The 1955 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Louis St. Laurent was Canada's Prime Minister, Joan Weber's "Let Me Go, Lover" topped the music charts and the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, went to sea for the first time.

The year was 1955 and from January 20 to 22, Canada's best figure skaters gathered at Varsity Arena in Toronto to make history of their own at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships. It was the first time in nearly a decade that the Toronto Skating Club had played host to Canadians and sixty-six entrants from all over the country were eager to show off their best change loops and camel spins to a packed house.

After some erratic judging at the Canadians the year prior in Calgary, Dr. Sidney Soanes and his two assistants were charged with the computation of the marks in Toronto. Soanes was also tasked by the CFSA with a special project - examining the judge's marks in Toronto and determining whether or not there would have been a change in the results if the high and low marks were dropped as in gymnastics. Soanes concluded that in 1954, every judge would have been 'knocked out' for being too high or low at some point. In 1955, the judging problems were different. The only Western judge, Vancouver's Bill Lewis, would have been knocked out nearly every time because he was a high marker. Sandy McKechnie of Toronto, a low marker, would have similarly been booted consistently. Neither judge showed signs of favouring skaters from their own sections and Soanes determined as a result of his analysis in Toronto that by dropping the high and low marks "we would have lost the benefits of two good judges." Speaking of judging, let's take a look at how things played out!


Three couples vied for the McLaughlin-Stephens Cup in the Junior Dance event. Fittingly, Nigel Stephens and Dick McLaughlin sat on the judging panel. Twenty-one year old Torontonians Barbara Jean Jacques and Gordon Manzie were the unanimous winners. Jacques was a student at Toronto Teacher's College. Manzie worked in the accounting department at the City Service Oil Company. Dr. Dwight Parkinson, who earned two bronze stars for his work as a Battalion Surgeon with the 104th Division in France during World War II, finished third with his wife Elizabeth.

Donald Jackson

Competing at the national level for the first time, Donald Jackson wore a pair of boots that cost twelve dollars and fifty cents. He almost missed the event entirely after suffering a nasty fall in a comedy number in a carnival that left him with a concussion and bad gash on his forehead. He won the junior men's figures, defeating Bob Paul - who everyone thought would be a shoe-in. Less than an hour before he was due to go on for the free skate, Jackson discovered his pants were missing from the dressing room. His father raced to the hotel, found the pants hanging on the a hook on the door of their room and made it back less than five minutes before he was due to go on! Jackson skated phenomenally to earn the Howard Trophy and junior men's title, earning a standing ovation in the process. Bob Paul moved up from third after figures to take the silver ahead of Oshawa's Hugh Smith. A young Kerry Leitch finished dead last. Referring to Jackson, judge Ralph McCreath remarked, "That little boy is doing things that they didn't do in the North Americans and Worlds ten years ago!"

Minto skaters at the Canadian Championships. Standing: Donald Jackson and Frances Gold. Seated: Nancy Davidson, Heather West, Claire Nettleton and Carole Jane Pachl.

The Jelinek's, who had escaped from behind the Iron Curtain less than a decade prior, were also competing their first Nationals. Maria was twelve; Otto fourteen. Their coaches Marg and Bruce Hyland had casually suggested they enter at the last minute. They put together a three and a half minute program and were slated to compete against a team much older than them. After the warm-up, a lanky brother/sister pair from Hamilton withdrew after the young man suffered a leg injury. Bruce Hyland was worried the event wouldn't be counted as a competition, but as both pairs had warmed up, the Jelinek's became Canadian junior pair champions by skating to a standard. An Oakville newspaper raved, "Not only is the Jelineks' skating of high technical exactitude and brilliance, but on the ice they make a fascinating picture with their unaffected youthfulness... [Their] triumph has been achieved by natural aptitude fortified by the most grueling kind of world."

Wanda Beasley and Donald Jackson

There were a whopping eighteen entries in the junior women's competition. Nineteen year old, five foot two Wanda June Beasley, who had been skating since the age of two, took an early lead in the figures and managed to sustain it through the entire competition. She was coached by Sheldon Galbraith and Wally Distelmeyer, as well as Otto Gold in the summers. Dianne Williams and Margaret Crosland, both of the Glencoe Club, took the silver and bronze. Barbara Wagner finished fifth and Elaine Richards, only seventeenth in figures, managed to move all the way up to eighth with a sensational free skating performance.


Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

For the first time since 1951, the fours competition was contested at Canadians. Both fours that participated were from Toronto. Peggy Lount, Jackie Oldham, Ian Campbell and Clifford Spearing were the unanimous winners. Lount and Oldham were eighteen year old students. Campbell was a twenty year old pre-med student at the University Of Toronto and Spearing was a twenty-four year old licensed commercial pilot who worked with Trans-Canada Air Lines.

Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden

Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden had won last three consecutive Canadian pairs titles and as expected, had absolutely no trouble winning the title for a fourth time. Although Dafoe took a tumble during an overhead Axel lift, their program was athletic, inventive and full of highlights. Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul took the silver in a four-one decision over British Columbia's Audrey Downie and Brian Power.


Carole Jane Pachl, Donald Jackson, Charles Snelling and Wanda Beasley. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine. 

Charles Snelling of the Granite Club had an easy go of defending his national title, with Toronto's Douglas Court being the only other competitor in the senior men's class. Court skated quite well, but Snelling unanimously won both the figures and free skate by some margin. Though Snelling trained primarily with Marcus Nikkanen, he'd spent two months in Denver the summer prior working with Gene Turner on improving the artistic side of his skating.


Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

On and off ice partners Doreen Leech and Norman Walker had retired and the other top three dance teams didn't return in 1955 either. Jeffery Johnston, third with Claudette Lacaille in 1954, was skating with his sister Lindis. Geraldine Fenton was skating with Gordon Crosland instead of her usual partner William McLachlan. After skating the Viennese Waltz, Killian and Westminster in a group flight, couples returned to perform a new addition to the senior dance event at Nationals - the free dance. As the free dance hadn't been contested at Nationals in previous years, Canadians had been at a major disadvantage internationally.

The top two teams were separated by only one ordinal placing, with teenagers Lindis and Jeffery Johnston coming out on top by a narrow margin. Fenton and Crosland finished second; Beverley and William de Nance Jr. third. William McLachlan was fourth with his partner from the Minto Club, Heather West. The following year, he resumed dancing with Geraldine Fenton. The de Nance's won the Waltz and the Johnston's the Tenstep. Junior dance champions Jacques and Manzie 'skated up' in all three senior dance events, their best finish a fifth in the Tenstep. The Johnston's were students at Central High School in London and the de Nance's had been married since June of 1954. Beverley was a former school teacher; William a lawyer.

In his book "A Nobody's Dream... Came True", Gordon Crosland recalled, "Miss Beryl [Goodman Williamson] asked me if I would like to compete in the Senior Dance Competition at the Canadian Championships, with Geraldine Fenton. I agreed immediately! My amateur career just took another turn! It was 1955 and my luck couldn’t have been better as Geraldine was one of the top few female ice dancers in the country at that time. I on the other hand was a complete unknown. I only had a few months to try to get up to speed, as Gerri was a far superior ice dancer then I. It certainly was a crash course in training. Not knowing what to expect, the Canadian Championships turned out better than I could have hoped for. We were second in the Senior Dance Championship, on our first time out and won the Waltz Championship, which was a separate event. I naively, was very happy. Geraldine and the Fenton family it seems were not. Apparently, we had won in total points, but lost the title by one ordinal. Ordinals count first, one first and two seconds are stronger than two firsts and three thirds. Total points in this system are used to break ties. Confused? Yes, don’t ask! The judging systems have always been a nightmare to me and are even worse today. Gerri and I had two firsts, and three thirds. The [Johnston's], who finished in first place, were a sister and brother team from London, and had one first and three seconds and one third. My parents and younger sister Lois had moved to Toronto by then and since the championships were being held at Varsity Arena, I got them tickets. This was the first time they had seen me skate since I had left home... I am sure my father saw it as a great waste."


Defending champion Barbara Gratton had retired from competition to focus on her university studies. Vevi Smith, the bronze medallist from 1954, withdrew due to illness, as did Vancouver's Pamela Willman. This left only four entries in the senior women's competition and placed the 1954 silver medallist Sonja Currie in the role of 'the favourite'. To the surprise of many, Currie placed fourth in the figures, which were won by Toronto's Ann Johnston.

There was a margin of less than five percent between first and fourth and no skater had a majority of first place ordinals. Currie took a tumble in the free skate and Joan Shippam, who had been second in figures, skated very cautiously. Though Johnston delivered a solid free skate with speed and clean jumps, it was Carole Jane Pachl who emerged victorious after placing only third in figures. She only had two first place ordinals but a majority of seconds. Judge Sandy McKechnie remarked, "Pachl was like a runner in a long-distance race. She didn't lead in compulsory figures and she didn't lead in the free skating - the leaders were constantly changing - but she was the most consistent competitor, and that consistency paid off."

Carole Jane Pachl posing with the Gold's and her skates after the Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy City Of Ottawa Archives.

In her memoir "Dreams Upon The Stars", Carole Jane Pachl's mother recalled, "She looked stunning in her white chiffon, rhinestone-embroidered dress. Her blonde, curly hair was held back a rhinestone-embroidered tiara and flowed loosely from beneath it. The music she skated to was the dramatic 'Roumanian Rhapsody'. She glided over the ice with grace and power. Without a fault, she ended her dynamic and captivating presentation. The entire audience burst into 'Bravos!' and a standing ovation... Victory had finally come to her and she became the Canadian Lady Champion of 1955."

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