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Serpentines And Scales: The Dorothy Jenkins McCurry Story

Photo courtesy City Of Ottawa Archives

"Miss Jenkins has a virility and a gay abandon which go well with her air of extreme youth, and achieved excellent work." - "The Montreal Gazette", February 26, 1921

The daughter of Frank Maurice Stinson 'F.M.S.' Jenkins and Margaret 'Annie' (Lampman) Jenkins, Dorothy Jenkins was born November 6, 1899 in Ottawa, Ontario. Her father was a post office clerk by day and a talented organist and conductor by night. Her mother was a concert pianist who taught at the Martin Krause School of Pianoforte Playing and Singing and the Canadian Conservatory of Music and founded and conducted Ottawa's Palestrina Choir. Her uncle was renowned Confederate poet Archibald Lampman, described as "the Canadian Keats" and her great grandfather was John Counter, who served as the mayor of Kingston, Ontario five times. Together, Dorothy's parents founded Ottawa's first full-size orchestra, the Ottawa Amateur Orchestral Society. To say she came from a family of high achievers would be an understatement.

Dorothy's famous uncle Archibald Lampman. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Dorothy's family had a cottage in the Gatineau Hills in Quebec and were frequently visited by future Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. In an interview with Douglas Leiterman on the CBC program "Close-Up" in March of 1960, she recalled, "I must have been about three or four. He used to come over to a great deal, especially on Sunday evenings to sing hymns. I, at the time, got a little bored at seeing him every Sunday night so I remember one time I hid the hymn books... He said 'Oh, it doesn't matter. I know them all by heart anyway.' So we went out on the veranda and sang them all. I remember the night he was made Liberal leader... We were all sitting on the veranda which was in the front and he came through the back... and said... 'I have just made Liberal leader and I have no one to share it with.' It seemed rather sad."

For most of the year, Dorothy, her brother Frank and sisters Ruth and Marjorie grew up with their parents and a live-in servant named Edith at the family's home on Gainsborough Avenue, over an hour's walk from Dey's Skating Rink on Waller Street, where the Minto Skating Club held court. In the winters, her passion for skating was almost as consuming as her love of music... and Dorothy made the long trek across town to go carve out three's and eights amongst a who's who of Ottawa figure skating. She perhaps inherited her love of the ice from her hockey playing father, who was no slouch as a figure skater either. He was the founder and first captain of Ottawa Hockey Club of 1883 and a one-time President of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada.

Under the direction of coaches Arthur Held and Henry Cartwright, Dorothy quickly proved to be one of the city's 'leading ladies' on the ice. In 1920, at the first Canadian Championships held after the Great War, she placed a close second to Jeanne Chevalier. In 1921, she finished second in both singles and pairs at the Canadian Championships, skating in the latter event with C.J. Allan. She claimed her first Canadian women's title in 1922, and returned the following year to defend it. At that 1923 event, she again placed second in the pairs event, this time with partner Andrew Gordon McLennan. The March 3, 1923 issue of the "Ottawa Evening Journal" recalled her win in the women's event thusly: "The youthful Minto Club skater gave a most finished performance... and fully deserved the honours... Miss Jenkins had to contend with some stout opposition, but she came through with flying colors. Though last to compete in the free skating event, Miss Jenkins seemed to combine all the best features of the individual programmes that had previously been skated... The crowd warmly applauded the winner." At the 1923 North American Championships, Dorothy won the pairs event with Andrew Gordon McLennan and finished third behind Americans Theresa Weld Blanchard and Beatrix Loughran in the women's event. That winter, she was also the winner of the Malynskih Cup, the Minto Skating Club's 'Ladies Prize For Skating'.

Dorothy Jenkins and Gordon McLennan. Photo courtesy Minto Skating Club Archives.

The following winter, Dorothy was given the opportunity to compete at the Winter Olympic Games in France. However, her father issued her an ultimatum. She could either skate in the Olympics in Chamonix or go to Paris to study contralto singing. Following in the footsteps of her musical parents, she chose singing over skating, and so Melville Rogers - her intended pairs partner - was left to team up with Toronto's Cecil Smith at the eleventh hour. Not long after her return from France, she married artist Harry Orr McCurry. Her bridesmaid was fellow Minto skater Dorothea Aylen. In her book "Minto Skating Through Time: History Of The Minto Skating Club 1904-2004", Janet B. Uren noted, "That was the end of skating for Mrs. McCurry. She hung away her skating costumes in the attic - her daughter, Margot, remembers one of them, a Scottish kilt with a big pin - and packed up the skates that the Duchess of Devonshire (wife of the Governor-General, 1916-21) had presented to her... In later years, Dorothy McCurry did not talk much about skating - except to say that she preferred the exuberant musicality of free skating to the strict discipline of figures. Still, there is no denying that the graceful Jenkins was also fiercely competitive. Once, she overheard two opponents discussing her, and one said, 'Don't worry about her: she's no good at figures.' Jenkins had been unwell during the previous year's competition, she told her daughter indignantly, and her school figures had suffered. As a rule, there was nothing wrong with them, and she had a glass-fronted cabinet in the dining room full of skating trophies and medals to prove it."

Program from one of Dorothy's recitals. Photos courtesy City Of Ottawa Archives.

In her post-skating days, Dorothy became an iconic figure in Ottawa's burgeoning music scene. A talented teacher, she established the Ottawa Junior Music Club in 1928 to give young music students the opportunity to gain performance experience. She became affiliated with the Morning Music Club of Ottawa, Pro Musica Society, Concert Society of Ottawa, Ottawa Music Festival and the National Festival of Music and the Arts.

Dorothy also served as the choir director of Studio Singers and gave recitals of her own for many years, singing while her mother accompanied her on the piano. Her husband Harry served as Assistant Director of National Gallery of Canada for twenty years before becoming Director from 1939 to 1955. Both Dorothy and Harry were devout followers of Christian Science. Surviving her husband by nine years, Dorothy passed away on August 29, 1973 in Ottawa, Ontario at the age of seventy three. Following her death, the Dorothy Lampman McCurry Scholarship was established and awarded at the Kiwanis Music Festival.

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":