A Whirling Wren: The Elizabeth Fisher Story

Elizabeth Fisher posing in her costume for one of the Toronto Skating Club's carnivals. Photo courtesy City of Toronto Archives.

The daughter of Elsie May (Hobbs) and Robert Grant Fisher, Mary Elizabeth Fisher was born November 27, 1910 in London, Ontario. She and her two siblings grew up in Toronto, where her father worked as a barrister and solicitor. Her father was a Presbyterian; her mother a Methodist. 

Elizabeth took up figure skating at the Toronto Skating Club's rink on Dupont Street in the roaring twenties and quickly showed promise as one of the club's top up-and-coming skaters. After finishing third in the junior women's event at the 1928 Canadian Championships, she won the national junior title the following year, defeating Veronica Clarke and Frances Claudet. In 1930, she finished second to Constance Wilson in the senior women's event and was part of the winning Toronto four.

In 1931, Elizabeth made history as only the fifth person (and third woman) to pass the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association Of Canada's eighth (Gold) test. That year, she also won her second consecutive Canadian fours title, finished third in the Canadian women's event behind Constance Wilson and Cecil Smith and second behind Wilson at the North American Championships in Ottawa

The 1931 Toronto four: Hubert Sprott, Mary Littlejohn, Elizabeth Fisher and Jack Hose. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

Elizabeth's successes in 1931 earned her a spot on the 1932 Olympic and World teams. She placed an unlucky thirteenth in both events, but earned ordinals as high as ninth in free skating at the Games in Lake Placid. In the years that followed, she won another two medals at the Canadian Championships in fours skating and was part of the second-place Toronto four at the 1933 North American Championships in New York. 

From fours to eights - the "Swing-Time" act from the 1936 Toronto Skating Club carnival. From left to right: Elizabeth Fisher, Osborne Colson, Mary Jane Halsted, Hubert Sprott, Margaret Leslie, Sandy McKechnie, Lorraine Hopkins, Jack Eastwood, Helen Hobbs and Donald Gilchrist. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Elizabeth retired from competitive figure skating in 1936, but remained active in the sport. She worked as a coach at the University Skating Club and played an important role in the production of the Toronto Skating Club's popular carnivals in the thirties.

During World War II, Elizabeth joined the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service. Members of the Women's Royal Canadian Service (WRENS) took on many essential positions in the military. They served as plotters, wireless telegraphists, motor transport riders, messengers, stenographers, cooks, stewards, clerks and supply assistants. 

After serving as a Unit Officer on the HMCS Discovery, Elizabeth was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. For much of the War, she worked in the Naval Distributing Section, Naval Intelligence Division and Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa. Archived copies of "The Tiddley Times" from the Archives of the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum reveal that when she was off duty, she was an enthusiastic member of the WRENS shooting club that hoped "to become so skilled in the art of shooting that [she could] join the opposite sex in hunting expeditions."

Lt. Elizabeth Fisher and Lt. Josephine Barrington aboard the HMCS Nanaimo (K101 in Sechelt, British Columbia in 1944. Photo courtesy Joan Balch.

After the War, Elizabeth married Walter Luke Lawson and had a son, Robert. Sadly, her husband passed away in 1966. She was a dedicated volunteer at the Royal Ontario Museum and was known for her wonderful sense of humour. She passed away in Toronto on April 28, 2004 at the age of ninety-three.

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.

Veterans In Threes: A Trio Of Canadian Medallists Who Served In World War II

Sandy McKechnie, Lewis Elkin and Jack Vigeon were all medallists at the Canadian Championships in the thirties. World War II changed the trajectory of all three men's skating careers... and lives. Their service with the Allied Forces ensured that millions of Canadians would be able to take to the ice for years to come. In today's Skate Guard blog, we'll briefly explore their stories.


Sandy McKechnie and Jack Vigeon attending the same naval school in Halifax. Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon.

The son of Phoebe (Adams) and James Baldwin McKechnie, James Alexander 'Sandy' McKechnie was born August 25, 1921 in Toronto, Ontario. He started skating at the age of six at the Toronto Skating Club. Surrounded by a veritable who's who of great Canadian skaters of the era like Cecil Smith and Constance and Bud Wilson, he plugged away at the fundamentals of figures for almost a decade before making his debut at the Canadian Championships at the age of fourteen in 1936. He and partner Ruth Hall finished fourth in the junior pairs event that year.

