From Rags To Regina: The Bert Penfold Story

Photo courtesy Saskatchewan Sports Hall Of Fame

"Like a lot of parents, I became interested when my two daughters started to skate. I skate purely for fun. My greatest reward has been watching so many youngsters take up this wonderful sport, develop into fine citizens and then see their children in turn follow in their parents skate-steps." - Bert Penfold, "Skating" magazine, May 1966

The son of Frederick and Harriett 'Hattie' (Tubb) Penfold, Bert Penfold was born August 14, 1898 on the Isle of Wight. Frederick, a journeyman who made do by painting houses, died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Bert was only a year old. Harriett struggled to make ends meet as an impoverished widow. One of her daughters went into service and Bert and other siblings were separated and put into Barnado's Homes. Bert was shipped off to Canada in 1907 and boarded with a German Methodist family on a farm in the Muskoka region of Ontario for a time before being sent to live with another family, the Moore's, in Regina, Saskatchewan. He was one of the Home Children.

Bert Penfold's parents

When The Great War broke out, seventeen year old Bert joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving with the 162nd and 122nd Battalions on the front lines in France. Upon returning to Canada, he worked with the John Deere plow company and as a bookkeeper for the federal tax office. He began his forty year career with the Independent Electric Company in 1925. In his spare time, he enjoyed shooting, lawn bowling, canoeing... and skating.

Bert was first exposed to figure skating during World War II, when his daughters Joan and Margaret seriously took up the sport at the Wascana Winter Club. After serving as the Club's President, he became the first Chairman of the first Section in Canada - the Western Canada Section of the Canadian Figure Skating Association - in 1947. Two years later, the CFSA had a Western President, Alf Williams of Calgary. When influential CFSA officials from Ontario tried to oust the CFSA's second Western President, Herb Larson, in 1954, Bert travelled all over the Prairies trying to drum up proxy votes from skating clubs. The coup backfired and Larson was re-elected.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

After four years as the CFSA's Vice-President and chair of the Membership Committee, Bert was elected as the Association's President. A long-time judge, he served as the manager of the World Team in Colorado Springs in 1965, when Petra Burka won the gold medal. As President, he pushed for more coverage of the sport on television and advocated for more support for skaters from Western Canada. Most notably, he spearheaded a Publicity Committee and urged organizers of skating events in Canada to develop strong relationships with the media. His efforts helped bring skating out of newspaper's society pages and on to front pages was key to the sport's development. Over the years, he served as chairman of the Western Canadian Figure Skating Championships, North American Championships and Canadian Championships. He was awarded the Centennial Medal for his contributions to figure skating in Canada in 1968.

Bert Penfold presenting Donald Knight with the winner's trophy at the 1967 Canadian Championships

Bert passed away on May 28, 1968 at the age of sixty-nine. He was posthumously inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall Of Fame in 1975. His nephew by marriage, Les Aspin, served as President Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Defense but died in office in May of 1995. His daughter Margaret Sandison made history as the first international figure skating judge from Saskatchewan.

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 Skater's Radio Programme

Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine

Looking through a modern lens, it's hard to imagine a time when things like television, YouTube, podcasts and blogs didn't exist. Today, with a tap on an touchscreen or a quick click of a button, we can watch a live stream of a competition or a Facebook Live interview with our favourite skater. It's like magic in a way... a concept that would have seemed completely foreign and even frightening to skating fans of decades past. 

In the roaring twenties, skating news was mainly disseminated in magazines, newspapers, personal letters and books. Unless you were lucky enough to watch a grainy newsreel clip of a skater gracefully gliding over the ice in your local theatre, you gleaned knowledge about the sport by reading - not by watching or listening. That began to change in the thirties when skating started to be covered on the radio and a new-fangled invention - the television.

Photo courtesy BBC Archive

One of the first skating-themed radio broadcasts in England occurred in 1937, when commentary of the women's free skating at the British Championships at the Empire Pool, Wembley was presented, supplemented by performances by Reginald Foort on the BBC Theatre Organ. Two years later, an exhibition performance given by Daphne Walker during the intermission of a hockey game between teams from Earl's Court and Streatham was aired on television. 

Skating disappeared from television and radio in England during wartime, reappearing in December of 1945 when Michael Barsley and Peter Eton ran a segment on their radio show "People's Pleasures" called "Round The Rinks" which offered some fun facts and 'figures' about the people who ran ice rinks. 

From 1946 to 1948, a handful of skating performances were aired on the BBC and in February of 1949, television history was made when the first televised ice show in England was aired in its entirety. It was a skating carnival put together by Miss Gladys Hogg at Queen's Ice Rink featuring Jennifer and John Nicks, Marion Davies and Michael Carrington that was hosted by 1936 Olympian Geoffrey Yates. That autumn, English audiences saw Cecilia Colledge skate during a broadcast of highlights of Tom Arnold's ice revues and in December, the British Championships made their national television debut.

