Canadian Skating Carnivals Through The Years

Antoinette Margaret Echlin and Cavin Atkinson appearing 'At The Mardi Gras' in the 1948 Toronto Skating Club carnival

"Lions and tigers and bears... oh my!" The famous line from "The Wizard Of Oz" describes three animals you'd likely find at any zoo... as well as three costumes that you'll be bound to see at any skating club's annual club carnival or ice show. These annual fundraising efforts have been staples of Canada's figure skating scene for well over a century and truth be told, the general format hasn't differed all that much. The club's best skaters typically perform solos and duets, while the up-and-comers are relegated to the lion, tiger and bear costumes. Guest skaters might be brought in to fill up seats; the club's professionals might even dust off an old standby and get in on the fun. Yet, when we go back through the accounts and pictures of these shows, we sense just how much skating clubs have evolved through the years. Hop in the time machine and I'll show you just what I'm talking about!


Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

A pair of igloos served as the backdrop for Montreal's skating carnival in 1939, a joint venture of the Montreal Figure Skating Club and Rotary Club Of Westmount. The show was held at the Montreal Forum, site of the World Championships seven years prior. 

Hazel Franklin. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Andrée (Joly) and Pierre Brunet, who won the pairs event in 1932, served as the show's stars, alongside Hazel Franklin, Freddie Trenkler, Otto Gold and Donald B. Cruikshank. The Montreal Figure Skating Club's own Denise and Pierre Benoit were also prominently featured. There were twenty-two numbers in all, mostly solos and duets, but a "Rust" ballet group number was also an attraction. The show attracted seven thousand spectators, raised a small fortune for the Montreal Children's Hospital and featured a cast of over one hundred skaters. The Quebec newspaper "L'illustration nouvelle" called it "un brillant succès".


The Toronto Skating Club held its first skating carnival at the turn of the century and smack dab in the middle of World War II, things looked quite different than they did some forty years prior. While many of the club's male members were overseas on the front lines, those at home were engaged in War work. Skaters volunteered at Red Cross blood clinics and scrimped and saved by sewing their own skating dresses, so that there was money left over to send cigarettes and care packages to their loved ones in Europe. 

Yet, the show went on in 1942 with J. Wilson Jardine conducting the Toronto Symphony Band for a lengthy show featuring twenty one acts. The opening number was a "Masquerade Ball" replete with Harlequins and Columbines and the closing number choreographed by Boris Volkoff, "Let Freedom Reign", offered a message of peace. 

A group of skaters in the "Let Freedom Reign" ice ballet

The carnival's program stated, "In a world of peace and freedom, Evil appears surrounded by his cohorts of symbolic creatures, which swoop menacingly around the cringing peasants. The people strive vainly to drive back the evil forces until Youth appears and the demons flee. The laughing throng forget the threat of doom in the gaiety of the dance. The legions of Evil make a last attempt to banish Freedom and enslave Youth. Their dire peril brings forth an inner fire which fills the people with a great strength. Winter deals the final blow, and the loathsome horde is frozen rigid. The untarnished might of Youth overcomes Evil and hope is born anew. Children were featured in an elaborate "Easter Fantasy" while more senior skaters performed in group numbers with ballet and military themes. Featured performers from the Toronto Skating Club included Norah McCarthy, Donald Gilchrist, Eleanor O'Meara, Sandy McKechnie and Michael Kirby. Special guests from abroad included Freddie Tomlins, Bobby Specht and Edi Scholdan.


Andrea Kékesy. Photo courtesy Oshawa Public Library.

In 1950, the Oshawa Skating Club presented its tenth annual ice show, "Ice Frolics". Choreographed by the club's professional, Nan Unsworth from Scotland, the show was made possible through the hard work of dozens of local volunteers who did everything from prop and set design to ice painting, make-up and costumes and selling tickets and programs. Olympic Silver Medallist and World Champion Andrea Kékesy was the show's big name. She skated a duet with 1945 Canadian Champion Nigel Stephens

Photo courtesy Oshawa Public Library

Group numbers included a "Garden Wonderland" of roses, daffodils, daisies, butterflies and gardeners and a trip to Grand Central Station, featuring a cast of characters such as a policeman, hobo, travelling salesman, shoe shine boy, drunk and soda jerk. A group demonstration of the Swing Waltz dance was another highlight. The finale, in tribute to His Majesty King George VI, was set to "God Save The King". 


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In mid-April of 1961, the Capilano Winter Club in North Vancouver, British Columbia held their annual carnival "Around The World In Eighty Days", choreographed by club professional Alex Fulton. The show had one of the more elaborate, showy openings of the decade when the star, Joey Summerfield, descended to the middle of the ice in an aerial balloon basket! The club's younger members were put in groups representative of different locales - France, Holland, South America, Hungary, the United States... even outer space. Future Olympian Shirra Kenworthy and future Canadian Champion Louise Lind (Soper) were part of the cast "before they were stars". A report of the show in "Skating" magazine noted that the show "was a sellout both nights and groups of retarded children and wheel-chair patients were brought in to witness the dress rehearsal." It was a different time.


Louise and Barry Soper being thanked at the St. Albert Figure Skating Club in 1975. Photo courtesy University Of Alberta Digital Collections.

On January 18, 1975, the St. Albert Figure Skating Club just northwest of Edmonton showed just how excited a tiny skating club could be over a bit of star power. In what was great 'get' for the mostly recreational club, they snagged Canadian Champions Louise and Barry Soper for "An Afternoon With The Sopers". Fourteen guest skaters from Edmonton complemented the skaters from St. Albert, which only numbered forty. The show played to a packed house and helped generate interest in ice dancing in the area.

What are your favourite memories from your skating club's carnival? Reach out on social media and share your best stories!

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