The Pôle Nord

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

The much-anticipated opening of The Pôle Nord on October 14, 1892 marked a very important milestone in French figure skating history. The rink at 18 rue de Clichy in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, next to the Casino de Paris, was the first permanent artificial ice rink in the country.

A grand but temporary ice rink on La rue Pergolèse, closed since the Exposition Universelle of 1889, had been well-attended. This was largely due to proclamations by several French physicians that skating was a health cure. However, Parisians had never seen anything quite so lavish as The Pôle Nord.

The rue Pergolèse rink of 1889. Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide".

The timing of The Pôle Nord's grand opening coincided with the formation of the International Skating Union and the release of a French translation of Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams' textbook "Figure-Skating Simple And Combined".

The six thousand square foot circular ice rink had a wood and cork floor flooded with eight thousand cubic meters of water. It was frozen by a seven hundred and twenty square meter track with four hundred iron pipes "full of calcium chloride incessantly cooled by ammonia in motion." It was powered by two fifty horsepower steam motors - a system credited to Edouard de Stoppani and similar to one used at the Exposition in Frankfurt the year prior. The Pôle Nord featured dressing rooms and a rinkside bar, where wealthy patrons were served French wine, American cocktails and German beer at their tables. 

Monsieurs Blandin and Gribouval

The beloved directors of The Pôle Nord were Monsieurs Blandin and Gribouval. Blandin was a former director of the Théâtre des Folies-Dramatiques and Grand Théâtre de Reims. Gribouval was described as a "likeable, intelligent man [and] a distinguished and courteous organizer." 

Emilienne d'Alençon

The Pôle Nord was open seasonally, seven days a week from morning until midnight. Gorgeous Belle Époque posters for the rink, designed by Paul Balluriau, Jules Chéret and Alexandre Jean Louis Jazet (under the pseudonym 'Japhet') and others, were widely distributed around Paris in various formats and contributed greatly to the rink's quick popularity. Regulars at the rink included actresses Cécile Sorel, Emilienne d'Alençon and Clémence de Pibrac. 

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

An article in the October 14, 1892 issue of "Le Petit Journal" remarked, "Amateur skaters are quite numerous in Paris, but the softness or better the humidity of our winters prevents them from skating as much as they wish on the mirror ice dear to the peoples of the North. Everyone knows the joke. As soon as it freezes a little in the Bois de Boulogne, the Cercle des Patineurs, which is composed of the best Parisian and foreign skaters, announces a party. Immediately the thaw arrives. This inconsistency and inconstancy of ice in Paris brings two unfortunate results: well-practiced skaters cannot engage in their favourite sport and their skates rust in the armoires, and aspiring skaters, those who would like to learn, never learn because they do not find the opportunity. The new establishment on the Rue de Clichy, which its creators spiritually called The Pôle Nord (North Pole) avoids these inconveniences. It is a perpetually frozen piece of winter that it offers Parisians."

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

The Pôle Nord became a mecca of high fashion, with patrons turning to designers like the House Of Worth and Maison Gagelin for their skating dresses. However, department stores - thinking they had a hit with "the most extraordinary skating toilettes... baptised Russian, Canadian, Polish, etc." - were disappointed to find not only Parisiennes but visiting Canadians and Russians turn their nose up at the novelties. An 1893 account from an unnamed British correspondent in Paris remarked, "Skating has already begun in Paris. Last week the 'Pôle Nord' opened its doors, and many enthusiastic votaries of the pastime put in an appearance. Very natty and smart were some of the costumes worn. Furs, being suited to the occasion, were much 'en evidence'. The wide short skirts now in vogue are admirably suited for skating purposes. Many black gowns were conspicuous, and during the graceful evolutions of the fair patineuses glimpses of gay-coloured linings occasionally flashed out." 

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Louis Laporte of Rhe Paris Conservatory led the rink's resident forty member orchestra. Blandin and Gribouval wisely employed professeurs - skating teachers who both gave lessons and performed exhibitions for the rink's patrons. Monsieurs Léon and Plumet served as two of the rink's main professeurs. Jean Richard, another French professeur, introduced the Waltz to Parisians. Visits from Axel Paulsen and George Meagher warmed them up to speed and figure skating. 

Nadja Franck. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Decorated Scandinavian skaters Nadja Franck and Thidolf Borgh joined the staff and helped introduce patrons to the techniques of school figures and free skating. There was a minor scandal when another of the club's professeurs, François Boleslas de Zdzienski, was fired for "failure to use the rules and regulations imposed on skating teachers". The hullabaloo centered around him showing up at the rink not wearing the required uniform for professeurs.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

The rink's entertainments ranged from charming to downright bizarre. On Christmas Eve 1982, a lavish holiday party was thrown at The Pôle Nord. The walls were decorated with snowflakes and a gigantic fir tree decorated with garlands was erected at center ice. There were raffles for flowers, soaps, chocolates, brooches and necklaces from the House Of Bluze and even a bicycle. Skaters enjoyed taking part in races and games so much that The Pôle Nord's owners kept the rink open an extra hour. And then there was the rabbit hunting...