The same year that Miss Gladys Hogg's ice show was broadcast on television, history was also made when what is believed to be the first skating-themed radio show made its debut. "The Skater's Radio Programme" was first broadcast on Radio Luxembourg half an hour before midnight on March 25, 1949. 

The weekly radio show was the brainchild of sportswriter Howard Bass, then the editor of the magazine "The Skater". Bass' goal in producing the show was 'to promote ice-mindedness' . In his book "This Skating Age", he recalled, "These programmes, broadly speaking, comprised interviews with famous skaters of the day, interspersed with recordings of music to which they frequently skated, and it was certainly enlightening to realize just how musically entertaining such a programme could be made. I was not ashamed at the unoriginal signature tune. Even if you are a little tired of hearing Waldteufel's 'The Skater's Waltz' do please listen to the instrumentally superb recording of it by the Boston Promenade Orchestra, the finest contrapuntal arrangement I know, and still among the best possible accompaniments for skaters of all grades. Certainly we had variety, too, varying from 'The Sabre Dance' (New Promenade Orchestra), Saint-Saëns' 'The Swan' (Melachrino) and Gounod's 'Ballet Music From Faust' (National Symphony) to the contrasting rhythmic tempos of 'In The Mood' (Glenn Miller) and 'I've Got The Sun In The Morning' (Joe Loss)'."

"The Skater's Radio Programme" was co-hosted by Howard Bass and Ron Priestley, an English born Australian professional skater and barrel jumper who had made a name for himself performing in "Enchanted Night" and "The Brahman's Daughter" with Belita and the Brunet's and Phil and Megan Taylor's "Switzerland" tour in Australia and New Zealand prior to World War II. Guests on the show included Jeannette Altwegg (then the reigning Olympic Bronze Medallist), Maj-Britt Rönningberg, Marion Davies, Carol Lynne, Terry Brent and Phil Romayne, Baddy and Buddy and The Jive Trio. Valerie Moon, the runner-up at the 1948 and 1949 I.P.S.A. Professional Championships, treated audiences to her mezza-soprano rendition of the song "This Is My Lovely Day". The show reached audiences throughout Europe - even behind the Iron Curtain and the B.O.A.R. zone in Germany.

Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine

Though "The Skater's Radio Programme" received rave reviews, it was short-lived - only lasting one season. The exact reason why it didn't continue is unknown, but its late hour and the rise of television may have been the culprit. After all, Howard Bass admitted, "Skating... [is] so essentially visual." Sadly, no known recordings of "The Skater's Radio Programme" survive today. At the time, those producing radio content rarely considered the concept of archiving material for long-term use and making recordings was prohibitively expensive... if one even had the means of doing so. "The Skater's Radio Programme" may have relegated itself to the footnotes of skating history, but it was this pioneering effort that paved the way for the skating podcasts of today.

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 1931 World Figure Skating Championships

Engraving of Gillis Grafström used in promotion of the 1931 World Figure Skating Championships. Courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Held from February 28 to March 1, 1931 at the Berlin Sportpalast in Germany, the 1931 World Figure Skating Championships marked only the second time in history the ISU presented the World Championships in men's, women's and pairs skating in the same place at the same time. 

Though the Nazis hadn't yet officially seized control of Germany, they were very much a presence in the country at the time. It wasn't all roses on the ice either. An article published in the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" on the opening day of the competition noted that many visiting skaters complained that they were not given ample time to become accustomed to conditions in the rink. This was because German skaters - even those not participating in the competition - were given preferential treatment.

George E.B. Hill, Roger Turner, Ernst Baier, Herbert Haertel, Marcell Vadas, Dr. Hugo Distler, Karl Schäfer, Rudolf Praznowsky, Leopold Maier-Larbergo and Theo Lass at the 1931 World Championships

Though attendance was comparably poor for the school figures, more than eight thousand people showed up to watch the free skating competitions that year, which started at five o'clock in the evening. The March 2, 1931 issue of the "Wiener Montagblatt" reported, "It was a frightful place. The driveway of the cars lasted for hours and the air was stagnant. The start of the contest was delayed by this, but moreso because of the non-presence of some of the pieces of music the skaters were to use." Sweden's Gillis Grafström, opting not to compete, gave a special exhibition for the Berlin audiences. He performed several dances he had adapted to the ice.

Karl Schäfer, Sonja Henie and Gillis Grafström

By this point in time, the Austrian press had all but given up on Fritzi Burger and Melitta Brunner, whose previous attempts to dethrone Sonja Henie had been unsuccessful. Their attention - and the eyes of the skating community - were focused squarely on little Hilde Holovsky, who was being hailed as the new rising star in the sport.

