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Pivots And Polar Bears: The Skating History Of Canada's North

Advertisement for Dawson Amateur Athletic Club rink in Yukon

When one Clement Bancroft Burns, territorial and federal secretary of the Yukon Territory, arrived in Dawson City in 1902 during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush he ascertained a need for a sporting and recreation facility. Through pledges, forty five thousand dollars was raised to aid in the construction of the Dawson Amateur Athletic Club. Walter Creamer, dubbed the Barnum of Klondike, became involved and soon an enclosed ice skating rink became one of the facility's most popular features.

The D.A.A.C.'s skating rink measured seventy five by one hundred and seventy five feet, and played host to a series of skating carnivals and parties at the turn of the century, replete with music played by a brass band. On July 21, 1909, the "Dawson Daily News" reported, "The great enclosed ice skating rink attracts devotees of all ages, who, making up a neatly and gaily clad throng spin merrily over the long stretches of carefully prepared ice surfaces; it is here that the mardi gras of the Northland is held each winter, and here that the children hold minor carnivals. It is here that many of the swiftest and most expert skaters of the world join in that swiftest of all human physical contests, hockey, in disputing the championship of the North." We know that during this period Minnie Cummings travelled to the Northwest Territories to perform, and it was likely at this very rink.

Peggy Hanulik came to Dawson City from Manitoba in 1965 and set to work teaching the children of Dawson City to skate. Two years later, she headed to Whitehorse, where she became involved in the Whitehorse Skating Club and helped found the Fireweed Figure Skating Club. The Yukon's first CFSA certified judge, Hanulik judged competitions for close to thirty years. She served on countless committees and boards and did everything from bringing CanSkate to the province to cutting music for carnivals and chaperoning at competitions. Her years of dedication paved the way for the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, the first time the Canada Games ever made an appearance up north. Among the winners at that event? A young Liam Firus, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Andrei Rogozine. Today in the Yukon capital, the Arctic Edge Skating Club is the place to be if you're as into press lifts and pivots as you are polar bears.

Skaters at the first Arctic Winter Games in 1970
Skaters at the first Arctic Winter Games in 1970. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

In the Northwest Territories, outdoor skating was tremendously popular on the frozen Netla and McKenzie Rivers. The Gerry Murphy arena - known to locals as the 'Murphdrome' - was the go-to skating spot for Yellowknife residents from 1950 until its demolition in 2004. The Yellowknife Skating Club was founded in December 1968 and two years later, the first Arctic Winter Games were held in the Northwest Teritories capital, attracting visiting competitors from the Yukon and Alaska in its first year. Figure skating competitions have absolutely been an integral part of these biennal 'Northern Olympics', which have expanded to include athletes from Nunavut, Greenland, Russia, northern Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

List of figure skating clubs in Northwest Territories and Yukon
Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

The skating clubs in Hay River and Inuvik have been around for years and boasted some very talented young skaters, but perhaps the most fascinating figure skating clubs of the North are the Iqaluit and Cape Dorset Figure Skating Clubs in Nunavut. The latter, located in an Inuit hamlet near the southern tip of Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, is one of the most remote figure skating clubs in the world. Founded in 1995, the club established a sister club relationship with the Stephenville Skating Club in Newfoundland. When the Cape Dorset skaters needed skates, the Newfoundlanders took up a collection and shipped them up. In turn, the Nunavut club sent down Inuit art that the club could auction off to fundraise. In 1999, when a new rink opened in Stephenville, eight skaters from Cape Dorset were invited down to perform in the Newfoundland club's opening show... alongside special guests Brian Orser and Jamie Salé and David Pelletier. In 2015, Rachel Pettitt made history by becoming the first skater from the Yukon to win a national title when she won the novice women's event at the Canadian Championships in Kingston. Matthew Powers, a talented skater from Whitehorse, had won the silver medal in the junior men's event in 1991 and become the first skater from the territory to compete at the World Junior Championships.

Canada's north may not have produced an endless list of figure skating champions, but it has certainly had a fascinating history thus far! It may not be long at all before we finally start seeing skaters from Canada's north making a greater impact on the national level. The times, they are a-changin'...

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":