The 1945 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

On January 25, 1947, the Battle Of The Bulge ended in a victory for the Allied Forces. Two days later, Soviet forces liberated the last seventy five hundred inmates from the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland. During this same three-day period, seemingly a world away, a contingent of Canadian figure skaters gathered at the Varsity Arena in Toronto to compete in the 1945 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

Though a long list of men - including Donald Gilchrist, Sandy McKechnie, Jack Vigeon, Ralph McCreath and Philip Lee - were serving in the Canadian military, senior men's, pairs and dance events were included at the Canadian Championships for the first time since 1942. Two other important 'firsts' also occurred in 1945. 

The event marked the first time Canadians were held in a public arena and the first time the school figures skated were printed in the programs. In order to accomplish this, figures were drawn in advance but the programs weren't announced to the skaters until fifteen minutes before the start of events. As senior men's and women's figures were on different days, the program had to be printed twice. Melville Rogers, the referee for all of the events, presided over all the events.

Hugh Godefroy (left) and Frank Hillock (right), fighter pilots with the Royal Canadian Air Force and members of the Toronto Skating Club

It was Olympic Medallist Theresa Weld Blanchard's first time attending an event in Canada since the War started. In "Skating" magazine, she wrote, "I was struck by the youth of all the skaters (but this is true everywhere) and by the fact that they were all new since 1939... Canada should be proud of the new flock of skaters and can look to a good future, as the Juniors are all of a high quality." 

Just who were these 'youthful new' skaters and what were their stories in Toronto in 1945? Let's take a look back and find out!


Frank Sellers

Eighteen year old Norris Bowden teamed up with fourteen year old Suzanne Morrow to unanimously win the junior pairs event. Bowden was in his first year at the University Of Toronto and opted to skip the singles events due to his studies. Sixteen year old Frank Sellers of Winnipeg won the junior men's event four judges to one over Giles Trudeau of Montreal. Sellers started skating when he was five, and trained in Kitchener with Otto Gold in the summers. He was five foot nine, with brown hair and blue eyes, enjoyed swimming, bowling and badminton and aspired to study medicine when he went to university. What made his victory in 1945 incredibly remarkable was the fact he skated with his left arm in a plaster cast!

Doreen Dutton

History was made in the junior women's event, when nineteen year old Doreen Dutton of Drumheller, Alberta became the first woman from west of Winnipeg to win the Canadian junior women's title. Most of Dutton's competitors were competing at the Canadians for the first time, and she had finished second the year prior. She reminded Theresa Weld Blanchard of Cecilia Colledge. She had skated for many years at the Glencoe Club, but was representing the Porcupine Skating Club, where she'd been training under Madge Austin. She was an only child and according to her mother, her biggest concern was "how she was going to be an aunt." The bronze medallist in the junior women's event, Pierrette Paquin of Ottawa, went on to be a distinguished judge.

Left (top to bottom): Doreen Dutton, Suzanne Morrow and Norris Bowden, Gloria Lillico and William de Nance, Jr. Right (top to bottom): Nigel Stephens, William de Nance, Jr., Joan McLeod, Olga Bernyk and Alex Fulton, Olga Bernyk and Alex Fulton. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.


Olga Bernyk and Alex Fulton of the Porcupine Skating Club unanimously defeated Winnipeg's Sheila and Ross Smith in the pairs event. Twenty-one year old Fulton had been serving as a bombardier with the Royal Canadian Air Force since 1943 and only had four years of skating under his belt before he began his military service. He and nineteen year old Bernyk had only practiced their program for three weeks prior to the event.

Six couples entered the dance events - the Waltz and Tenstep. There were three judges for dance, unlike the other events which had five. The winners of the Waltz were Toronto's Gloria Lillico and William de Nance Jr. Seventeen year old de Nance was the son of the event's chairman and an accomplished tap dancer. The couple trained under Albert Enders. They had two firsts and a third, the other first going to third place team Virginia Wilson and Will White Jr. Olga Bernyk and Alex Fulton won the Tenstep, with Lillico and de Nance Jr. second. As was the case in the Waltz, the winners had two firsts and a third. Again, third place team Wilson and White received the other first.


With most of Canada's top men's skaters away at War, the return of the senior men's event in 1945 was a contest between two talented teenagers. Frank Sellers, 'skating up' in senior, won the figures and for a time, it seemed he was destined to win both the junior and senior men's title. In a three-two split of the judging panel, the gold went to nineteen year old Nigel Stephens of the Granite Club.  Stephens was a student at the University of Toronto, studying economics. 


In 1944, Barbara Ann Scott had a runaway victory in the school figures, trouncing Marilyn Ruth Take by one hundred and fifty points. Scott wore a ruby red velvet sequined dress, perhaps inspired by the famous slippers in "The Wizard Of Oz", for her free skating program. She skated brilliantly, again easily capturing the Devonshire Cup unanimously by a considerable margin. Marilyn Ruth Take again placed second. In a three-two split, fifteen year old Gloria Lillico topped Nadine Phillips for the bronze. Lillico was only fifth in juniors the previous years, hampered by a poor showing in figures. Her work on figures with Albert Enders with paid off. Later that year, Scott became the first female to win the Lou Marsh Trophy and the youngest woman to win the North American Championships.

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