The 1971 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Cover to program for the 1971 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

"I remember that Winnipeg was really cold, snowy and very welcoming."  - Sandra Bezic

In the bleak Manitoba midwinter from January 18 to 24, 1971, more than one hundred and ninety of Canada's best figure skaters convened for the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Winnipeg. Though broadcast on CTV, the event was surprisingly poorly covered in print media considering it was the sixtieth anniversary of the Canadian Championships so retracing the stories of this particular competition was a bit of a challenge, to put it mildly... but let's take a look at what we do know!

Photo courtesy City Of Winnipeg Archives


Skaters representing clubs in Ontario dominated the top rungs of the podium in all four disciplines in the novice ranks. The story was much the same in the junior events, with the exception of Karel Lathem of the North Shore Winter Club in British Columbia, who fended off a challenge from Julie Black of the Port Edward Figure Skating Club to claim the junior women's title. Linda Tasker and Allan Carson and Stan Bohonek, all Torontonians, took top honours in the junior pairs and men's events, respectively.

Linda Tasker and Allan Carson welcomed at the Toronto airport following their win in Winnipeg. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

They'd only been skating together for five months, but Barbara Berezowski and David Porter were head and shoulders above the rest in the junior dance event, besting six other couples - including Lynn Peckinpaugh (the daughter of late CFSA President Douglas Alan Peckinpaugh) and her partner Eric Gillies - for the gold. They later moonlighted in the senior dance event, as was usual with junior winners back in those days.


Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

Not since back in the days when Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden were moonlighting as ice dancers had a defending senior ice dance champion been defeated at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, but all of that changed in 1971 when a pair of lovebirds from British Columbia staged quite a coup. 

Mary Church and David Sutton and Brenda Sandys and James Holden. Photos courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Vancouver's Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper had just become engaged, and they radiated as they took first place in the first compulsory, the Starlight Waltz. As the competition unfolded [with the Polka OSP], they surpassed defending champions Mary Church and David Sutton in a startling upset. With this win, Louise and Barry set a Canadian record as the first couple to win all the national dance titles: Novice in 1967, Junior in 1969 and now Senior in 1971." British imports Brenda Sandys and James Holden finished third, followed by Linda Roe and Kevin Cottam and Barbara Berezowski and David Porter, the junior champions. 

Sandra and Val Bezic. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The required elements of the pairs compulsory short program in 1971 were the split double Lutz lift, side-by-side double toe-loops, a catch waist camel spin, the backward outside death spiral and a serpentine step sequence. Starting with a strong lead in that phase of the competition, Toronto siblings Sandra and Val Bezic skated to their second Canadian senior title, beating perennial runner-up's Mary Petrie and John Hubbell. 

Mary Petrie and John Hubbell. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

Marian Murray and Glen Moore of the North Shore Club claimed the bronze. Sandra Bezic recalled, "It was the first defence of our title so the most difficult, but it went well." Mary Petrie McGillvray recalled, "Pairs that year was a new partner for me. I just remember hoping that we could still get that second spot and the trip to North Americans. Murray and Moore were very good! Only one team was going to Worlds."


Karen Magnussen. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

At the 1970 World Figure Skating Championships in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, Karen Magnussen had finished fourth to Cathy Lee Irwin's tenth, so there was every expectation that Karen would easily coast to her second senior National title in Winnipeg. She could have played it conservative, but she didn't. David Young, in his book "The Golden Age Of Canadian Figure Skating" recounted that in 1971 she gave "one of her better figures performances and received 5.9 from six of the seven judges for artistic impression in the free skate" to easily best Ruth Hutchinson, Diane Hall, Mary McCaffrey and twelve others. An injured Cathy Lee Irwin watched the event from the boards, supported by crutches.

Reyn Davis of "The Winnipeg Free Press" wrote, "When Karen Magnussen skates, you can almost hear her teeth grit through that smile. She is so determined, it is difficult to imagine anything standing in her way. With Karen, it's a one-way street to success... there's nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with her determination. It's her trademark and Karen Magnussen intends to stamp the world with it." John Rait recalled that afterwards, Karen "threw a big party in her room that had the folks at CFSA on the prowl! Our coach came to get us out of there before the shit hit the fan!"

Diane Hall (left) and Ruth Hutchinson (right). Photos courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

Not all memories of the women's competition in Winnipeg were terribly fond. Alana Wilson Kelton  - who placed an unlucky thirteenth - recalled, "I remember Winnipeg being so cold and the rink the ladies practiced at had ice forming on the walls inside. Some of the ladies went home to practice and then came back before the event started. I think the ladies thought they got the short straw for practice rinks." Cynthia Miller of the Mount Royal Figure Skating Club had an even more negative experience. She recalled, "I had pneumonia, which I did not know until after the free skate. Coughing non stop, Brian Foley had me lying over his knees and [was] patting my back until the ambulance came. When I arrived in my dress and skates they took me right away and called Dr. Charlie Snelling to come see me."


Paul Bonenfant. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

In the senior men's event, Paul Bonenfant of the Capiliano Winter Club in Vancouver took a slight early lead in the school figures only to be overtaken by Toller Cranston, who had won the bronze in 1969 in Toronto and the silver in 1970 in Edmonton.

Toller Cranston

Like Karen Magnussen in the women's event, Toller was absolutely brilliant in the free skate, easily winning his first national title with a flawless performance that included three double Axel's, a triple loop and a triple Salchow and earned him a standing ovation. His marks ranged from 5.6 to 5.9 for technical merit and like Karen, he received 5.9's from six of the seven judges for artistic impression. Paul Bonenfant took the silver; Kenneth Polk the bronze. In his 1997 book "Zero Tollerance", Toller claimed, "In 1971, my second year with Ellen Burka, I won my first Canadian title. I was so thrilled to have won (when I saw all the 5.9's, I knew that I had), that I ran onto the ice and did an encore in the middle of the competition - twenty split jumps. That was highly unorthodox. I felt the hands of the commentator, Otto Jelinek, grab my back, but they clipped off my costume as I ran out to do my split jumps."

Things pan out a little differently than how Toller described them in the video shared by Frazer Ormondroyd that is included here in the blog, but I don't doubt for a minute that Toller probably did those split jumps too!

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