Let's take a look back at how Henie, Holovsky and the rest fared that year in Berlin!


Emília Rotter and László Szollás in Berlin. Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland, "Skating" magazine.

Nine teams vied for the 1931 World pairs title in Berlin and quite frankly, the results were all over the place. Turning the tables after that year's European Championships in St. Moritz, Hungary's Emília Rotter and László Szollás managed to narrowly defeat their teammates Olga Orgonista and Sándor Szalay by just one ordinal placing.

One judge tied the two teams, three gave Rotter and Szollás the nod, two preferred Orgonista and Szalay and Finnish judge Walter Jakobsson had Austrians Lilly Scholz and Willy Petter first. In an equally close contest for the bronze, Scholz and Petter lost out to their Austrian teammates Idi Papez and Karl Zwack. The only non-European team to participate, Maribel Vinson and George 'Geddy' Hill 
placed a creditable fifth. Otto Kaiser, who won the World title with Lilly Scholz in 1929, finished eighth with his new partner Hansi Kast.


Ernst Baier and Sonja Henie at a practice session in Berlin

An unlucky thirteen men squared off in Berlin in what was perhaps one of the most erratically judged men's events in the history of the European Championships. Karl Schäfer's victory was a decisive one, though the marks of the only judge to place him second offer the first glimpse into exactly how nutty the judging in Berlin that year was. 

In one of the blatant displays of national bias ever, the Czechoslovakian judge had his own skater, Josef Slíva, first. Slíva actually finished twelfth - second to last - and no other judge had him higher than ninth in either the figures or free skating! But no, the fun didn't stop there. America's Roger Turner, who claimed the silver, was eighth on the German judge's scorecard. Germany's Ernst Baier, who claimed the bronze, was only seventh best as far as the Austrian judge was concerned. Dr. Hugo Distler of Austria, who placed fourth, had marks ranging from second through eighth. Germany's Leopold Maier-Labergo's marks ranged from second through seventh. Hungary's Marcell Vadas, who ended up sixth, had marks ranging from third through eleventh. If it were up to the judges from Hungary, Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, Finland's Marcus Nikkanen would have won the bronze. Instead, he finished seventh! In hindsight, I think it's safe to assume that at least a few of the men on that year's judging panel got into the Riesling.

Marcell Vadas. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

How did they skate? The March 2, 1931 issue of the "Wiener Montagblatt" offered a detailed account of many of the men's free skating performances: "The first was (Marcus) Nikkanen (Finland), who made many mistakes and disappointed. His pirouettes were good, but his jumps were not pure. [Leopold] Maier-Labergo (Berlin) was characterized by his elegant attitude. His program was nicely arranged together, if not too difficult. [Karl] Schäfer brought the rink to a frenzy... He performed all manner of skating elements, jumping, turning pirouettes, dancing and developing an unprecedented musical feeling. He skated to an American piece of music and his program didn't have the smallest mistake. His performance was the highlight of the night."


The report continued: "[Marcell] Vadas, skating after Schäfer, appeared somewhat nervous and fell. Dr. [Hugo] Distler skated very softly and musically, but once touched the ice with his hand. He was uncertain and nervous for no reason at all. [Herbert] Haertel (Berlin), a splendid skater, performed very well despite a fall. [Rudolf] Praznowsky (Troppau) partly copied Schäfer quite well, but was far from the skater his great role model who lived far away was.  Theo Lass (Berlin), for the first time in such a large competition, skated very musically. [Josef] Slíva (Czechoslovakia) skated to a brisk march. He was the best in pirouettes but also his dancing steps were pleasing. After an Axel Paulsen, he came to fall." The Austrian reporter covering the competition offered no observations of Roger Turner, Ernst Baier, Pierre Brunet or George Hill's performances.

Karl Schäfer. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

However, Maribel Vinson, covering the event for "Skating" magazine, did. She remarked, "[Baier's] figures no doubt due to an attack of grippe the week before, were not as good as I have seen him do [but] next to Schäfer [he] did the most spectacular free skating of the evening. His countrymen gave him tremendous applause and well they might. His program was fireworks, skated without error and at high speed. Both Americans were among the last to skate... [They] made their impression and gained their applause by their evenly skated, flowing, graceful programs rather than by staccato jumps, toe point jumps, twists, spins and dances. Geddy skated his best and did an excellent inner spin. Roger, too, did himself proud, skating with more ease and poise, sureness and grace than ever before. He gave the audience the feeling that night that he was a seasoned campaigner and couldn't possibly make a mistake. All the American in Berlin were very proud of both of them."

