The 1969 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Program of the 1969 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

In 1969, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto played host to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors, countless hockey games... and from January 21 to 27, the Canadian Figure Skating Championships. In actuality, the majority of the event was hosted by the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club with compulsories and junior events held at the North Toronto Arena but the senior free skating events at the city's most well-known event venue drew in impressive crowds. A couple of things made this particular event historically significant.

Bruce Lennie, Donna Taylor, Linda Carbonetto, Jay Humphry, Anna Forder and Richard Stephens. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

For starters, it was the first Canadian Championships where an opening ceremony was included. After flag-bearers Karen Magnussen and Jay Humphry were escorted to center ice by twelve young skaters, Norris Bowden - the competition chair - made a speech and Linda Carbonetto read the competitor's pledge. David Dore symbolically cut a white ribbon to complete the ceremony.

It was also the first year that the value of school figures was reduced from sixty to fifty percent. This fifty/fifty split between figures and free skating better balanced the playing fields and gave stronger free skaters more of a fair shake than the sixty/forty split that had favoured school figure specialists for decades. From unlikely upsets to new emerging stars, the 1969 Canadian Championships certainly wasn't short on drama. Today, we'll explore the skaters and stories that made this sixties skating event so sensational!

Congratulatory letter from Dr. Charles Snelling. Courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.


Twelve year old Julie Black of Port Edward claimed the novice women's title while Oakville's Linda Tasker and Allen Carson took top honours in the novice pairs event. To the delight of Cricket Club members, Roger Uuemae and Peter Penev took the top two spots in the novice men's event. 

Judy Currah and Keith Caughell receive an award from the Province of Ontario after winning the 1969 Canadian novice dance title. Photo courtesy Elgin County Archive.

Victoria, British Columbia's Linda Roe and Kevin Cottam took an early lead in the novice ice dance event but were thwarted in their quest for gold by Judy Currah and Keith Caughell of the St. Thomas Figure Skating Club.

Mary Petrie McGillvray. Photos courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray (right), Toronto Public Library (left), from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Making up for Roe and Cottam's last minute loss, eighteen year old Paul Fisher of the Victoria Figure Skating Club moved up from sixth after figures to claim the junior men's title. The Granite Club's Mary Petrie fended off a challenge from Mary McCaffrey of the North Shore Winter Club to win the gold in junior women's. Impressively, Mary also won the junior pairs event with partner Bob McAvoy, defeating a very young Sandra and Val Bezic. Like Mary, twelve year old Sandra Bezic did double duty in singles and pairs. In the junior women's event, she moved up from fifteenth after figures to finish sixth overall... no small feat!

Paul Fisher, John MacWilliams and Ron Shaver on the junior men's medal podium. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Although the Granite Club's Brenda Sandys and James Holden won the rhythmic free dance (as it was called) the lead established by Louise Lind and Barry Soper in the compulsories was too much for them to overcome and they settled for silver. Beth Rabolsky and Richard Dowding took the bronze ahead of Elizabeth Hayden and Eric Loucks and Diane Bentley and Bob Baxter.


Anna Forder and Richard Stephens. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

In a class of their own, Anna Forder and Richard Stephens finally managed to win the senior pairs title that had eluded them the last two years. Having skated in the shadow of Betty and John McKilligan for some time, Forder and Stephens hailed from Fort Perry, Ontario and were coached by Marg and Bruce Hyland. Their free skating performance was nearly flawless and featured a split double Lutz and fine side-by-side camel spins. The battle for silver and bronze was between two junior teams 'skating up' in the senior ranks. Incredibly, Mary Petrie won her third medal of the competition - her only silver - with partner Bob McAvoy. Mary recalled, "It was a busy, fun year for me... No one competes in three events anymore... not like the very old days. Bob and I were pushing the bar higher in pairs by including double flips as our individual jumps. Most were doing Salchows or toe-loops or even just a single Axel. By placing second in senior pairs we were eligible to go to the North American Championships in Oakland, California."

