports Hall Of Fame, Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame in Israel, World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame and Skate Canada Hall Of Fame.

A 2004 article from the "Canadian Jewish News" also noted, "He was a populist politician who took an interest in the welfare of the poor. His decision to establish the Rubenstein Bath was of no small importance to poverty stricken Montrealers who lacked something so basic as running water.
A keen politician, Rubenstein sometimes filled in as mayor... His funeral attracted thousand of mourners. Several years after Rubenstein's passing, a group of well-heeled Montrealers raised about $2,000, no insignificant sum during the Depression, for a fountain in his memory. It was finally erected in 1937... The fountain is the only public monument in Montreal, and perhaps in Quebec, honouring a Jew."

Louis' death on January 3, 1931 marked the end of an era and the beginning of another. Only two years later in August 1933, the Christie Pits Riot broke out in a Toronto playground after a baseball game six months after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. An account in the Toronto Star described the event: While groups of Jewish and Gentile youths wielded fists and clubs in a series of violent scraps for possession of a white flag bearing a swastika symbol at Willowvale Park last night, a crowd of more than 10,000 citizens, excited by cries of 'Heil Hitler' became suddenly a disorderly mob and surged wildly about the park and surrounding streets, trying to gain a view of the actual combatants, which soon developed in violence and intensity of racial feeling into one of the worst free-for-alls ever seen in the city. Scores were injured, many requiring medical and hospital attention... Heads were opened, eyes blackened and bodies thumped and battered as literally dozens of persons, young or old, many of them non-combatant spectators, were injured more or less seriously by a variety of ugly weapons in the hands of wild-eyed and irresponsible young hoodlums, both Jewish and Gentile". Less than a decade later, young Jewish diarist and skater Anne Frank would face her end in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during The Holocaust. Louis' work in fostering a better sporting world would not be for nought though. At the fountain in his honor in Fletcher's Field in Montreal, the water still flows. The water reminds one of Louis' resolve in life to flow on and on despite the hate he himself experienced in his trip to Russia and in the winter it freezes into ice, the very surface he changed the skating world upon.

This piece originally appeared as part of a six-part podcast series called Axels In The Attic. You can listen to Allison Manley of The Manleywoman SkateCast and Ryan Stevens of Skate Guard's audio version on Podbean or iTunes.

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The 1949 Minto Skating Club Fire

With the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships just weeks away right here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I couldn't think of a better month to devote the blog entirely to exploring tales from Canadian skating history! This month on Skate Guard, we'll have the final episode of the Axels In The Attic podcast series with Allison Manley, an incredible exploration of Halifax's skating history and biographical sketches of Carole Jane Pachl, Shaun McGill, Otto Gold, Guy Owen and more... but first, we'll kick off 2016 with the harrowing tale of the 1949 Minto Skating Club fire.

Founded in 1904 by then Governor-General Of Canada, the Earl and Countess Of Minto, the Minto Skating Club has played an integral part in Canadian skating history from its inception and is still thriving today at its current location on Lancaster Road in Ottawa. The first home of the club was actually the Minto's own residence at the time, Rideau Hall, which has been the official residence and workplace of every Governor-General in Canada since 1867. As much of the membership was drawn from the Rideau Skating Club (which was already in operation before the Minto Club) the Rideau Skating Rink on the corner of Theodore (now Laurier) and Waller Streets became a natural choice for a more permanent residence for the club. The Minto Skating Club (at the Rideau Skating Club) played host to Canada's first official Canadian Figure Skating Championships in 1905 but in 1907, a fire occurred at the rink of the severity requiring the cancellation of the 1907 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

The Minto Skating Club resumed operations both at the Rideau Rink and Dey's Arena until a new permanent home for the club was found in 1922 on nearby Waller Street at a rebuilt Rideau Skating Rink. The Minto Club took over the rink and it was renamed the Minto Rink. Elite level skating thrived under the direction of coaches from abroad and in the thirties the club dominated Canadian figure skating with an iron fist. In 1948, the club produced its first World (and only Olympic) Champion, Barbara Ann Scott. A year later, the flames that had haunted the club since the 1907 fire returned in the form of an inferno of epic magnitude.

