Reader Mail: Every Three Months Is Still Faster Than Canada Post

It's once again time to unpack the mail bag, answer some of your questions and share some of the interesting e-mails and social media messages that have come my way over the last few months. As always, if you have a question you'd like me to tackle or feedback on a blog please reach out via e-mail.


From Margo (via e-mail): "What was the first TV broadcast of skating?"

A: In pre-War England, the BBC regularly aired radio broadcasts of commentary from major figure skating competitions, including the 1937 World Championships, 1937 British Championships and 1939 European Championships. Television broadcasts of figure skating began in the autumn of 1946, with an exhibition of waltzing on ice and short snippets of performances by Muriel Roberts, Eva Nyklova and Jimmy Macauley filmed at the Empire Pool, Wembley. In October of 1948, BBC viewers were treated to a performance by the reigning Olympic Gold Medallist, Barbara Ann Scott. The first skating production to be broadcast at length was "Ice Frolics Of 1949", directed by Miss Gladys Hogg, which aired in February of 1949. The cast included Jennifer and John Nicks, Michael Carrington, Marion Davies, Peri Horne, Toni Congden and Bernard Spencer. Two months later, the BBC filmed the Manchester Ice Dance Trophy, and broadcast part of the event, as well as an interview with winners Sybil Cooke and Bob Hudson. That same winter, American television audiences had their first tastes of the sport. In his column in the February 1949 issue of "Skating World" magazine, Harry Hirsch recalled, "The National Broadcasting Company scored a revolutionary 'first' on televsion, when it televised the first ice show from one of its studios in Rockefeller Center. A 20 ft. X 20 ft. tank was installed the night before - the twenty-feet pipes had to be cut in half before they could be handled by the elevators - and the Ballards, Chet Nelson and Alice Farrar, all from thee Hotel New Yorker ice show gave exhibitions that became the talk of the industry twenty-four hours later. The show was so well-received that it will be repeated in February and there is talk that a large industrial firm will sponsor a weekly ice show for thirteen weeks. Christmas Eve, as part of a Christmas Show presented by the Chevrolet Dealers Of America, another ice sequence was televised. Again real ice was frozen in a studio of the Columbia Broadcasting System and this time it was the Prestons and Trixie, the juggler, who gave television audiences a thrill with their acrobatic feats. A new and wonderful medium for exhibiting ice shows has been created and due to the fact that ice shows do not have any spoken words and all action is visual, television will win new friends for this glorious sport and profession."

From Artyom (via e-mail): "First Master of Sport to skate to music Carmen?"

A: Great question, Artyom! It's hard to definitively say who was the first, but one of the earliest skaters I've found that used it was Willy Böckl, the World Champion from 1925 to 1928. He performed to Bizet's "Carmen" in the famous "Land Of The Midnight Sun" carnival in New York City in 1930. Donald Jackson started using "Carmen" for his free skating music in 1958, and famously used it when he won the World title in Prague in 1962. Manfred Schnelldorfer used it to win Olympic gold two years later in Innsbruck.

From Ashley (via Facebook): "I enjoy reading your blog! I am always learning something new. I'm curious about some of the weirdest things you've encountered in doing your research."

A: Thank you for your kind words, Ashley! I encounter some pretty crazy stuff, but some of the crazier stories that first spring to mind are Isabella Butler, the circus daredevil who toured America doing ice shows at the turn of the century and the one on Sonja Henie's wild party with the elephants. I'm sure there are a ton I'm forgetting. Two bizarre things I've never covered that stand out in my mind are the time part of the roof caved in when Lynn Nightingale was doing her free skate at the Richmond Trophy and what happened to the Belgian pair, Contamine and Verdun, at the 1936 Olympics in Germany. It was their turn to skate soon and they brushed past the S.S. Guards. As a result, they got locked up until right before it was their turn to skate.

Ann Johnston. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

From Sara (via e-mail): "Who was the first Canadian woman to do a double Axel?"

A: The first woman to do a double Axel at the Canadian Championships was Ann Johnston in 1956. Even though she had a more difficult program, she lost the free skate and title to Carole Jane Pachl that year. What's interesting about Ann being the first to do it is the fact that she preferred spinning to jumping and was known as being particularly stronger in the figures.

From Cheryl (via e-mail): "Can you help me identify who entered the U.S. professional skating ranks after the plane crash? I know about John Nicks and Carlo Fassi. Any others you know of? I found an article about Nicks that states there were 12 rinks with open positions in 1962 so he had opportunities."