Karl Schäfer. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following the event, Roger Turner - who had chivalrously declined money for travel expenses from the USFSA so that Maribel Vinson could have more - shared his thoughts on the event in "Skating" magazine: "One of my first impressions of the World Championships which were recently held in Berlin, Germany, was the exhaustive enthusiasm of the press for acrobatic skating. It would be unfortunate if the exponents of the Art should acquire an indelible image on their minds of acrobatics... rather than a free and harmonious expression... There is danger, if perverted opinions predominate of losing much of the glory and fineness of the present style and figure skating, like the Russian ballet which has given way to a coarser school, would decline."


Sonja Henie and Karl Schäfer in Berlin. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Dr. W.L. Hildburgh, the American judge in the women's event, stirred the pot considerably with his marks in Berlin. Not only did he place both Maribel Vinson and Vivi-Anne Hultén ahead of Sonja Henie in the school figures, he put Austria's Hilde Holovsky ahead of the Norwegian darling in the free skate. Let's just say the man certainly didn't get a Christmas card from Norway that year! 

Randi Gulliksen, Hilde Holovsky, an unidentified skater, Fritzi Burger, Karl Schäfer, Sonja and Selma Henie in Berlin

Despite the best efforts of one renegade Yankee Doodle doctor, Sonja Henie pulled off a decisive victory in Berlin but many agreed that she was upstaged in the free skate by silver medallist Holovsky. Losing ground to Maribel Vinson in the free skate, Fritzi Burger dropped from second to third overall. Hultén placed fifth behind Vinson when the Norwegian judge - Sonja's judge - placed her second to last in the free skate. Let it suffice to say the Swedish press was not amused. However, American coverage of the event was quite favourable towards Sonja Henie. In a report penned for "Skating" magazine, George Hill remarked, "For the fifth time Sonja Henie was won the Ladies' Championship of the World, and it seems to me she can continue for many years. She is more than a skater, she is an artist... Her figures were executed almost flawlessly... Her spins were astonishing... longer and faster than ever and finished on the inner edge in beautiful position."

Maribel Vinson. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The March 2, 1931 issue of the "Wiener Montagblatt" offered a detailed account of the women's free skating performances in Berlin: "The first to skate was de Ligne (Belgium), who impressively skated a technically perfect, but not too heavy program. The Norwegian [Randi] Gulliksen skated musically but left no special impression. [Maribel] Vinson (America) was very pleasing. Her program was very pretty with some good original dance moves and her pirouettes also caused a great deal of applause... [Nanna] Egedius (Norway) brought a fairly light program to the event, then came Fritzi Burger (Vienna) in a pale pink dress. She skated completely flawless and purely... Even [Edel] Randem (Norway) had some pretty moments in her program though she had too little momentum and no tempo. Sonja Henie, in a turquoise blue dress, by her skating long ago a favourite of the Berliners, brought her usual program, the one from Vienna. Her jumps were particularly effective and she skated with wonderful security... [Vivi-Anne] Hultén (Sweden), who had to go after Sonja, fell, understandably... She did very beautiful things, dance steps which she learned from Grafström but lacked in temperament. Hilde Holovsky, with an entirely fabulous skate, almost surpassed the insurpassable performance of the famous Norwegian girl. With unlikey speed and mastery, each figure was executed. Her jumps were high and flawless. Her impression was overwhelming, and the Sportpalast broke out in cheers."

Vivi-Anne Hultén, Fritzi Burger, Maribel Vinson and Sonja Henie in Berlin. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following the competition, ISU and government officials gathered with skaters at a banquet held at the Hotel Esplanade on Potsdamer Platz, which was frequented by stars like Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo in the roaring twenties. Prizes were awarded, Spätburgunder flowed freely and Karl Schäfer received a special award from the German Minister of Foreign Affairs. Sonja Henie - furious about  rumours saying she planned to turn professional - allegedly had an outburst at her hotel, slammed her door and locked herself in a room for a while. She came out eventually and won two more Olympic gold medals and five more World titles.

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 Best Of 2022: A Skate Guard New Year's Spectacular


So much figure skating history has been made in 2022. Nathan Chen became the first man of Asian American heritage to win an Olympic gold medal in Beijing, landing five quadruple jumps in his winning free skate. At the World Championships in Montpelier, Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier became the first American pair in decades to win the World title and Leona Hendrickx won Belgium's first medal in women's figure skating at the World Championships. At Skate America in Norwood, Massachusetts this autumn, Ilia Malinin made history as the first skater to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition on his way to becoming the youngest man ever to win the event. In France, thirty-nine year old Deanna Stellato-Dudek made history as the oldest skater to win an ISU Grand Prix event, with her partner Maxime Deschamps. For the first time, British Ice Skating hosted an ISU Grand Prix event. The MK John Wilson Trophy was not only a huge success from an organizational standpoint but an outstanding competition full of world-class skating. Earlier this month, Skate Canada made an incredibly positive step towards inclusivity in the sport, re-defining its rules for pairs skating and ice dancing to allow any two skaters, regardless of gender, to compete together. 