On November 1, 1949,  the Minto Skating Club was simply put... destroyed. In the early morning hours, early morning motorists saw the reflection of the fire and believed the entire downtown was ablaze. Shortly before 5 AM, an alarm was sounded to which five fire stations responded. A November 2, 1949 article from the Ottawa Citizen explained that "firemen were severely handicapped by the heavy draft created in the vaulted interior of the rink proper which sucked the flames along at lightning speed. They were able to do little more than surround the building and concentrate their efforts on preventing the blaze from spreading to adjacent houses on Waller Street, Laurier and Hasty Avenues."

As Colonel E.J. Underwood, the club's President and C.H. Cummings, the club's Secretary-Treasurer arrived on the scene, the rink's attendant and his family were outside recovering from their daring escape from the inferno. After finishing making ice only two hours earlier, at 4:30, William Ayre and his wife along with their four children (sixteen year old Jacqueline, eleven year old Wayne, eight year old Gail and three year old Garry) had been sound asleep when Mrs. Ayre woke her husband at the smell of smoke. All six escaped from the burning building with their lives in just the knick of time, Mr. Ayre telling the press "If we hadn't awakened right then we would never have gotten out alive. We were very lucky because another minute or so would probably have meant [the end] for the six of us." A forty nine year old woman named Blanche Laviolette, a resident at a rooming house next to the rink, was recovering from a serious operation at the time of the disaster and collapsed on the pavement and suffered a heart attack as the result of the excitement of the catastrophe. Treated at one of the fire stations responding to the disaster, she was reported to be "resting comfortably" later that morning.

A local detective named Raoul Desjardins told The Ottawa Citizen that "the fire seemed to center around the corner where they say the furnace room was. When I first got there, there was only dense clouds of smoke filtering out of the building. Then as the firemen broke in with their hose lines the flames mushroomed out and went up the walls to the roof. The whole thing was ablaze from end to end within a matter of minutes. It was impossible to get near the building because of the heat much less attempt to salvage anything inside. It was only good fortune that the caretaker and his family got out for the whole place was a raging inferno within ten minutes."

The fire raged until mid-morning, the heat so severe that an aluminum fire ladder melted "until it ran like butter". When the ashes settled, only the front and rear walls of the rink remained standing and not only was the home of the Minto Skating Club gone but with it precious memories, equipment and memorabilia. According to the Ottawa Citizen article, "Club President Colonel Underwood stated that new ice-making equipment had recently been installed at a cost of $35,000, and that a new tea room for junior skaters and a sitting-out room had been added to the club's quarters in the past several years. There were about 30 trophies in the building, symbolic of achievement by Ottawa skaters over the years since the club was founded in 1903 by the Earl and Countess of Minto. There were also many valuable pictures and a framed letter from Lady Minto. All fell prey to the flames... Members of the club suffered serious loss due to the destruction of skating costumes, boots, skates and other equipment stored in lockers of the building. Several new blocks of steel lockers were recently installed in the club and these blackened and seared by the flames still stood in one end of the building amid a clutter of debris this morning. Firemen, however, were of the opinion that the intense heat had probably ruined their contents."

Skaters weren't the only once displaced by the fire. Just days before, Olympic Silver Medallist and World Champion Andrea Kékesy had come from Hungary to Ottawa only to find herself with nowhere to coach. Nino Minelli, a Swiss skating instructor who had only that year emigrated to Canada to teach at the club lost all of his skating equipment and clothing in the fire. Another serious loss were the official records of the Canadian Figure Skating Association, which at the time were stored in the building. It didn't help the club had just collected its annual membership fees within the previous week. That cash was gone too. The membership of five hundred skaters were all estimated to have lost approximately one hundred dollars each in skates, equipment and clothing in the flames, raising the total loss in the fire to approximately three hundred thousand dollars, no paltry sum even then. If you take inflation into account you're talking over three million today. How do you rebuild from something like that?

Incredibly, the Minto Skating Club bounced back. Returning to the club's roots, members took buses to the Buckingham and at the invitation of the Governor-General, skated on the open air rink at Government House. New music was recorded by Harris Johnson to replace the club's music library that had been destroyed. In no time, a new rink was built on Henderson Avenue, which played host to the Minto Skating Club until 1986-1987 when the club transitioned to its current home. It has played host to a membership that reads like a who's who of Canadian figure skating including World Champion Donald Jackson, Canadian Champion Lynn Nightingale and Olympic Silver Medallists Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay over the years.

Rose Kennedy once said, "Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?" One has to look back at the indomitable spirit of the skaters of the Minto Skating Club, who somehow found skates, costumes, coaches and ice and pressed on after losing everything, and remember that life goes on, that giving up is never an option. We're here on this earth to sing after every storm.

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":