Sandy McKechnie, Dudley Reburn, James Bain, Ralph McCreath, Billy Brown and Gordon Gilchrist in the 1931 Toronto Skating Club carnival

As a member of the Toronto four in 1937, Sandy earned a third place finish at Canadians. In the years that followed he went to amass an incredible collection of eight medals at the Canadian Championships, among them gold's in the national fours, Tenstep, Waltz and junior men's events. His pairs partners included Eleanor O'Meara and Norah McCarthy - both Canadian Champions in the senior women's ranks. 

Top: Christine Newson, Norah McCarthy, Eleanor O'Meara, Ralph McCreath, Donald Gilchrist and Sandy McKechnie skating as sextet, "The Blue Streaks", in a carnival at Madison Square Garden in 1940. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years". Bottom: The winning Toronto four in 1939.

Along with Donald Gilchrist, Gillian Watson and his pairs partner Ruth Hall, Sandy earned the honour of winning the Connaught Cup for fours skating at the 1941 North American Championships in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Though Hazel and Dorothy Caley, Ralph McCreath and Bud Wilson had actually finished first in the event, they represented two different clubs and the Connaught Cup's deed of gift clearly specified that all members of the winning team had to represent the same club. Therefore, Sandy was a North American fours champion... as the result of a technicality.

Eleanor O'Meara and Sandy McKechnie

Though skating was Sandy's passion, education was his priority. After earning his Bachelor's degree in applied science and engineering, he graduated from Upper Canada College at the University of Toronto with degree in civil engineering in 1943. Beginning in 1944, he served overseas as a Lieutenant in Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. One of the ships he served on, the HMCS Algoma, was involved in two major attacks on German U-boats.

Sandy married Sarah Elizabeth Blackey in 1946 and had two children. After holding various jobs following the War, he began a sales business in Toronto which expanded into a thriving conveyor manufacturing company. When he wasn't working, he was busy building a home on a four acre plot overlooking a wooded valley outside of Toronto. He enjoyed golfing, camping, canoeing, football, skiing, swimming and playing the piano and ukelele. 

The Theta Delta Chi fraternity at the University Of Toronto in 1942. Sandy McKechnie stands at the top left and his friend, competitor and pledge Ralph McCreath at the top right.

Sandy later served as the President of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, on the CFSA's executive and as a national and international judge. In 1946, he judged at the Canadian and North American Championships for the first time. He quickly earned a reputation as a low marker but as a fair judge who didn't cater specifically to Eastern skaters. 

Marlene Smith, Sandy McKechnie, Donald Gilchrist and Christine (Newson) Charles skating a four at the 1948 Toronto Skating Club carnival

Eleven years later, Sandy served as the judge manager at the World Championships in Colorado Springs, where Canadians brought home medals in three different disciplines - a historic first. In 1970, the CFSA made him an Honorary Official. He passed away at the age of eighty-four on January 9, 2005 in Victoria, British Columbia, having devoted much of his life to the wonderful sport of figure skating.


Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

The son of Eleanor (Angus) and Samuel James Elkin, Lewis 'Lew' Angus Elkin was born June 21, 1905 in Emerson, Manitoba. His father, an Irish immigrant, was the town physician. His mother had emigrated west to Manitoba with her parents via the Dawson trail in the late nineteenth century. As his father often away on house calls, Lewis grew up in a household of women. There was his mother, his two sisters Jean Margaret and Phyllis, a cousin named Matilda who lived with the family for a time and a servant named Dorothy. The family spent their winters on the ice at the Winnipeg Winter Club, where Lewis learned to figure skate and play hockey.

Figure skating wasn't a cheap sport back then... even in Winnipeg. Annual dues to the Winter Club were twenty-five dollars a year and ice time ran twelve dollars and fifty cents a year. Thirty seven dollars and fifty cents a head might not seem like a lot of money now, but if you figure in inflation, it wasn't chump change. When Lewis showed tremendous promise in his late teens, he started taking half-hour lessons at a dollar and fifty cents a pop. Skating became a growing financial burden for the young skater and his family and the fact that he peaked as a skater in the height of The Great Depression certainly didn't make matters much easier.

