Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 5

As autumn creeped in the last four years, I introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  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.

Here in Atlantic Canada, we 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 seatbelts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... an a delicious 6.0 finish!


With the rise of touring ice shows in North America in the forties and fifties, producers were always looking for the next gimmick. Stilt skaters, ice clowns, jugglers and acrobats all received high billing in tours like Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice. Another popular trend was hiring skating twins and triplets. One such act which is largely forgotten by many today but was immensely popular at the time were The Burling Triplets.

James Henry Burling was an immigrant from Malta; his wife Alice Louise Gardner from England. They settled in Toronto, Ontario to raise a family. Sadly, their first daughter, Zena Barbara Burling, passed away of scarlet fever in 1922. Their dream of raising a daughter paid off threefold on March 13, 1929 when Alice gave birth to not one, not two, but three daughters: Gloria, Glena and Gladys. They learned to skate outdoors as children by playing hockey with their brothers and in 1945, they were scouted by ice show producers and joined the ensemble cast of the Ice Capades. Residing together in San Rafael, California, the Canadian born triplets became a popular element of every show. For well over a decade, they alternately toured with the Ice Capades and Ice Cycles, performed before the King and Queen of England and skated at Empress Hall.

By the late fifties, the sisters (now married) arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada and performed separately in skating shows at the El Cortez, The Thunderbird and The New Frontier. They even appeared with the George Arnold Ice Revue on The Milton Berle Show on December 24, 1958. By the late nineties, the widowed sisters became modern day Golden Girls, moving back in together in a Las Vegas trailer home. Gloria worked in a beauty supply shop, Gladys as a clerk in a department store and Glena at a gift shop in a hospital. They even continued to skate together for recreation. Sadly, Gladys passed away at age seventy five on December 22, 2004. As of 2015, Glena was still alive and well, attending an Ice Capades reunion. I was not able to discern much about the fate of Gloria. At any rate, we do not see many skating triplets these days. The story of these three young women from Ontario making a career for themselves in skating is a heartwarming one that could only come from a different time.


Bishop and scholar Charles Wordsworth, in his 1891 memoir "Annals Of My Early Life", claimed to be "the first man in Oxford to introduce skates with the blades rounded off behind, in order to facilitate the cutting of figures backwards, and especially the outside edge." He also shared a very unusual encounter with a group of skaters who were members of the Johnian Society at St. John's College: "There was a small Society of Johnians at Cambridge, who called themselves Psychrolytes, because they rejoiced in bathing all the year round, in any weather, and in any water, however cold. I remember one day, when I went out to skate, falling in with two of them, G.A. Selwyn (afterwards Bishop) and Shadwell, who were equipped with skates in one hand, and a towel in the other, as they intended to bathe first, and to skate afterwards!" Wordsworth went on to explain that this chilly combination was made possible due to springs and currents which caused the ice to freeze unequally, allowing safe skating in some areas and swimming in others. I appreciate a skate and a bath as much as anyone, but I'd much prefer them in the reverse order...  and in much warmer temperatures!


She hailed from the Alsatian region in northern France; he from the south the Rhône valley in the south and together they were magnifique! Nathalie Hervé and Pierre Béchu reigned as France's ice dance champions five years in a row in the early eighties. They appeared at five European Championships and three World Championships, their best finish being fifth at the 1983 European Championships in Dortmund, West Germany. They retired after finishing a disappointing fourteenth at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, got married and took up jobs as coaches at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy and the Viry-Châtillon arena. On August 24, 1988, the couple and their daughter Johanna were returning to Paris after a judging seminar when they were involved in a head-on collision. Twenty nine year old Pierre and eighteen month old Johanna perished in the tragic crash and twenty four year old Nathalie survived, suffering several fractures. Though largely forgotten today, this talented couple helped grow interest in ice dance tremendously during their reign as champions and helped pave the way for the Duchesnay's to make their mark on the international stage.


There's nothing longer than an East Coast winter. Trust, me I know... sometimes they seem to go on forever. While the sun is shining outside, why not cool off with a look back (way back) at a skating show that captivated Brooklyn, New York in the nineteenth century - the Carnival Fantastique.

Held at the Brooklyn Rink on Wednesday, February 15, 1871, the Carnival Fantastique was at the time the largest skating show ever held at the venue. By eight in the evening, every seat at the rink was occupied and those wishing to stand paid at a premium, with over three thousand tickets sold. The February 24, 1871 issue of  the "New York Clipper" explained, "After the procession had marched round the rink the Car Of State stopped in front of the abode of the Queen Of The Rink, and at a signal from the gong the door of the Queen's palace flew open, displaying her little majesty, elegantly attired, standing amidst a blaze of coloured fires. Presently she stepped forth upon the car and taking her seat upon the throne the procession again made the circuit of the rink amidst loud applause. At last it took up a position in the centre and the grand coronation followed."

The show's star, John Engler, was known in skating circles as 'Jersey John' and was a tinsmith by trade. His performance was described as "the most skilful and attractive display given since the Meagher brothers appeared on Capitoline Pond." The two man act of Brady and Dollard didn't fare so well with critics. They were credited with being "noteworthy for grace of movement" but criticized for performing spins, which were considered to be athletic and in bad taste. Interestingly, performing the next month in the Empire City Skating Club's Carnival, Brady and Dollard were again criticized for their inclusion of spins: "Messrs. Brady and Dollard did some combination movements neatly, but they did not excel in other respects... The fact is, our experts confine themselves to the quiet style of skating, and in one respect turn themselves into spinning tops. Spectators prefer to see the dash of our field movements, as in the flying threes, and such displays as Engler and the Meagher brothers excel in." Imagine... a spin! How uncivilized! If they were outraged by what was likely a two feet or corkscrew spin, imagine what they would have thought about the haircutter, right? What never ceases to capture my attention as I delve into skating history is how attitudes and viewpoints towards what is and isn't pleasing to watch change over time. Even now, well over a century later, there are those who prefer athleticism and those who prefer interpretation... and just as the reviewer of Brady and Dollard's spins was entitled to their opinion as to what they did and didn't prefer, we all are entitled to our own.


The historical record of skating is full of fanciful tales, many of which can be well substantiated and others, well.. making for great stories. First appearing in the 1871 essay "Skates, Skating, And Skaters" published in "Good Health: A Popular Journal Of Physical On The Laws Of Correct Living" published by Alexander Moore in Boston and then later recounted in Robert MacGregor's British essay "Skating And Skaters", published in "Belgravia, a London Magazine", this tale of a French soldier on skates is a fantastic one: "During the winter of 1806, Napoleon, after the battle of Jena, wished to send an order with the utmost despatch to Marshal Mortier, directing him to make himself master, without of Hanseatic towns. The officer charged with this order found himself at the mouth of the Elbe at a point where it is seven and a half miles to the bank. To cross is a boat was impossible, as the river was coated with a surface of newly-frozen ice; to get over by a bridge would necessitate a detour of more than twenty miles. The officer, knowing how precious time was, determined to skate over the thin ice; and though it was too weak to bear a man walking, he skimmed along so rapidly that he got across in safety; gaining great honour for the ingenuity and boldness that enabled him to deliver his despatch six hours sooner than he possibly could have done by the ordinary route." Unfortunately, I was not able to find a single primary source to support the truth of this story but even if it is fiction, it's a great read!


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 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":