The 1941 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

F.M. Raphael, the President of the Montreal Winter Club, presenting Mary Rose Thacker with the Devonshire Cup in 1941. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba Special Collections.

The U.S. Ambassador to Japan had just reported a grim rumour to Washington about a planned surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Overseas in Europe, World War II raged on with The Battle of Tobruk, the first offensive of the Western Desert Force in Italy. Thousands of Canadians were either serving in the military or engaged in war work, but in the War's 'early years' conscription for overseas service wasn't yet mandatory, so figure skating wasn't just yet facing a significant shortage of men. The year was 1941, and as Artie Shaw's Frenesi blared on radios, the best figure skaters in Canada carefully packed their skates and hand-sewn costumes into suitcases and trucks and boarded trains bound for Montreal.

The 1941 Canadian Figure Skating Championships (then referred to as the Dominion Championships) were held on January 31 and February 1, 1941 at the Montreal Winter Club's rink on Rue Drummond, which had been the site of the first World Championships held in Canada nine years prior. The two-day event played to packed galleries from nine in the morning until after midnight each day, but received very little press coverage in Quebec, perhaps owing to the fact only one skater from the province won a gold medal. Winnipeg sportswriter Herb Manning noted that one of the problems figure skating faced was that it was often relegated to the society section of newspapers instead of being covered "under the stern hand of the sports editor." Though coverage of the event was sparse, there are some interesting stories that came out of the 1941 Canadian Championships worth looking at. Let's hop in the time machine and take a look back!


Sheila Reid and Fred Drewery. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba Special Collections.

With top marks for content and performance, Toronto's Margaret Wilson and Peter Killam won the junior pairs event over Stratford's Floraine Ducharme and Wally Distelmeyer. One of the Toronto judges dared place the fourth place team from Winnipeg, Sheila Reid and Fred Drewery, first. This would have been quite a big deal at the time, as Eastern judges often voted along club lines and rarely went 'out on a limb' for Western skaters. In a particularly close contest, Toronto's Michael Kirby bested Dwight Parkinson of Montreal in the junior men's event.

An unlucky thirteen competitors entered the junior women's event and one particularly unlucky one was sidelined after the school figures. During the warm-up for the free skate, Ottawa's Beryl Goodman had a bad collision with Toronto's Peggy Lam. Lam was carried off the ice unconscious and on the advice of a doctor that was present withdrew. To the delight of her home club, Montreal's Patricia Gault was the winner. A student of Albert Enders, Gault was competing in her first Canadians. She received four first place ordinals and one fifth to runner-up Shirley Ann Halsted of Toronto's first, two seconds, one fifth and one sixth. The bronze went to future Canadian Champion Marilyn Ruth Take.


Mary Rose Thacker, Ralph McCreath and Eleanor O'Meara. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

For the fourth year in a row, a four from Toronto (Tasie McCarthy, Virginia Wilson, Donald Gilchrist and Michael Kirby) took top honours in the fours event. In the Waltz contest, Helen Malcolm and Joe Geisler defeated Norah McCarthy and Sandy McKechnie, but in the Tenstep McCarthy and McKechnie finished first, defeating perennial Canadian women's and pairs champion Constance Wilson Samuel, who was paired with Gordon Jeffrey. McCarthy and McKechnie were also the runners-up in the pairs event behind Eleanor O'Meara and Ralph McCreath. It was McCreath's sixth consecutive pairs win at Canadians, and he had won the previous year with McCarthy.


Ralph McCreath wracked up a massive lead in the senior men's school figures. He delivered an athletic free skating performance in the final phase of the event to defeat Donald Gilchrist and Jack Vigeon. The trio made history, as it was the first sweep of all three medals in the senior men's event at Canadians by members of the Toronto Skating Club.

Mary Rose Thacker. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

The senior women's event was truly exciting. You had Norah McCarthy (the defending Champion), Mary Rose Thacker (the winner in 1939 who'd lost by one judge the year before) and Barbara Ann Scott (a very promising young skater who'd won the junior title the year before). Speculation over who would come out on top abated quickly when Thacker racked up a forty-four point lead over McCarthy in the figures. She won the free skating too, with eighteen more points than Scott and almost twenty nine more points than McCarthy. When the scores from both phases of the events were tabulated, the Winnipeg skater was unanimously first, with McCarthy second overall and Scott third. "Montreal Star" sportswriter Myrtle Cook noted, "Many times during the markings the august gallery so far forgot itself as to 'boo' heartily. The Bronx cheer was obviously directed at one Ottawa judge who was invariably below his colleagues in the markings."

Following the competition in Montreal, skaters boarded a train bound for Philadelphia, the site of that year's North American Championships, where for the first time since 1933 Canadians claimed the men's, women's and pairs titles.

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