At twenty-five years of age, Lewis won the Canadian junior men's title at the 1930 Canadian Championships. 'Skating up' in the senior men's event, he was runner-up to Bud Wilson in the senior men's event. In the senior pairs event, he again finished second to Bud and his sister Constance, skating with partner Margaret Winks. The following year, he dropped to third in the senior men's event at the Canadian Championships but earned a spot on the national team that was sent to the 1931 North American Championships in Ottawa. In his only international competition, Lewis placed fourth behind Bud Wilson, James Lester Madden and Gail Borden. During a three year absence from competition, he took lessons from German coach Leopold Maier-Labergo, returning to competition in 1935 to claim the bronze medal in the fours event at the Canadian Championships with Mrs. Ross Jenkins, Betty Riley and Jack Kilgour.

During this period, Lewis had put himself further in the hole by attending the University Of Manitoba and graduating with a law degree he never really ended up using. Tired of spending money and unable to make a return on the investment he and his family had put into the sport under the strict guidelines surrounding amateurism during that period, he turned professional and headed south of the border to take a job as a senior instructor at the Chicago Figure Skating Club. While down in the States, he wrote articles extolling the virtues of figure skating for "Popular Mechanics" magazine.

The University of Manitoba's senior hockey team of 1927. Lewis is the on right of the two young men in the front row. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba, Archives & Special Collections.

By early 1943, Lewis was single, thirty-seven and coaching at the Pasadena Winter Garden and the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. His time at the California would be short-lived, as within months he would become a naturalized U.S. citizen, enlist in the American military and serve as a private stationed at the United States Armed Forces base in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Photo courtesy Professional Skaters Association

Following the War, Lewis married Eleanor Templeton. The couple taught skating at the Baltimore Figure Skating Club in Maryland, specializing in ice dance. Lewis also ran a summer school at the Elgin Memorial Arena in St. Thomas, Ontario. Jim Sladky, F. Ritter Shumway, Carol Ann Peters and Danny Ryan, Colin VanderVeen and USFSA President Howard D. Herbert were among his students. 

In the fifties, Lewis managed a rink called Ice Flair in the Detroit, Michigan suburb of Grosse Pointe Park. In the sixties, he served as manager of the Rochester Institute Of Technology rink in New York  and taught skating at the Rochester Figure Skating Club. He dedicated the same enthusiasm for curling as he did for skating and played an important role in popularizing the sport in the Rochester area. He later taught in San Diego and Atlanta and passed away of cancer at the age of eighty-four on October 28, 1989 in Marietta, Georgia, having dedicated most of his life to ice sports.


Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon

The son of Harry and Florence 'Florrie' (Gallagher) Vigeon, John 'Jack' Kempton Vigeon was born on September 17, 1920. He grew up on Glen Road in Toronto's Rosedale area, where his father worked as a successful chartered accountant. His firm, Vigeon & Co., once had an office on Leader Lane, a stone's throw from the historic King Edward Hotel. 

The Vigeon family, who were devout Catholics, held a  membership with the Granite Club, where Jack got his start on the ice. He also skated at the Toronto Skating Club and travelled south of the border in the summers to take from Gustave Lussi.

Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon

An athletic young man, Jack excelled not only at skating but at football as well. After twice finishing second in the junior men's event at the Canadian Championships, Jack finally won the event in 1938. The following year, he won his first of two bronze medals in the senior men's event at the Canadian Championships.

Photo courtesy University Of Toronto Archives

Jack twice represented Canada at the North American Championships and had the 1940 Winter Olympic Games not been cancelled, he would have been a very likely candidate for a spot on the Canadian team.

Photos courtesy Lisa Vigeon

That's not exactly how things went. Jack, who had attended Upper Canada College, graduated early from the University Of Toronto in order to join the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. After attending the Royal Canadian Navy's officers' training centre in Nova Scotia, Jack served as a Sub-Lieutenant on the HMCS Carleton and HMCS Mahone. The latter ship was a minesweeper that took part in the Battle Of The Atlantic. Jack was proud to have served but lost many friends - including his best friend, who died the day before the War ended.

Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon

After the War, Jack joined the family business as an accountant, with an office on Bay Street. In September of 1953, he married Arlyn Frances Gates, an American. The couple had seven children, five of which survived to adulthood. Jack and Arlyn divorced in the eighties. None of Jack's children figure skated, but one of his granddaughters went on to play hockey for Team Canada and Harvard College. Though he never got involved in coaching or judging, Jack remained an avid fan of the sport, never missing a television broadcast of the Canadian Championships. He passed away at the age of seventy-two in Toronto, after a long battle with cancer, on March 16, 1993.

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.

Veterans' Week On Skate Guard

One hundred and two years ago on November 11, 1918, the Armistice signed near Compiègne, France heralded an end to the fighting of The Great War on the Western Front. 

