The 1968 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Pierre Trudeau was Canada's Prime Minister. Newspapers and radio shows chronicled the trial of Sirhan Sirhan, the accused murderer of U.S. Presidential Candidate Bobby Kennedy. Paisley and high-waisted pants were the grooviest fads and everyone was swinging and swaying to Tommy James and The Shondells' hit "Crimson And Clover".

From January 9 to 14, 1968, many of Canada's best figure skaters convened at the Kerrisdale Arena in Vancouver to compete in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships for berths on the 1968 Olympic and World teams. It was the first time that British Columbia had played host to the Canadian Championships since 1951, and the chairperson of the event was Billie Mitchell, the first woman to serve on the CFSA's Board Of Directors and later, its first female President.

The event, which was well promoted and attended, was one of the first Canadian Championships to net a profit. For the first time in history, British Columbian skaters broke through the Eastern 'stronghold' and swept the gold medals in all four senior events... an especially sweet milestone as it occurred in their home province. Let's take a look back at the stories and skaters that made this event so memorable!


Photo courtesy Cynthia Miller

Multiple panel judging was used in the junior and novice singles events. Two young duos from the Unionville Skating Club, Debbi Jones and Michael Bradley and Janette D'Altroy and David Porter, took top honours in novice pairs and dance. The novice men's title was claimed by the Cricket Club's Steven Sugar. In the novice women's event, Madeleine Begg moved up from seventh after figures with an outstanding free skate to beat the winner of the figures, Karel Lathem. Both young women represented the North Shore Winter Club. The bronze medal went to a young Sandra Bezic, who forced to withdraw from the junior pairs event when her brother Val injured himself during practice.

Maureen Walker and Dick Shedlowski. Photo courtesy Cynthia Miller.

The junior pairs event was won by Maureen Walker of Brantford, Ontario and Dick Shedlowski of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Another youthful Toronto duo, Mary Church and David Falls, led the junior dance from start to finish.

In the junior women's competition, Judy Williams of the Guelph College Skating Club moved up from sixth after figures to narrowly defeat the early leader, Alana Wilson of Toronto. The junior men's event was won by four foot five Patrick McKilligan, the younger brother of senior pairs skaters Betty and John McKilligan. The bronze medallist, John McWilliams of the Upper Canada Skating Club, landed a triple Salchow in his free skate, which was absolutely a rarity in the junior ranks in those days.


Six teams vied for the senior pairs title in 1968. Siblings Betty and John McKilligan, who represented the Hollyburn Country Club, were the unanimous choices of all seven judges. Their winning free program was a brand new one for them that featured a one-handed reverse overhead lift, overhead Axel lift and a novel series where they began a death spiral, he separated and performed a solo Axel, then returned directly and finished the death spiral. Their only major error was a fall on a throw Axel. A unanimous second were Port Perry, Ontario's Anna Forder and Richard Stephens, who rebounded after a missed split double Lutz twist to execute a daring performance. The bronze medal went to another sibling team, Alexis and Chris Shields of the Cricket Club.


Joni Graham and Don Phillips. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Joni Graham and Don Phillips made it two for two for the Hollyburn Country Club went they absolutely dominated the ice dance competition from start to finish, defending the Canadian title they'd won the year prior in Toronto with ease. They were first on every judge's scorecard in both the compulsories and free dance, and earned rave reviews for their dramatic free dance. The previous year's junior champions, Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie of Toronto, took the silver over the junior dance champions of 1968 'skating up' in seniors, Mary Church and David Fells in a five-two split of the judging panel. Two other British Columbian teams, Sandi Kattler and Bryce Swetnam and Lorraine Hyne and Richard Madden, rounded out the five team field.


Karen Magnussen with her winning trophy. Tim Huntingdon photo.

The retirement of Valerie Jones left the women's title ripe for the picking. In the school figures, Karen Magnussen amassed an incredible twenty two point lead over her former training mate Lyndsai Cowan and Toronto's Linda Carbonetto. When the nine women took their ice to skate their free skates, nearly four thousand spectators crammed themselves into the old rink. Magnussen didn't disappoint in the free skate, breezing her way through a walley/reverse walley/two walley combination and two double Axels and earning a standing ovation and marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.8. Cowan fell on a double Lutz attempt, but rebounded with a solid double Axel and double flip. Carbonetto stole some of Magnussen's glory with an elegant free skate that featured Axels in both directions and gorgeous spins. When the marks were tallied, Magnussen became the first woman in history from British Columbia to claim the senior women's crown at the Canadian Championships. Carbonetto managed to overcome the wide deficit between her and Cowan in the figures and move up to claim the silver. Cathy Lee Irwin of Toronto was fourth; Judy McLeod of the North Shore Winter Club fifth.


Jay Humphry. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine, Toronto Public Library.

Six worthy contenders representing clubs in three provinces vied for the senior men's title in 1968. As in the women's event, Donald Knight and Charles Snelling's decisions to leave the competitive ranks meant that a new champion would be crowned. Knight commentated the event for television after performing in Ice Capades at the Pacific Coliseum.

Jay Humphry, the favourite, amassed a strong lead over six foot tall Steve Hutchinson of the host Kerrisdale Club and Toronto's David McGillvray in the school figures. Humphry didn't disappoint in his free skate set to strains of Offenbach and Strauss, wowing the audience and judges alike with two double Axels, a triple toe-loop and a double Lutz. His marks for both technical merit and artistic impression ranged were all 5.8's and 5.9's. David McGillvray was also more than impressive, performing a double Axel with his hands on his hips and a split jump into a triple toe-loop in his free skate to Mikolov's "Romanca". Steve Hutchinson, who wasn't known for his free skating, faltered on both of his triple toe-loop and double Axel attempts.

Toller Cranston, fifth in figures, skated last and delivered what many believed was the performance of the night - a program jam packed with double jumps, expressive footwork and creative spins. His marks, which ranged from 5.4 to 5.9, were met with a chorus of loud boos. Humphry, McGillvray and Hutchinson took the medals, while Cranston was only able to move up to fourth ahead of Paul Bonenfant and Bob Emerson. Interestingly, in a 2013 interview with PJ Kwong, Cranston claimed that at this particular competition, "There were twenty competitors. I had marks from first through last. That is so controversial really, so cruel. It's really, really hard to digest. That event and what happened to me was the fuel that pushed me on for the next fifty years or something." Cranston's actual ordinals at this event were two thirds, three fourths and a fifth place overall. As he did not compete at that year's Olympic Games or World Championships and specified that this first through twentieth ideal occurred during the 1968 season, his recollection of the event may have been dramaticized for effect, simply referred to one section of this competition or a different competition entirely.

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