Nathan Chen's winning free skate at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Despite the very much ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, figure skating has continued to thrive as a world-class sport and 2023 promises to be even more exciting, if the skating we have seen so far this season is any indication.

What a fun year it has been from a content creator perspective too! I've worked on some really neat things, including the Wearable Skating History project for Pinterest, a host of really interesting articles for "Skating" magazine and U.S. Figure Skating's digital platforms and the compilation of a ton of really obscure figure skating results that weren't readily available previously. Publishing my first book "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating" was such a fun learning experience and I can't wait to take the lessons I learned from the process and put them to good use when I publish my next one. 

As is the case every year here on Skate Guard, I like to close out the year by doing a little countdown of 10.0 of the most compelling stories that you may have missed over the course of the past year. A Happy New Year to you and here's to more fascinating figure skating history in 2023! 


Bringing obscure footnotes to life is one of my favourite aspects of writing about figure skating history. In March, we took a trip back in time to Paris during La Belle Époque and a deep dive into the story of France's plan to build the world's largest artificial ice rink.


In 1905, the Minto Skating Club's Rideau rink played host to the event now recognized as the first Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Just two years later, the rink was destroyed in a massive inferno, necessitating the cancellation of the Championships. We explored the story back in January.


In the early days, coaching was very much an old boy's club. In October, the blog highlighted the story of legendary barrier-breaking French coach Jacqueline Vaudecrane


Speaking up about injustice is an act of courage. In April, we explored how two pairs skaters in two very different eras used letter-writing to enact change in the skating world.


It's no mistake that this August blog on perfect 6.0's is number six on the list. For decades, a score of perfect six was the benchmark of perfection in the sport and what better way to celebrate those performances that earned a judge's ultimate reward than to catalogue them.


The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022 was inarguably the most significant historical event of the year. Shortly after her death, we highlighted The Queen's many, many connections to the skating world.


In 1908, London played host to the only Olympic competition for Special Figures. In August, the forgotten art of special figures was traced in fine detail.


In February during the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, it was my great pleasure to share the story of Ryuichi Obitani, one of Japan's great figure skating pioneers.


Osborne Colson was not only a Canadian Champion, he was one of Canada's most revered coaches of all time. It was my honour to write about him on the blog back in June and spoiler alert: there are some amazing stories in this one!


Many of the blogs you read on Skate Guard are written well in advance of the time they are published. That wasn't the case in February, when the doping scandal at the Winter Olympics made international headlines. "A History of Doping in Figure Skating" went viral on Twitter in February, shining a light on an element of the sport's history that needs to be taken incredibly seriously.

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 Fond Look Back At Overlooked Canadian Figure Skating TV Moments

Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

In the second half of the twentieth century, a week scarcely passed without figure skating making its way to Canadian television sets at least once. From amateur and professional competitions to movies, talk show interviews and made for television specials, there seemed to be something for everyone. Today on the blog, we'll look back at a handful of Canadian television skating moments you may have forgotten!


Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

On February 26, 1961, CBC made history with the very first full-length skating special in Canadian history, "Planet Ice". Filmed at the East York arena in Toronto, the show was an 'ice fantasy' set on "the undiscovered Planet Ice, where everything is made of ice and everyone skates from birth." The fictional planet's Prince and Princess were played by Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, the reigning Olympic Gold Medallists and World Champions. Gordon Crossland, a silver medallist in ice dance at the 1955 Canadian Championships with Geraldine Fenton, who went on to skate with Ice Follies, played an astronaut who landed on the planet by accident. Actor Paul Klingman, comedian Jack Duffy and dancer Paul Elsom laced up and took to the ice as a group of scientists on the planet's ice factory who were trying to invent 'a perfect ice man'. The production was choreographed by Sheldon Galbraith.

In his biography "A Nobody's Dream... Came True", he wrote, "Don Hudson, the Director of 'The Wayne and Schuster Show', approached me about doing a figure skating special. Canadian Champions, Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul had just won Worlds and it would be a good showcase for them. Don also contacted my old skating friend from Kitchener, Marilyn Schlicter, [whose] stage name was Sheppard. She was developing her name as a night club singer. She is the first girl Miss Beryl [Goodman Williamson] had put me with to try out as a pair team, back as an amateur skater. Marilyn and I were cast as the story line leads, in a flimsy script called 'Planet Ice'. It was the first ice show story ever told on ice and I give Don full marks for the attempt. He certainly led the way for the many that followed. He loaded it with a lot of the top Canadian television stars, from the CBC's stable. It was mainly comedians of the day which gave it an absurd mix. Thus, it had mixed reviews. Don released a kinescope copy... and gave me a projector so I could take it home. I'm very critical of my work and think it was the worst thing I ever did. All the acting classes had produced, in my opinion, a wooden slob at best, and my skating was embarrassing. I felt the rest of the cast were wonderful."