Many members of the Canadian figure skating community selflessly dedicated their lives to their country during both World Wars. Canadian and North American Champions, judges, coaches, club presidents, pleasure skaters and close relatives of some of our country's brightest skating stars served in the military and performed important war work. 

In recognition of their service, Skate Guard presents a special Veterans' Week page highlighting these brave men and women's wartime contributions.

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.

Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 9

If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it. Maritimers use the expression 'hodge podge' to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way.

I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. For one, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... and a delicious 6.0 finish!


Mae West

In 1895, Oscar Hammerstein opened a giant entertainment complex in Broadway, New York that included four theaters, an oriental café, a bowling alley and a billiards room. Quickly overwhelmed by debt, the ambitious project scaled down a little and one of the larger theaters - The Music Room - reopened as the New York Theatre. In 1912, it took on the name Moulin Rouge, inspired by the revolutionary French cabaret of the same name.

The show that christened the opening of the New York Moulin Rouge was called "A Winsome Widow" and was produced by Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. of Ziegfeld Follies fame. It debuted on April 11, 1912 and had an impressive one hundred and twelve show run. Although Emmy Wehlen and Leon Errol received top billing, the show was stolen by a then-teenage vamp named Mae West.

Cathleen Pope and George Kerner

The show also included (you guessed it!) figure skating on an 'ice tank'! A review from the April 12, 1912 edition of "The New York Times" described the skating scene from "A Winsome Widow" thusly: "A novelty in itself, which represents the interior of an ice palace, with the myriad skaters, glitteringly attired and providing a wonderful medley of gliding, changing color." The headline skaters in this scene were Cathleen Pope and George Kerner, a professional pairs team who trained in New York and performed with Charlotte Oelschlägel in the ice ballets at The Hippodrome. They were one of the first American duos that performed adagio style tricks on the ice.


In recent years, there has been a certain amount of blubbering about 6.0's being given out like candy in the latter years of the now-defunct judging system's existence. In the late fifties, the sport faced a very different kind of concern - low marking in school figures. 

In April of 1960, Dennis Bird penned the following eye-opening complaint in his column in "Skating World" magazine: "Here, at random, are two sets of marks for the ladies' back paragraph bracket. First - 4.7, 4.8, 4.6, 4.7, 4.8, 4.5, 4.6, 4.9, 5.2; and second - 5.0, 5.1, 5.0, 4.9, 4.7, 4.9, 5.1. The first set were given to Sjoukje Dijkstra at Garmisch. By present-day standards they were good marks for a good figure. Anyone who could today earn the second set of marks could probably be European Champion at least. Needless to say, they were not awarded in 1960. They take us back eleven years - in fact, to the World Championships of 1949. They were the marks of Barbara Wyatt, who finished, not first or second, but tenth in figures. Ája Vrzáňová, the winner, scored 5.5 or more on this figure from nearly every judge. Could anything show more graphically the decline in compulsory figure standards which had taken place in just over a decade?" Dennis Bird's remarks pose an interesting question we may never know the real answer to  - did the skaters get worse or did the judges get tougher?


With the Ice Follies and Ice Capades playing to packed houses across America during World War II, it's no wonder that other event promoters had dollar signs in their eyes and attempted to duplicate their success. Two extremely similar tours, both all but forgotten today, had dismally short runs.

Ice Vanities of 1940 opened on Christmas Day, 1939 with a run of ten shows at the State Fair Coliseum in Syracuse, New York. The production starred Vivi-Anne Hultén, Guy Owen, Lois DworshakVěra Hrubá Ralston, Freddie Trenkler, Eric Waite and Rosemary Stewart and Bob Dench. One of the tour's highlights was Trenkler's imitation of Donald Duck. The production was produced by Bill O'Brien, choreographed by Gustave Lussi and promoted by World Wide Sports, Inc. After its opening in Syracuse, the show continued on to Pittsburgh, New Haven, Providence and Boston. Financial problems caused the tour to eventually fizzle.

