Veterans In Threes: A Trio Of Canadian Medallists Who Served In World War II

Sandy McKechnie, Lewis Elkin and Jack Vigeon were all medallists at the Canadian Championships in the thirties. World War II changed the trajectory of all three men's skating careers... and lives. Their service with the Allied Forces ensured that millions of Canadians would be able to take to the ice for years to come. In today's Skate Guard blog, we'll briefly explore their stories.


Sandy McKechnie and Jack Vigeon attending the same naval school in Halifax. Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon.

The son of Phoebe (Adams) and James Baldwin McKechnie, James Alexander 'Sandy' McKechnie was born August 25, 1921 in Toronto, Ontario. He started skating at the age of six at the Toronto Skating Club. Surrounded by a veritable who's who of great Canadian skaters of the era like Cecil Smith and Constance and Bud Wilson, he plugged away at the fundamentals of figures for almost a decade before making his debut at the Canadian Championships at the age of fourteen in 1936. He and partner Ruth Hall finished fourth in the junior pairs event that year.

Sandy McKechnie, Dudley Reburn, James Bain, Ralph McCreath, Billy Brown and Gordon Gilchrist in the 1931 Toronto Skating Club carnival

As a member of the Toronto four in 1937, Sandy earned a third place finish at Canadians. In the years that followed he went to amass an incredible collection of eight medals at the Canadian Championships, among them gold's in the national fours, Tenstep, Waltz and junior men's events. His pairs partners included Eleanor O'Meara and Norah McCarthy - both Canadian Champions in the senior women's ranks. 

Top: Christine Newson, Norah McCarthy, Eleanor O'Meara, Ralph McCreath, Donald Gilchrist and Sandy McKechnie skating as sextet, "The Blue Streaks", in a carnival at Madison Square Garden in 1940. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years". Bottom: The winning Toronto four in 1939.

Along with Donald Gilchrist, Gillian Watson and his pairs partner Ruth Hall, Sandy earned the honour of winning the Connaught Cup for fours skating at the 1941 North American Championships in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Though Hazel and Dorothy Caley, Ralph McCreath and Bud Wilson had actually finished first in the event, they represented two different clubs and the Connaught Cup's deed of gift clearly specified that all members of the winning team had to represent the same club. Therefore, Sandy was a North American fours champion... as the result of a technicality.

Eleanor O'Meara and Sandy McKechnie

Though skating was Sandy's passion, education was his priority. After earning his Bachelor's degree in applied science and engineering, he graduated from Upper Canada College at the University of Toronto with degree in civil engineering in 1943. Beginning in 1944, he served overseas as a Lieutenant in Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. One of the ships he served on, the HMCS Algoma, was involved in two major attacks on German U-boats.

Sandy married Sarah Elizabeth Blackey in 1946 and had two children. After holding various jobs following the War, he began a sales business in Toronto which expanded into a thriving conveyor manufacturing company. When he wasn't working, he was busy building a home on a four acre plot overlooking a wooded valley outside of Toronto. He enjoyed golfing, camping, canoeing, football, skiing, swimming and playing the piano and ukelele. 

The Theta Delta Chi fraternity at the University Of Toronto in 1942. Sandy McKechnie stands at the top left and his friend, competitor and pledge Ralph McCreath at the top right.

Sandy later served as the President of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, on the CFSA's executive and as a national and international judge. In 1946, he judged at the Canadian and North American Championships for the first time. He quickly earned a reputation as a low marker but as a fair judge who didn't cater specifically to Eastern skaters. 

Marlene Smith, Sandy McKechnie, Donald Gilchrist and Christine (Newson) Charles skating a four at the 1948 Toronto Skating Club carnival

Eleven years later, Sandy served as the judge manager at the World Championships in Colorado Springs, where Canadians brought home medals in three different disciplines - a historic first. In 1970, the CFSA made him an Honorary Official. He passed away at the age of eighty-four on January 9, 2005 in Victoria, British Columbia, having devoted much of his life to the wonderful sport of figure skating.


Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

The son of Eleanor (Angus) and Samuel James Elkin, Lewis 'Lew' Angus Elkin was born June 21, 1905 in Emerson, Manitoba. His father, an Irish immigrant, was the town physician. His mother had emigrated west to Manitoba with her parents via the Dawson trail in the late nineteenth century. As his father often away on house calls, Lewis grew up in a household of women. There was his mother, his two sisters Jean Margaret and Phyllis, a cousin named Matilda who lived with the family for a time and a servant named Dorothy. The family spent their winters on the ice at the Winnipeg Winter Club, where Lewis learned to figure skate and play hockey.

Figure skating wasn't a cheap sport back then... even in Winnipeg. Annual dues to the Winter Club were twenty-five dollars a year and ice time ran twelve dollars and fifty cents a year. Thirty seven dollars and fifty cents a head might not seem like a lot of money now, but if you figure in inflation, it wasn't chump change. When Lewis showed tremendous promise in his late teens, he started taking half-hour lessons at a dollar and fifty cents a pop. Skating became a growing financial burden for the young skater and his family and the fact that he peaked as a skater in the height of The Great Depression certainly didn't make matters much easier.