Toller Cranston in "Dreamweaver". Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

"Strawberry Ice", "The True Gift Of Christmas" and "The Magic Planet" may have been Toller Cranston's best remembered CBC specials, but before these gems came another lesser recalled one, "Dreamweaver". Produced by J. Edward Shaw and Charles Weir and directed by Shaw, "Dreamweaver" was a hodge podge of a skating fantasy, with music ranging from disco to Tchaikovsky. 

Joined by singers Dan Hill and Salome Bey, composer André Gagnon and North American pairs champions JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley, Cranston was his imaginative self in this 'dream sequence' variety show which aired in Canada, the U.S. and Europe in 1979. "Dreamweaver" won the Golden Rose of Montreux Award for Best Variety Program and the Grand Prix de Montreux 1980 at the Montreux Television Festival in Switzerland as well as six ANIK awards.


Rita MacNeil and Anne Murray. Photos courtesy Library And Archives Canada and Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Two of Nova Scotian's most famous songbirds, Rita MacNeil and Anne Murray, were hugely famous in the eighties and nineties for their annual televised Christmas specials. In between renditions of Christmas carols by the leading ladies and their musical guests, there were often performances by top skaters to add an even more wintery flavour to the hour-long broadcasts.

Cape Bretoner Rita MacNeil, who had brought down the house in Halifax with her song "We'll Reach The Sky Tonight" at the 1992 Skate The Dream tribute to Rob McCall and fundraiser for AIDS research, had Jamie Salé and David Pelletier and Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini in her specials. The "Anne Murray's Family Christmas" specials featured the likes of Elvis Stojko and Brian Orser.


Cathy Lee Irwin skating in the Bursary Fund Gala in 1971. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

From the early eighties to mid nineties, the annual Bursary Fund Dinner and Gala in Toronto was an important fundraiser for amateur figure skating in Canada. Much like the annual Evening Of Champions show at Harvard University, the shows were low-budget and casts were often an electic mix of up-and-coming amateurs and seasoned professionals, all united for the great cause of raising money to provide bursaries to skaters.

Considering there were very limited show opportunities for skaters who ranked outside of the top three in Canada at the time aside from Parade Of Champions at Canadians and club carnivals, it was a rare treat for Canadian skating fans to see their favourites as well as a host of 'new names' under spotlights. Donald Jackson made several special guest appearances, landing a double Axel over twenty years after he won his World title in Prague in 1962 in one show.


Released on March 14, 1984 on what is now Global Television, "The Golden Age Of Canadian Skating" was produced by Milad Bessada and hosted by newscaster Jan Tennant. It was researched and written by David Young, who released his book "The Golden Age Of Canadian Figure Skating" that year. Through interviews with eleven of Canada's figure skating legends, including the likes of Barbara Ann Scott and Donald Jackson, this special remains to this day one of the more important historical documentaries on Canadian figure skating ever produced. 


Katarina Witt and Brian Orser. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

First broadcast on CBC on November 10, 1991, "Night Moves" was the 'middle child' of Brian Orser's TV specials, sandwiched between "Skating Free" and "Blame It On The Blues". It also came after "Carmen On Ice", the Emmy award winning special which Orser also appeared in. Produced by Morgan Earl, directed by Ron Meraska and choreographed by Sandra Bezic, this special drew from Chris de Burgh's hit "The Lady In Red" to tell the story of a man (Orser) on a quest to find an elusive woman (Katarina Witt). The special also featured Toller Cranston, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Jozef Sabovčík and Michelle McDonald and Martin Smith. The Nylons, Cynthia Dale and Taborah Johnson all performed, and the music of Prince, Colin James and Lou Reed were also featured. Much of the filming was done in Toronto 'on the backshift' from seven at night to seven in the morning. Some of the more memorable moments from this special were Orser rollerblading on Yonge Street and ice skating on a rooftop and Witt and Orser's closing duet to Chris de Burgh's famous song. 