The New York Ice Revue, a joint venture of wrestling promoter Ray Fabiani, opera impresario Fortune Gallow and Hugo Quist, who once managed the 'Silent Finn' Paavo Nurmi, failed more spectacularly. The tour opened on August 14, 1940 on an outdoor rink at Fabiani's Philadelphia Gardens ampitheater, starring Vivi-Anne Hultén, Maribel Vinson Owen, Guy Owen, Ann Taylor and  Gene Theslof, Eric Waite and Betty Lee Bennett and John Kinney. It was devised and staged by Harry Losée. The production seemed doomed from the very start. A heavy rain nearly destroyed the outdoor rink just prior to the first show on opening night. When it ventured to the State Fair Coliseum in Syracuse, New York - the site of the Ice Vanities of 1940's first show - the organizers founded they had to share the stage, as it were, with a series of livestock competitions. Though thousands of spectators turned out to see their interpretation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on ice, the organizers had a disaster on their hands. An article from the "Syracuse Herald-Journal" noted, "Task of staging the show is complicated by the necessity of removing the tankbark and dirt placed over the ice each day for the cattle judging before the revue can begin." The tour was dissolved because the three producers couldn't see eye to eye.


Prior to the thirties, most of the skating clubs that existed in England catered to the upper crust of society. Academics, society ladies and even members of the House Of Lords all held membership with The Skating Club and Prince's Skating Club.

In 1932, a whole new type of skating association emerged... one specifically for members of the working class. The Civil Service Ice Skating Association was formed by a group of six civil servants that also happened to be figure skating aficionados. By 1935, The Association's membership swelled to over five thousand! In "Britain To-Day", Doris W. Hutchings recalled, "Affiliated to the National Skating Association, it is, after the Motoring Association, the largest body of its kind in the world... Its ambition was to train members into first-class skaters at a minimum cost, with special facilities for practicing. The Association, through co-operation with Rink Managers, offered members reduced fees, special figure patches, their own dancing sessions, competition cups, social visits to other rinks, and a yearly Winter Sports party to Switzerland."

In the mid-thirties, the Civil Service Ice Skating Association began holding its own carnivals. One held at Streatham Ice Rink in 1937 drew no less than four thousand spectators. The March 14, 1938 issue of the "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer" described the following year's carnival thusly: "The annual event gets bigger and better each year. The chief feature of last night's carnival was 'Eve of Waterloo', a pageant and fancy dress ball on ice. The period dresses and the dancing made a fine spectacle. It had been hoped that Sir Samuel Hoare, a very keen skater, would attend, but pressure of affairs prevented him. The prizes were presented by Lady Harding, and Freddie Tomlins, recently returned from the World Championship in Berlin, gave a brilliant exhibition."

During World War II, The Civil Service Ice Skating Association ceased operations but by the time austerity gave way to optimism in England in the fifties, it was going strong again. "Special classes on clean ice" were held before public sessions at the Earl's Court, Durham, Harringay and Birmingham rinks and a small free magazine for members called "The Service Skater" was published. One of The Association's most popular outings was an annual trip by train from London to the S.S. Brighton. After an informal afternoon skate, members would have tea before taking to the ice for a private session, where they could compete for prizes for ice dancing. Members were allowed to be partnered by non-members, and dances from the National Skating Association's bronze schedule were skated. There were also two annual competitions - one with junior and senior events and the other a junior dance championships for the Edith Ford and Walter Pratt Cups. 

The Association survived until at least the mid-eighties, with branches at both Queen's and Richmond. Membership as of 1986 was three pounds. What became of the Association is unfortunately unknown, as the CSCC Sports & Leisure has no records of a skating club beyond the eighties. Whatever the organization's fate, it certainly is an interesting footnote in figure skating history.


Located in downtown Minneapolis, the towering Nicolett Hotel played host to some pretty famous names over the years. John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt stayed there, and Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw were among the famous musical acts that wowed hundreds in the hotel's renowned, air-conditioned restaurant, the Minnesota Terrace.

Dorothy Lewis at the Nicolett Hotel

To mix things up from its usual stream of musical and variety acts, the hotel's management installed an ice tank in the Minnesota Terrace in 1942 and began presenting a steady stream of ice shows. Every evening at 8:15 and 11:30, patrons were treated to a thirty minute long skating spectacular that was worth every penny of their three dollar and fifty cent steak dinner. Though the skating shows were especially small in size, often with only two or three principals and a four woman precision line, the calibre of skating was impressive for the era. An unusual highlight of many of the Nicolett's ice shows was a game called Dance Quiz, where audience members had to guess which dance was being performed. The lucky winner received a bottle of wine.