At twenty-five years of age, Lewis won the Canadian junior men's title at the 1930 Canadian Championships. 'Skating up' in the senior men's event, he was runner-up to Bud Wilson in the senior men's event. In the senior pairs event, he again finished second to Bud and his sister Constance, skating with partner Margaret Winks. The following year, he dropped to third in the senior men's event at the Canadian Championships but earned a spot on the national team that was sent to the 1931 North American Championships in Ottawa. In his only international competition, Lewis placed fourth behind Bud Wilson, James Lester Madden and Gail Borden. During a three year absence from competition, he took lessons from German coach Leopold Maier-Labergo, returning to competition in 1935 to claim the bronze medal in the fours event at the Canadian Championships with Mrs. Ross Jenkins, Betty Riley and Jack Kilgour.

During this period, Lewis had put himself further in the hole by attending the University Of Manitoba and graduating with a law degree he never really ended up using. Tired of spending money and unable to make a return on the investment he and his family had put into the sport under the strict guidelines surrounding amateurism during that period, he turned professional and headed south of the border to take a job as a senior instructor at the Chicago Figure Skating Club. While down in the States, he wrote articles extolling the virtues of figure skating for "Popular Mechanics" magazine.

The University of Manitoba's senior hockey team of 1927. Lewis is the on right of the two young men in the front row. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba, Archives & Special Collections.

By early 1943, Lewis was single, thirty-seven and coaching at the Pasadena Winter Garden and the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. His time at the California would be short-lived, as within months he would become a naturalized U.S. citizen, enlist in the American military and serve as a private stationed at the United States Armed Forces base in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Photo courtesy Professional Skaters Association

Following the War, Lewis married Eleanor Templeton. The couple taught skating at the Baltimore Figure Skating Club in Maryland, specializing in ice dance. Lewis also ran a summer school at the Elgin Memorial Arena in St. Thomas, Ontario. Jim Sladky, F. Ritter Shumway, Carol Ann Peters and Danny Ryan, Colin VanderVeen and USFSA President Howard D. Herbert were among his students. 

In the fifties, Lewis managed a rink called Ice Flair in the Detroit, Michigan suburb of Grosse Pointe Park. In the sixties, he served as manager of the Rochester Institute Of Technology rink in New York  and taught skating at the Rochester Figure Skating Club. He dedicated the same enthusiasm for curling as he did for skating and played an important role in popularizing the sport in the Rochester area. He later taught in San Diego and Atlanta and passed away of cancer at the age of eighty-four on October 28, 1989 in Marietta, Georgia, having dedicated most of his life to ice sports.


Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon

The son of Harry and Florence 'Florrie' (Gallagher) Vigeon, John 'Jack' Kempton Vigeon was born on September 17, 1920. He grew up on Glen Road in Toronto's Rosedale area, where his father worked as a successful chartered accountant. His firm, Vigeon & Co., once had an office on Leader Lane, a stone's throw from the historic King Edward Hotel. 

The Vigeon family, who were devout Catholics, held a  membership with the Granite Club, where Jack got his start on the ice. He also skated at the Toronto Skating Club and travelled south of the border in the summers to take from Gustave Lussi.

Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon

An athletic young man, Jack excelled not only at skating but at football as well. After twice finishing second in the junior men's event at the Canadian Championships, Jack finally won the event in 1938. The following year, he won his first of two bronze medals in the senior men's event at the Canadian Championships.

Photo courtesy University Of Toronto Archives

Jack twice represented Canada at the North American Championships and had the 1940 Winter Olympic Games not been cancelled, he would have been a very likely candidate for a spot on the Canadian team.

Photos courtesy Lisa Vigeon

That's not exactly how things went. Jack, who had attended Upper Canada College, graduated early from the University Of Toronto in order to join the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. After attending the Royal Canadian Navy's officers' training centre in Nova Scotia, Jack served as a Sub-Lieutenant on the HMCS Carleton and HMCS Mahone. The latter ship was a minesweeper that took part in the Battle Of The Atlantic. Jack was proud to have served but lost many friends - including his best friend, who died the day before the War ended.

Photo courtesy Lisa Vigeon

After the War, Jack joined the family business as an accountant, with an office on Bay Street. In September of 1953, he married Arlyn Frances Gates, an American. The couple had seven children, five of which survived to adulthood. Jack and Arlyn divorced in the eighties. None of Jack's children figure skated, but one of his granddaughters went on to play hockey for Team Canada and Harvard College. Though he never got involved in coaching or judging, Jack remained an avid fan of the sport, never missing a television broadcast of the Canadian Championships. He passed away at the age of seventy-two in Toronto, after a long battle with cancer, on March 16, 1993.

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":