The 1954 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy The Glenbow Museum

South of the border, journalists Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly had just released a thirty minute documentary on McCarthyism. The country's Liberal government was led by Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent  The latest fashion trends were Garbadine suits and taffeta dresses. Jo Stafford's "Make Love To Me" blared on Electrohome stereos. The year was 1954, and from March 11 to 13, Canada's best figure skaters convened in Calgary, Alberta for the Dominion's Figure Skating Championships.

The announcement that the Championships would be held in Calgary for the first time since 1948 was made at the CFSA's Annual General Meeting at the Glencoe Club on Hallowe'en in 1953 - the first CFSA meeting held in Alberta. The CFSA was celebrating its fortieth anniversary, taking into account the organization's many years as the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association Of Canada. From 1914 to 1954, it had grown from two to one hundred and twenty-five clubs.

Top (left to right): Barbara Gratton, Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, Charles Snelling. Bottom (left to right, top to bottom): Joan Shippam, Doreen Leech and Norman Walker, Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, Dick Rimmer. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1954, the European Championships in Bolzano and World Championships in Oslo had been held in late January and mid-February. The Canadian and U.S. Championships were both held in March, in the height of carnival season. Their results were considered when the CFSA named the North American and World teams at their autumn 1954 Annual Meeting.

When skaters and officials arrived in Calgary, they were met by a group of 'caddies' (skaters who held up the judges' scores) dressed in leather jackets and white cowboy hats. By the time of the free skating finals at the Stampede Corral, even the judges were sporting white hats. Social events included a reception at the Glencoe Club, numerous supper parties hosted at the homes of local skating officials and a trip to nearby Banff to swim in the hot springs. Let's take a look back at the most important aspect of these Championships - the skating!


New champions were crowned in all four of the junior disciplines. Doreen 'Do Do' Leech and Norman Walker bested Claudette Lacaille and Jeffery Johnston to win the McLaughlin-Stephens Cups for junior dance in a three-two split. The dances were the Ten-Fox, European Waltz and Paso Doble.

Doreen Leech, Norman Walker and Patricia Spray

The victors in junior pairs were a promising young team you may have heard of... Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul of Toronto. The Toronto teenagers were ranked unanimously first by the five judges ahead of four other teams, all but one from the West Coast. Wagner and Paul were already being praised for their effective shadow skating, and their ten inch height difference was striking. Wagner attended St. Clement's School; Paul the Lawrence Park Collegiate.

Eight talented young men competed for the Howard Trophy in the junior men's event. All but one judge placed Dick Rimmer of the Minto Skating Club first. The second place skater, Norman Walker of the Connaught Skating Club, received ordinals ranging from first to sixth. Sixth was Bob Paul. Dick Rimmer was a fifteen year old only child. He was in tenth grade at Guelph Collegiate, studying Mathematics, Latin and French.

There were a whopping fifteen entries in the junior women's event. The unanimous winner was Joan Shippam of the Porcupine Skating Club, with hometown favourites Dianne Williams and Karen Dixon second and third. It's worth noting that nine of the fifteen skaters represented West Coast clubs. Joan Shippam was less than two months shy of her sixteenth birthday and took her high school classes by correspondence so she could focus on her skating. She was the oldest of three siblings and enjoyed swimming and badminton.


As was customary at the time, there were separate contests for the Waltz, Tenstep and Senior Dance. Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan of the Granite Club won the latter two events, but lost the Dance title to Doreen Leech and Norman Walker, the junior dance champions. Eighteen year old Fenton had won the 1953 junior dance title with Glen Skuce and enjoyed swimming and painting. McLachlan was a tenth grade student at the Lawrence Park Collegiate who enjoyed philately, leathercraft and basketball.

Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The dance event consisted only of compulsories - the Ten-Fox, Paso Doble, Quickstep and Three-Lobe Waltz. Though many junior dance champions 'skated up' in the senior ranks in the years that followed, Leech and Walker hold the unusual distinction of being the only couple in history to win both the senior and junior dance titles in the same year. Leech was a twenty one year old stenographer; Walker worked several part-time jobs to finance his skating.


Audrey Downie, Patricia Spray, Brian Power and Norman Walker of the Connaught Skating Club were the only entry in the fours event. As the rules required more than one team to compete for the prize to be awarded, the British Columbian team gave an exhibition instead - but it was marked by the judges nonetheless. The four broke up later in the year when Spray got married and Walker turned professional to coach at the Wascana Winter Club.

Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Fresh off a win at the 1954 World Championships in Oslo, Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden were the obvious favourites in the senior pairs event. They trounced their competitors - Audrey Downie and Brian Power and Dawn Ann Steckley and David Lowery - earning first place marks from every judge. 

Reviewing the event in "Skating" magazine, Anne T. Wickware remarked, "Frances wore a most attractive turquoise skating dress which featured fine fan pleats and glittering sequins at the neckline to relieve the basically tailored design. The extraordinary unity of their performance and the superb lifts and jumps confirmed the high standard of their achievements. Nevertheless, the two other pairs did not let their performances fade before the World Champions and the whole event was extremely well received."


After the school figures, only four points separated the top four senior women. Carole Jane Pachl, who would go on to win the Canadian title from 1955 to 1957, was unable to compete due to injury. Barbara Gratton managed to defend her Canadian title by the slimmest of margins in a three-two split over the Glencoe Club's Sonja Currie, who won the Canadian junior title in 1953. 1952 Olympian Vera Virginia 'Vevi' Smith took the bronze, ahead of Dawn Ann Steckley, Ann Johnston and Barbara Jean Jacques.

Left: Sheldon Galbraith, Douglas Court and Barbara Gratton in Calgary. Right: Hans Gerschwiler and Sonja Currie. Photos courtesy "The Albertan".

Barbara Gratton's winning free skate was set to a medley of music from the 1937 Walt Disney film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".  She was seventeen years old and a grade thirteen student at Loretto Abbey in Toronto. She planned to attend the University Of Toronto in the autumn.


Peter Firstbrook had turned professional, paving the way for a new Canadian Champion to be crowned in Calgary. Charles Snelling and Douglas Court sported Canadian 'flashes' from their trip to the World Championships in Oslo. Snelling had been the runner-up to Firstbrook at the previous year's Canadians; Douglas Court the junior men's champion. Despite an unusual wardrobe malfunction - a pocket comb falling out of his jacket early in his free skating performance - Snelling held on to his lead in the figures to unanimously defeat Court and the third men's competitor, Toronto's Paul Tatton.

Charles Snelling was only sixteen and was so excited by winning the Minto Cup that he carried it around at the after party. He was a grade eleven student from Toronto who enjoyed playing baseball, building model airplanes and collecting photographs of street cars.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":