In 1948, Dorothy Lewis brought her shows "Dorothy Lewis Glides The Globe" and "Skating In The Skyscrapers" to the Nicolett and wowed audiences with an on-ice interpretation of the musical "Oklahoma!", accompanied by a nine-piece band. In the October 30, 1948 issue of "Billboard" magazine, reporter Jack Weinberg raved, "Miss Lewis has come up with a real bit of business for this one... Co-starring with her is Bobby Maxson, formerly of the 'Ice Follies' cast. Opener is an airport scene, with two men dressed as pilots, stepping from behind curtain, followed by two gals. Eddie Delbridge, one of the skaters, takes [mic] to warble 'I Love The Girl I'm Near'. The foursome does fancy spinning. Miss Lewis takes ice for an exciting 'visit' to Lily Daches and does some fast-moving one-leg stands while trying on bonnets to determine which one she wants. It brought heavy mitting from the house. The four-girl line and two men come on for an 'Oklahoma' number depicting star's visit to play, skating to 'Surrey With Fringe On Top'. Maxson puts in his initial appearance for some expert ice-skimming to 'What A Beautiful Morning'. His one-foot sit spin is terrific and goes into a stand twirl at fast tempo. The wind-up has the gal line, tow men and Maxson doing a whip to 'Oklahoma'. The finale is Harlem, with the four gals and two men doing an exaggerated jitterbug on ice. Lewis and Maxson come in and wind-up in a black-light whip which is the most colourful ever seen here."

Dorothy Lewis and reporter Will Jones on ice at the Nicolett Hotel. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library. 

Unfortunately, the Nicolett Hotel's ice shows sadly befell the same fate of many other hotel ice shows of the era. A combination of an oversaturated market of ice shows and post-war taxes on cabarets led the hotel to discontinue its evening skating spectacles by the early fifties. The hotel was ultimately torn down in 1991, leaving only fleeting memories of suppertime spins from an era long past.


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

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 Ninth Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular

Photo courtesy "Ice Skating" magazine

It's that ghost wonderful time of the year when ghouls and goblins take center stage... and center ice. For this year's Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular, we're travelling back in time to England, just after the end of the second World War, when a skater using the pseudonym 'Jenks' warned the readers of "Ice Skating" magazine that they weren't alone at the rink. Dim the lights, light a candle and read this tale if you dare.


The existence of Gremlins has never for a moment been doubted by RAF personnel. Soldiers of every rank will vouch for the fact that Gremlins have at times turned their unwelcome attentions to the embarrassment of land forces, while sailors will swear that the little men can be equally at home before the mask or on the quarter-deck. Peace and demobilization came as a bitter blow to these, the most perverse of all the fairies, and they were for a short while at a loss to decide where, in peace time, their energies could be best directed. I am now in a position to give due warning to the skating public that large numbers of them are taking up their permanent quarters in and around ice rinks.

A short while ago I had an impromptu interview with the Squadron-Leader of a large force of Gremlins which had just arrived at a large London rink. I had just been up to the skate shop and collected my skates after re-grinding. I had put the skates on, and was leaving the changing room, when I felt, under my right skate, a small round hard object. There was an unpleasant little click, and too late I realized that I had trodden on a small stone which had chipped a considerable portion of my beautiful freshly ground edge right off.

As I ruefully surveyed the damage, I heard an unmistakably sardonic chuckle. I must have paled visibly as I remembered with some horror just where I'd heard that chuckle before. Yet, he was there, sitting comfortably on the top of a nearby locker, his legs dangling over the edge, his feet encased in little skating boots which drummed a light tattoo on the locker door as he grinned down at me. From the flashing skates to the spotless white of his perfectly fitting shirt with the very latest cut in collars, he was the perfect skater. Only the large head, pointed ears, and expression of malevolent cynicism topping the small but powerful body betrayed his true identity. There was no doubt whatsoever that he was a Gremlin.

For a full minute we gazed at one another in utter silence. I was petrified by a morbid dread of future tribulations, and scarcely dared to attempt a suitably abject greeting. He shifted his position slightly, jumped lightly down to the floor, and took a look at my damaged skate. 

"That stone," he said, quite calmly, " was not there when you came in. I placed it in exactly the right position just as you came out." His gaze travelled slowly up from the skate to my face, and he studied me for a few seconds, gently rubbing the lobe of his out-size ear, an all too familiar gesture. Suddenly he smiled, and from his eyes shone the concentrated wickedness of Ages. 

"Don't worry, my friend," he said smoothly, "We shall not harm you too much. We know you to be a Believer, and that makes a little difference you know." He turned and led the way to the balcony: "Come and see my boys, they're getting to work now." 