A very theatrical scene indeed took place on the ice during a fête The Pôle Nord in the winter of 1896. A report from Jules Roques' "Le Courrier français" stated, "We witnessed a brilliantly fantastic procession: the fantasia of the Golden Calf, borne by four servants in Assyrian costumes, and with a Norman peasant leading it by the nose: beautiful young girls in silver and gold dresses and dripping with gold, accompanied it, burning incense and throwing flowers before it and encircling it with enormous garlands, whilst the Pig, King of Enjoyment, was borne along on his throne by his exquisite adorers; frail and graceful, gilded, silvered, suggestive, and frightfully seductive; an enormous success for all the little company and especially for Carmen, a love of a Love, and Amélie, a Mercury who was ogled to death. The saraband starts. Gold and silver is showered down from above; Bengal lights are set off; burning perfume sends out scented clouds; Projectors shoot forth green, lilac and purple rays; the effect is really magical. Then fanfares of trumpets blare out whilst the orchestra plays, supported by the choir. Now the chase of the Golden Calf begins, a mad race round the rink which ends in a battle of golden ingots in which the public mix with the skaters in a most amazing scene. The conception of these amusements did not lack a little amiable philosophy. Was it not the definite triumph of Love over the brutality of physical enjoyment and the power of gold, that was celebrated with such joy and with such blaring of trumpets? At the end there was tremendous applause and the crowd of spectators departed with memories of a delightful evening and with the dazzle and sparkle of all this brilliant scene still before their eyes."

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Admission at The Pôle Nord was initially two francs or one franc for members of the Club des Patineurs - a steep enough price to keep anyone but the rich away. During the first couple of years, the take at the door was the equivalent to one hundred and twenty pounds a day. The managers were forced to lower prices when the Palais de Glace opened at the Champs-Élysées in December of 1893 and business dwindled quickly. Many of the elite patrons migrated to the new rink, disgusted that it had "deteriorated [to the point of becoming] quite impossible for a lady to go to nowadays." A big part of that 'deterioration' was also the fact that hockey players were pushing pleasure and figure skaters to the sidelines.

The Pôle Nord closed in 1898, validating naysayers who believed that there simply weren't enough Parisian skaters to keep two rinks going. The following year circus impresario C.M. Ercole took over The Pôle Nord's lease for Carl Hagenbeck, who presented his living panorama "Life At The North Pole", which had been a major success at the Vienna Exhibition. The space later became absorbed into the Casino de Paris with the section near the present rue Blanche demolished to make way for the Nouveau-Théâtre.

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":

The 1933 North American Figure Skating Championships

Linen postcard of the third Madison Square Garden, Manhattan Post Card Publishing Co.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had just been declared President-Elect of the United States. Couples waltzed in nightclubs to the strains of Annette Hanshaw's "Moon Song". The radio series "The Lone Ranger" debuted, as did a new novelty in communication: the singing telegram. A cold snap resulted in record low temperatures in many American states and in Canada, the CRBC - CBC Radio's predecessor - made its grand debut. The year was in 1933 and on February 10 and 11, most of the Continent's top skaters gathered in New York City for the North American Figure Skating Championships.

It was the first time The Big Apple played host to the biennal event. School figures for men and women and preliminary rounds for pairs and fours were skated at The Ice Club in front of sparse audiences, but the finals for all disciplines were contested at Madison Square Garden. There were in excess of five thousand spectators for the events at the Garden - one of the largest crowd for any figure skating competition in the city at that point.

The judges for the event were Rosalie Knapp and Joel B. Liberman of New York, Charlie Morgan Rotch of Boston, Allan Howard and Norman V.S. Gregory of Montreal and John S. McLean of Toronto. Closed marking, coupled with the fact many spectators didn't see the initial rounds which counted for two thirds of the final score, added to the suspense for spectators. Let's take a look back at how things played out!


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Pairs and fours teamed performed their programs before the judges twice. In the preliminary rounds, they were judged on "contents of their program, difficulty, variety and manner of harmonious composition." In the final round, they were judged solely on performance. As expected, Canadians dominated in the fours event. The 'Minto four', consisting of Margaret Davis, Prudence Holbrook, Melville Rogers and Guy Owen, took top honours, followed by the Toronto four, consisting of Bud and Constance Wilson, Elizabeth Fisher and Hubert Sprott. America's lone entry, a Boston four consisting of Theresa Weld Blanchard, Suzanne Davis, Fred Parmenter and Richard L. Hapgood, placed third and last. Reporter Will Wedge remarked, "We thought the evolutions in fours last evening by [the Minto four] was one of the most graceful and charming spectacles we ever saw anywhere, and that big, crinkly haired, aquiline-nosed Rogers chap as distinguished looking a bloke as ever performed in this man's town."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Siblings Constance and Bud Wilson won the pairs event, ahead of Maude Smith and Jack Eastwood, Kay Lopdell and Donald B. Cruikshank, Grace and James Madden and Gertrude Meredith and Joseph K. Savage. The pairs event marked the first podium sweep by Canadians at the North American Championships in any discipline. It was also the third time in succession the Wilson siblings managed to win both singles titles and the pairs at the Championships.