In her review of the show, Henrietta Walmark remarked, "The costuming is downtown black leather and denim, tarty club wear and Queen Street West hair. Neon lights, security camera entrances, giant video screens and dissaffected extras contribute to the downtown nightlife atmosphere. Great editing and the outstanding staging and choreography of Sandra Bezic, who also co-produced Night Moves, shift the action effortlessly from street to studio and back again. While roller blading on the street, Orser encounters The Nylons singing on a street corner. He breaks into dance and it's only when you notice he's wearing ice skates that you realize the action had moved from the street to a studio. The transitions are seamless. Bezic incorporates bits and pieces of the street - a TTC stop, a stairway, a newspaper box - with backdrops that match locations in their colour and tone... The saxophone interludes and the eclectic mix of urban music, moody lighting and gritty setting provide a sophisticated backdrop for a sport that has evolved into an art form." The special earned Gemini nominations for Best Variety Program and Best Performance In A Variety Program Or Series (Witt and Orser) as well as the Golden Rose of Montreux Award in Switzerland in 1992.


In February of 1995, CBC piloted a figure skating magazine style show called "Skate". It aired over a five-week period on Monday nights before "This Hour Has 22 Minutes", filling a prime-time slot that once belonged to "Kids In The Hall". The show was hosted by Tracy Wilson and featured appearances by Kurt Browning, Sandra Bezic, Toller Cranston and others. The show was produced by Insight Productions, in association with IMG and the CBC. John Brunton, the show's executive producer, called it "part Entertainment Tonight, part Fashion Television and part Global Sportsline." Ultimately, the show fizzled after the 1995 World Championships. 

Photo courtesy "The Insider's Guide"

A year after her book of the same name came out, Olympic Silver Medallist Debbi Wilkes - the queen of Canadian figure skating commentary - gained an audience with "Ice Time", the country's premiere magazine style television program about figure skating. It was a triumphant return of sorts, after she was dropped from CTV's crew after twenty years of being one of the sport's best commentators.

"Ice Time" first aired in January 1996 on the Women's Television Network. It was a co-production between WTN, CTV and Debbi. Prior to the show's debut, she told "Toronto Star" reporter Ken McKee, "CTV was looking to partner some of the new specialty channels in new program
opportunities and WTN was really interested in some quality sports ventures... I hope it'll be like my book - an honest look at some of the best and the worst aspects of skating... Maybe a combination of Coach's Corner and Entertainment Tonight. I'm a big fan of Don Cherry."

The show's first episode featured highlights from the Champions Series and a look back at Oksana Baiul's winning free skate from the 1994 Winter Olympic Games. The early Saturday afternoon timing of the show before the cornucopia of skating offerings on television in the afternoons and evenings was for many the start to their 'skating weekend'. Many "Ice Time" episodes veered away from the present and featured rare video footage from skating competitions in the seventies, eighties and early nineties.

Keeping in mind that this was ten years before YouTube came along, these performances were something many new fans to the sport had never had the opportunity to see. Likewise, Debbi's accompanying website "The Insider's Guide", was one of the first Canadian figure skating websites... back in the days of dial-up. It featured 'Rink Side' articles, interviews, news, skating lessons, report cards on top skaters, reader mail, caption contests and a 'Tracing Back' section which shared tidbits of skating history. She even shared Irene Stojko's spaghetti sauce recipe!

Photo courtesy "The Insider's Guide"

Although the unique content coupled with Debbi's expertise and wonderful sense of humour carried the show for several years and even sparked a "Retro Ice Time" revival, by the time the professional skating craze ended, the show was sadly no more.

Debbi and I spoke about the legacy of "Ice Time". She said, "Oh boy...This is a fun story! It was right around the time there was a huge change in the broadcast landscape... There was CTV, TSN, CBC then there was this young upstart, which was owned by CBC at the time, called Rogers. CTV also owned the W Network. They had a half dozen different channels that they were supporting, so obviously they were looking for content. One of the best producers of figure skating I've ever worked with, Scott Moore, who recently retired from a huge job at Rogers, loved skating... very, very pro-skating. We'd kicked around ideas about skating shows before but there wasn't really a place for it... Suddenly they decide to do this major expansion and I said to Scott, 'Well, what about a skating show? We've got all the video tape imaginable and we can do it in sort of cellular segments and review old performances, guests... It was a little, tiny skating variety show.' That's really how it came about. PJ [Kwong] worked on it with me and she and I would decide on the theme for each week and we'd write it. It was a great collaboration and it was really fun to do. It lasted a couple of seasons, then it moved over to Bell Sympatico and lasted there for a number of seasons as well. I'd had such a long broadcast career and had been to many of those events [we looked back at]. It kind of allowed me to look at the history of the sport and see some of the trends and watch the judging, the development and progress of the technical side of the sport. It also gave me a chance to put things in perspective. I just found it so juicy! It was thrilling to watch how the sport marched ahead through those many, many decades and to able to use the incredible library that CTV had. The librarian at CTV was a real skating fan and where most material would have been erased, he kept the skating stuff. It was just one of those fortunate coincidences that they had the material, there was a place to put it and someone was willing to support it. It was great - a lot of fun."