Together we stood gazing down on the dancers, and I was shocked to see little groups of Gremlins dotted all over the ice, sitting on the barriers, and clustered round the gangways. Some were busy at their tasks, groups of three were guiding the skates of selected couples towards the deepest ruts in the ice, some were digging through the ice to expose the pipes and concrete beneath, while whole squads were working over chosen patches of ice with powerful blowlamps. 

"You see," said the Gremlin at my elbow, "We are getting well established. And we are not confining our attention to the ice, my friend. What I did to your skate with the stone was only a very small sample of what I have organized in that direction. Look, see for yourself." And he pointed to where a well-known skater was just leaving the ice, to tread, he thought, on to the safety of the mat. At that moment three Gremlins leapt off the barrier, grasped the mat, and pulled it to one side with the speed of a camera shutter. I heard the sickening metallic grinding noise as the edge of the victim's skate came down hard on the concrete, saw his sudden start of anguish, and groaned inwardly. 

My companion pointed again, this time to a perspiring young man who had obviously come off the ice to re-tie one of his laces. His partner, a comely blonde, was pouting impatiently at the barrier. On the offending boot of the victim there sat a Gremlin, hacking at the laces with a small cutter specially made for the job, so that when the laces were tightened, they parted with an exasperating "pop." Sick at heart, I ventured to ask: "How long has this been going on?" 

"Oh, some time!" was the reply. "In fact, before the war we were fairly active, but of course it's all been intensified since peace broke out. But that's by no means the end of it. I have squads making hollows in speed skaters' grind-stones, loosening screws in figure skates all over the rink, placing loose screws under several skater's favourite edges, stopping up the pipes underneath the ice, spreading grit and small stones over the carpets, taking away and destroying one skate-guard of every pair we find, soaking boots with water well charged with ammonia, raising the heads of all the nails in the wooden flooring, adjusting the gramophone turn-table to run too fast or too slow, cutting the wires leading from the orchestra microphone to the loud speakers, and so on. In fact," and here he shrugged his small shoulders eloquently, "In fact, we are doing everything we can." 

And so, dear readers, I beg you to he most careful in your future conversations. Scoff at the Gremlins if you dare, but they'll catch up with you. Just wait and see.

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 1973 Skate Canada International Competition

The first Skate Canada International was partially inspired by the CFSA's frustration with the USFSA, who declined to send some of its top skaters to the North American Championships. Former CFSA President George J. Blundun complained at the 1971 CFSA AGM at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa, "Julie Holmes, who placed third in the 1970 World Championships, did not represent the USFSA in [the 1971 North American] Championships. Consideration should be given to either changing the time of year when the North American Championships are held or dispensing with it altogether and substituting an open or invitational championships to be held possibly in September on an annual basis." 

After the fateful meeting following the 1972 World Championships in Calgary where the North American Championships met their demise, plans were sketched out for the initial Canada-Skate International Competition in the autumn of 1973, renamed quickly to Skate Canada. It was to be the first truly international annual invitational competition for amateur skaters held in North America.

The first Skate Canada was held from October 25 to 28, 1973 at the Stampede Corral in Calgary. It featured competitions in only three disciplines - men's and women's singles and ice dancing. Pairs skating, which Blundun once called "kick boxing on skates", wasn't included. The CFSA invited nine countries (Austria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States and West Germany) to send one competitor in each discipline. As hosts, the CFSA decided, Canada would have three entries in each discipline. With a budget of less than five thousand, nine hundred dollars, the CFSA absorbed the travel and lodging costs of all competitors, team managers, referees and judges the first year Skate Canada was held.

George J. Blundun, who'd vowed to make a profit with the 1972 World Championships in Calgary and more than delivered, realized that the only way that Skate Canada would make money was if it was televised. A year prior to the event, he and Hugh Glynn met with Johnny Esaw of the CTV to discuss the possibility of broadcasting the competition. Esaw offered to buy the rights, so long as rinkboard advertising - common in Europe but unheard of in Canada at the time - was included. In order to gain approval, Esaw had to get Murray Chercover, the President of CTV, to contact to the Canadian Radio and Television Committee for permission to display the advertisements. In her book "Ice Time", Debbi Wilkes recalled, "The ISU had signed a deal with a Swiss marketing company, Gloria Transparente, to sell board ads at events beginning with the 1973 Worlds... Chercover wrote the [CRTC] to explain the problem of selling ads in Canada that might compete with the board ads coming from Europe... The [CRTC] agreed to change its policy, as long as the boards were sold to the same companies sponsoring the telecast. Blundun and Glynn had no choice but to put the boards into the package, where they have stayed ever since." 