There was no 'official' dance event, but Waltz and Fourteenstep contests were organized by the Skating Club of New York "to entertain the spectators while the judges [compiled] their results." Valerie Jones and Oscar L. Richard won the Waltz; Grace and James Madden the Fourteenstep. The winners of both events were decided solely by audience applause. Theresa Weld Blanchard asked judge Joel B. Liberman to mention the dance events in his write-up in "Skating" magazine. He responded by writing, "How can you ask me to so descend from the Olympian heights of a North American competition? But in view of our long friendship I will 'throw-in' a few words."


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Twenty year old Maribel Vinson, the defending U.S. Women's Champion, withdrew from the competition at the eleventh hour, explaining to reporters she wanted to focus her energy on the Skating Club of Boston's carnival, which was to be held just two days after the event. 

This essentially made the event a two-way race between Cecil Smith Gooderham, the 1930 World Silver Medallist and Constance Wilson-Samuel, the two-time and defending North American Champion. Both Canadian women performed exceptionally well in figures and were especially praised for their loop change loop and bracket change bracket. The "New York Times" reported, "As the morning progressed the participants seemed to gain in confidence, and their execution was so keen in the last three figures that a small group on onlookers, composed of critical, ardent enthusiasts of the sport, found ample opportunity to applaud."

Cecil Smith Gooderham, Audrey Peppe and Constance Wilson-Samuel

In the free skate, Constance Wilson-Samuel performed in a white dress edged with black, white gloves and a black ribbon around her head. A reporter recalled, "To the strains of a waltz, Mrs. Samuel went through an elaborate series of spins and jumps, the slow and fast one-foot spin bringing considerable approval from the crowd. A number of loop jumps added to the variety of her program and with several [Axel] Paulsen jumps she finished with a [Jackson] Haines spin right before the concluding fadeaway." In a direct contrast in fashion, Cecil Smith Gooderham skated in a black dress trimmed in white with a cluster of gardenias on her shoulder. Her program, set to a tango-foxtrot, included an Axel, Salchow and Jackson Haines spin. Beatrix Loughran's niece Audrey Peppe so impressed the audience in the free skate that she was called back on the ice after her performance to give another bow.

Audrey Peppe

When the marks were tallied, it was found the judges were divided between Wilson-Samuel and Smith Gooderham. "As a consequence," one reporter explained, "An itemized accounting had to be made of the point tabulation for both days, so slim was the margin of victory, and it was later announced that Mrs. Samuel had won by a 17-point advantage." Suzanne Davis of Boston took the bronze, ahead of New Yorkers Audrey Peppe and Dr. Hulda Berger.

In "Skating" magazine, Theresa Weld Blanchard remarked, "It was perilously close. Both of these skaters are real champions in school figures. Both make excellent turns, but Cecil's figures are rounder, she skates on a keener edge, but by the same token she is forced to sacrifice somewhat the retracing of the circles. In the latter department of the school figures Connie is superb. This necessarily involves flattening for an instant to make the circles overlap, but it takes a high degree of talent and a complete mastery of the skate to do it. Sonja [Henie] is mistress of that art, although she relies on it less and less. Cecil skates her figures like Maribel Vinson, that is, once on a hard edge it is difficult to depart from the natural arc of the edge."


There were almost no spectators for men's school figures, owing to the early morning hour they were held. Despite a self-professed 'bad ear' for music, two-time and defending North American Champion Montgomery 'Bud' Wilson "gave a marvellous demonstration in his free skating. So clear-cut and well-executed were the more intricate jumps and spins that he made them appear easy. His slow toe-spin and his varied Salchow and [Axel] Paulsen jumps were the essence of smoothness. The six-foot Canadian marked his program with several loop jumps and never wavered in his effective skating. The crowd was especially keyed to see young [Robin] Lee in action. Wearing his noted blue beret and a blue sweater, the youngster saved himself from a fall almost at the start of his program in attempting a back-loop jump, but he rallied quickly and continued through his skating and was loudly applauded. Partly because he has become a favourite in New York and partly due to his fundamentally sound skating that he showed last night in the school figures, the little fellow had to doff his beret as he made his way off the ice. His double [Haines] spin, up and down, and his scratch spin that he intermingled with the regular assortment of jumps, won many plaudits. [James] Madden had two unfortunate spills in trying jumps, but otherwise did very well, characterizing his skating with a number of spins. [William] Nagle, too, gave a good performance," according to a write-up in "The New York Times". Wilson easily won his third North American title, besting Madden,  Lee and Nagle. There was a thirty-four year age difference between Lee and Nagle - Lee was thirteen; Nagle forty-seven.

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":

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":

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":

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":

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":

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