Mary Petrie McGillvray and Bob McAvoy. Photo courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

Sandra and Val Bezic took the bronze ahead of Steven and Nancy Dover. Maureen Walker and Dick Shedlowski, also initially scheduled to compete, withdrew. Sandra recalled, "We wore green (ugh) and we qualified for our first international, North Americans in San Francisco. Our short program was Ellington's 'Caravan' and jazz really worked for us... I would have been twelve - so it's mostly all a blur. I think I recall performing at Maple Leaf Gardens and being in awe of the building."

Anna Forder and Richard Stephens, Mary Petrie and Bob McAvoy and Sandra and Val Bezic on the senior pairs podium. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.


Left: Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie. Right: Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine and Mary Petrie McGillvray.

'Skating up' in the senior ice dance event, Louise Lind and Barry Soper stood third after the compulsories but dropped behind Hazel Pike and Phillip Boskill after the newly introduced OSP. Mary Church and Tom Falls performed a showy free dance that was a hit with the audience but received low marks from several judges who deducted for illegal moves. The judges in question were (of course) met with a chorus of boo's.

Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper at the 1969 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The winners, coached by Marijane Stong, were Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie. Marijane pushed the rules for Taylor and Lennie, choreographing their free dance to Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart In San Francisco". It was one of the first (and last) instances of vocal music being used in amateur competition prior to the relatively recent ISU rule change which wisely allowed vocals to used in eligible competition. Church and Falls and Pike and Boskill made it a podium sweep for Torontonians, with Patricia and Derry Allen of the Hollyburn Country Club and Lind and Soper rounding out the field of five.

Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie, Mary Church and Tom Falls and Hazel Pike and Phillip Boskell on the senior ice dance podium. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.


Jay Humphry

Jay Humphry hailed from British Columbia but trained at the Cricket Club with Mrs. Ellen Burka for most of the year. Despite having seven challengers in 1969, few doubted that he'd have much difficulty defending the senior men's title he'd won the year prior in Vancouver. He certainly delivered with his "Orpheus In The Underworld" free skate, although David McGillivray and Toller Cranston gave him a run for his money. Jay's winning program featured a triple toe-loop, three double Axels, three double Lutzes and three other double jumps.

At that point in time, Toller Cranston was training for part of the year in Lake Placid and working as a groundskeeper at the Mirror Lake Inn for room and board. He was also - in his words, not mine - "in the worst shape of [his] entire career." It was not long after this event that his journey with Mrs. Ellen Burka began and he emerged as Canada's leading man.


Linda Carbonetto in Toronto in 1969. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

After the school figures, sixteen year old defending Canadian Champion Karen Magnussen, Linda Carbonetto and Cathy Lee Irwin were neck and neck, with Magnussen taking an ever-so-slight lead over her eleven rivals. The media hyped up a rivalry between Magnussen and Carbonetto, noting that Magnussen had won the previous year when the Canadian Championships were in her home province but that this year the event was hosted by Carbonetto's club.

Karen Magnussen. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

In the free skate, Cathy Lee Irwin omitted several jumps from her program due to a hip injury but skated a fine program. Karen Magnussen missed both of her double Axel attempts and Linda Carbonetto skated the performance of her life in front of a hometown crowd, earning a 6.0 for artistic impression from one judge. Jim Proudfoot of the "Toronto Star" remarked, "Miss Carbonetto, of course, realized that she could win last night only if she was superb. She was better than that; she was perfect." In the end, four judges voted for Carbonetto, three for Magnussen and the Canadian Champion was dethroned. Sandra Bezic recalled, "Linda Carbonetto is a sweetheart - a gentle spirit - and skated a brilliant program to win. The best knees ever."

Linda Carbonetto. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Later, Karen Magnussen reflected to sportswriter Jeff Cross, "I learned a lot from that. It sure made me come back fighting hard. But I just wasn't myself in that competition. It was the only year I can remember that I couldn't get myself up for the championship. I am usually so excited and ready to go, but in Toronto my heart just wasn't into it." She, of course, went on to prove herself time and time again, winning the Olympic silver medal in 1972 and World title in 1973. 

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