With CTV buying the rights, the first Skate Canada garnered a net profit of over twelve thousand dollars. Largely due to the television revenue, the first Skate Canada competition was a financial success. Local interest and attendance were also strong. A report in "The Canadian Skater" magazine noted, "The enthusiasm and warmth generated by the general public was praiseworthy. Attendance at all performances was good, culminating in a capacity crowd for the Saturday evening's finale and presentation ceremonies. Even morning and afternoon practice sessions were well-attended with such non-professional, but obviously interested spectators, as housewives and school children attending."

Now that we've set the stage, let's take a look at the most important part of this historic event... the skating!


Toller Cranston and Robert Rubens. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Chock full of skaters who'd achieve great things on the international stage in the mid to late seventies like Robin Cousins, Ron Shaver, Minoru Sano and Terry Kubicka, the men's competition in Calgary was certainly full of impressive talent. However, the clear favourite was Canada's own Toller Cranston.

Toller Cranston. Bottom photo courtesy University Of Calgary Archives.

Managing a strong lead in the compulsory figures, Toller Cranston led the men's event from start to finish, entrancing the audience with his avant garde and exciting style. Shaver and Sano claimed the silver and bronze. Canada's third entry, Robert Rubens of Willowdale, Ontario, placed sixth overall.

Robin Cousins, who had just passed his Inter-Gold Test that summer, placed tenth out of twelve skaters. In the book "Skating For Gold", he recalled, "It was a very good competition and a great experience which I enjoyed immensely... I had gone there as a nobody and came away as a nobody, but gained plenty from watching everyone else - learning how others compete and how they withstand the pressures - and I knew that next time I went abroad to compete, I should be able to put to good use my experience in Calgary."


Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov

With Japan opting not to send an ice dance team, there were eleven entries in the first Skate Canada ice dance competition... but there were actually twelve ice dance teams in Calgary. World Champions Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov attended the event as special guests, performing an exhibition to Aram Khatchaturian's "Masquerade Waltz" which drew accolades from many. Frank Nowosad called Pakhomova "the essence of dance on ice."

Left: Hilary Green and Glyn Watts. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine. Right: Louise and Barry Soper. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater" magazine.

In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled the ice dance event thusly: "Hilary Green and Glyn Watts came out with British strength in the compulsories for an early lead. The Sopers had improved in the compulsories and would unveil a new free dance. The tango OSP would make 'Hernando's Hideaway' seem like a compulsory tune. Rosalind Druce and David Barker had precise timing and difficult steps in their outstanding OSP. Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov's OSP contrasted in its simplicity and elegance." Though 'Min and Mo' captured the eye of many as "a team to watch", they placed third behind Green and Watts and Canadians Louise and Barry Soper. The other two Canadian teams competing, Barbara Berezowski and David Porter and Deborah and John Dowding, finished seventh and eighth.


Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

With Karen Magnussen having left the amateur ranks, there wasn't a great sense that any of the three Canadians competing in Calgary would challenge the invited skaters for the women's title.
Great Britain's Jean Scott took a strong lead in the school figures, ahead of America's Juli McKinstry.

Left: Lynn Nightingale. Right: Juli McKinstry. Photos courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray, Sandra Bezic.

Lynn Nightingale, only seventh in the figures, surprised everyone by rebounding with outstanding performances in both the compulsory short program and free skate and moved all the way up to first. Her teammate, Barbara Terpenning, moved up from third in figures to take the silver ahead of Scott. McKinstry finished fourth, just ahead of Czechoslovakia's Liana Drahová and Liudmila Bakonina of the Soviet Union. The unexpectedly strong finish for the Canadian contingent gave great hope at the time to the CFSA, who believed its next great women's champion may not be long in the making. Later, Lynn Nightingale admitted she'd climbed to the very top row of the Stampede Corral while the final group was warming up and hexed the final group, wishing they'd all fall at least once. They did, she felt horrible about it and never did it again. On the trip home to England, Jean Scott celebrated her twenty-first birthday in the skies. Howard Bass recalled, "The Air Canada flight captain turned up trumps by providing a special cake and champagne to complete [the British team's] happiness."

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.