If you enjoyed this look back through Canadian figure skating history, have I got the book for you! In "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", you will find hundreds of biographies in a Who's Who of Canadian Figure Skating, interesting facts about the governance of the sport and skating clubs, complete results of the Canadian Championships dating back to the very beginning and much more. 

Order your copy of the paperback or Kindle E-Book edition in order to have it under the tree in time for Christmas! Hard cover copies are also available, but the lead time in shipping would mean you would most likely receive the book after the big day.

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":

Pearl Of Osaka: The Tsuyako Yamashita Story

Photo courtesy "Asahi Shimbun"

"Continuity is strength." - Tsuyako Yamashita, "Sponichi"

Born March 19, 1928 in Osaka, Japan, Tsuyako Ikuta started skating at the age of six on an outdoor ice rink on the Nakanoshima sandbank in Osaka. Though largely self-taught, she received some basic instruction from a doctor named Kozo Nagai, who had spent some time studying skating while abroad in Europe. She claimed her first of two consecutive Japanese junior women's titles in 1938 at the age of nine. In her first bid for the Japanese senior title, she placed third. At the time, short skirts and colourful costumes were forbidden. She wore a modest white dress with no embellishments.

Tsuyako Ikuta (center) and a group of young skaters in Osaka in 1936. Photo courtesy "Asahi Shimbun".

Due to Tsuyako's youth and impressive talent, there were obvious comparisons between her and Etsuko Inada, who represented Japan at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Etsuko was viewed as the present; Tsuyako the future. That bright future was put on hold when World War II broke out and the Japanese Championships and 1940 Winter Olympic Games were cancelled.

During World War II, Tsuyako and Etsuko Inada were sent on a tour through Japan and China to give a series of figure skating exhibitions for the Imperial Japanese Army at the request of Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki. In a November 2017 interview with the "Asahi Shimbun" affiliate "Nikkan Sports", she recalled, "I traveled around China for about two months by rail and truck. The performances [were] performed on frozen ponds and lakes. In a lake in Beijing, there were a lot of soldiers on the ice. Suddenly, a sound was heard and the ice of about one meter thickness broke. It was a very hard journey, but I was happy to be able to show the performance of figure skating. Jumps in that era were of one and a half revolutions. The treatment was good. There were lots of sweets, Yōkans, etc. that were not in Japan." It wasn't all sunshine, rainbows and Salchows though. In one harrowing incident, she and Etsuko Inada hid underneath a large tree, hugged each other and closed their eyes while gunshots pierced the air of a Beijing suburb.

Upon Tsuyako's return to Japan, she found that the War situation had gotten considerably worse. Air raid sirens blared every second day and blackout curtains became the norm. She recalled, "The practice ice at that time was a rink on the roof of Asahi Kaikan in Nakanoshima, Osaka. I [wanted] to practice. I made a black curtain so that no light could leak out."

Photo courtesy "Asahi Shimbun"

When the War ended, figure skating was the last thing in the mind of Osaka residents. Their city had been bombed to oblivion for nearly seven months straight in 1945 and more than ten thousand civilians had perished on one cold February day alone. With transportation cut off between the area of Osaka she lived and Nakanoshima, Tsuyako's 'life line' to the ice rink was severed. Determined to go skate, she climbed a steep mountain path to locate the Rokko pond - an old favourite skating spot prior to the War. She threw a stone on the surface of the ice to make sure it was frozen and spent a blissful hour carving out figures, jumping and spinning in solitude.

Clipping from Masami Koboyashi's review of the 1954 Japanese Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

When the Japanese Championships resumed in 1946, she finished second twice to Yoshiko Tsukioka, perennial runner-up to Etsuko Inada prior to the War. Warmer weather necessitated the cancellation of the event the following year. She returned to the sport under her married name Yamashita and won the 1954 and 1955 Japanese women's titles. She was then a mother of two. Though the ISU's post-War ban of skaters from Axis countries had by that point been lifted, Japan didn't send a team to the World Championships the years she won the Japanese title. 

Photo courtesy "Sankei Shimbun"

After quietly retiring from competition at the age of twenty-six, Tsuyako began a decades-long career as a skating coach in Osaka. She worked tirelessly with Etsuko Inada to help establish the Japanese equivalent of the Professional Skaters Association. Among her many students over the years were Yuka Sato's parents Kumiko Okawa and Nobuo Sato, Midori Ito, Rika Kihira and her own daughter Kazumi, who won four Japanese titles and competed at the 1968 and 1972 Winter Olympic Games. She retired from coaching in 2015, after suffering a fall so serious on the steps of the rink that she had to learn to walk again after spending several days in the ICU. She sadly passed away of heart failure on February 12, 2021 at the age of ninety-two.

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":