A: Great question! European pros had been coming to teach in North America since the early twentieth century. There would have been a handful of new opportunities as a result of coaches shuffling around after the Sabena Crash, but there would also been openings because of new rinks, the popularity of studio skating schools etc. Some would have been filled by European pros, but the majority were filled by North Americans who were already professional and were seeking new job opportunities. New professionals in 1961 included Doreen Denny (two-time World Champion with Courtney Jones) and Tim Brown (three-time World Medallist). Doreen taught in Villars, Switzerland with her husband (Italian Champion) Gianfranco Canepa and Tim taught in Squaw Valley and the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club. Bill Kipp, Danny Ryan, Edi Scholdan, Maribel Vinson Owen, Bill Swallender and Linda Hart Hadley were the six coaches that were killed in the Crash. Bill Kipp taught at the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club, which was based at Paramount Iceland. In early 1961, the coaches there were Bill, Joan Zamboni, Dori-Ann Swett, Don Berry, Hubert Sprott and J.J. Bejshak. Mr. John Nicks took over Bill's position. Edi Scholdan taught at the Broadmoor Skating Club. In early 1961, he and Gerry Tapper were the club's professionals, with Susan Sebo teaching in the summers. Carlo Fassi and Walter 'Red' Bainbridge took over for Edi in Colorado Springs, and were assisted that first summer by Clarice Dillon and Geraldine Tapper. Bill Swallender ran a studio rink with his wife Genevieve and taught at the Detroit Skating Club with Ronnie Baker and Mimi Pong Page in the winter and at the Michigan State University Ice Rink in East Lansing with Pierre Brunet, Bud Wilson, David Spalding, Beryl Williamson and Jean Arlen Jordan in the summer. The next season, Ronnie Baker and Mimi Pong Page remained as the head pro's at the Detroit Skating Club and Jack B. Jost and Eugen Mikeler joined the staff in East Lansing. Ginny Baxter ran the Swallender's studio rink for a period of time after his death. Danny Ryan and his wife were the head professionals at the Winter Club Of Indianapolis. Ron Ludington and Marilyn Meeker Durham were added to the teaching staff at the Club in 1962, joining Danny's widow Rose Anne who also taught in Lake Placid. Linda Hart Hadley and Ila Ray and Ray Jr.'s father taught at the Seattle Skating Club with Clarence Hislop and Carol Mittun and ran the Hadley & Hart studio rink. The next season, Carolyn Smith was hired to teach at the studio rink. The studio rink was still going in 1965, with Lois Hadley, Carol Mittun and Sharon Morrissey as head pros. Carol and Clarence Hislop remained at the Seattle Skating Club. They were joined by Dean Dyar, Marsha Deen, Helen Killoran and Sharon Constable. Maribel Vinson Owen had ties to the Skating Club Of Boston, the Phillips Academy Rink in Andover and the Tabor School Camp Rink in Needham. The teaching staff in Boston in early 1961 included Cecilia Colledge, Willie Frick and Marion Proctor. Five years after the Crash, the professionals in Boston were Cecilia Colledge, Bud Wilson, Marion Proctor, Tom McGinnis and Frank Muckian.


Back in 2017, I did a blog on the Barney & Berry skate manufacturing company in Massachusetts. A man named John reached out asking, "I have a fishing pole Barney and Barry. All I know is it older than 1930, even early as 1910. I found nothing on it. Can you give me any information?" I don't know thing about the Barney & Berry company making fishing poles - but if anyone can help, by all means send me a message and I'll pass it on to John.


I also wrote about The Burling Triplets, a sister act from Toronto, back in 2017. Laura reached out to me in November: "I was reading your Skate Guard blog about the Burling triplets and I would like to know if you have anymore information about them like their training their childhood etc. I am trying to write about them and there are some things I can not find like their lives before skating and after skating marriages deaths. Their skating training, individual personalities and more." If anyone knows more, reach out and I'll pass your message on to Laura.


Photo courtesy "Ice Skate" magazine

In December, J.D. reached out on Facebook to share his memories of World Champion Graham Sharp, who was featured on the blog back in 2015: "H. Graham Sharp was my first skating pro in the late 1960’s in Tulsa OK. He was a fine gentleman, and made figures look easy. He still sported the dashing mustache. Good chap!"


In October of 2020, I had a lovely phone call with Wayne Ayre, who now lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Wayne was a survivor of the 1949 Minto Skating Club Fire and the son of William Ayre, the rink attendant. Wayne shared his memories of the fire and the Minto Skating Club's most famous member in the forties - Barbara Ann Scott: "It was early in the morning - very early. Mom came into the room and she said, 'The Minto's on fire! Get up!' There was four of us kids and kids and a cousin. Mom said, 'I want you to take them downstairs and across the street and go to Mr. Davies house.' Well, it was starting to get smoky and I was a boy scout -  the cubs. They taught us at cubs that you never walk in a fire in the middle of the steps. As soon as Mom told me to go down the stairs, I told the others. Our cousin Shirley - poor Shirley - she started screaming and carrying on. Mom just went over and whacked her and said, 'We don't have time for that.' Anyway, we went down the steps no problem. I also knew from cubs that doors will jam once they get heated. I got the door open easily and we walked across the street to Mr. Davies' house and he took us all in. Now, if you picture a triangle, that would be the Minto. It was on 151 Waller Street. Next to the Minto, going towards Laurier Avenue, which would be the first street you come to, there was a double house. Around the corner, there was a barber shop and another little place and a fire station. Now, Dad used to let the firemen come in the side door, about halfway down the building. He'd leave that door open so the firemen could come in and watch the skaters. When the guys were working there at the holidays, they'd bring in a turkey or something and the women that ran the skater's canteen would cook their turkeys for them. Her name was Tilley. Well, she had a boyfriend named Cecil... When there was a fire, Cecil and Tillie packed up everything and would take hot coffee, sandwiches, things like that to a fire so that firemen could have something while they were working... and no recognition for that, no money to help pay for it. That's just something they did... Now, we were across the street at Mr. Davies' house and the firemen, when we went in, they said, 'Oh my goodness - the family!' so they came running up the alley way and then they went back and got the trucks. By that time, they found that we were there and we were counted, to make sure we were all present. Then, the fire trucks got into place and started pouring their water on and so on. An aluminum ladder they had put up to get to the top melted... that's how hot that fire was. Dad had these tanks that were twelve, fifteen feet long... maybe twelve inches in diameter. These were steel tanks that contained hydrous ammonia in gas form or liquid form. He was worried that they might blow, with the heat. So he said, I've got to go in and release the pressure on those tanks. The fire chief said, 'Take this guy - this fireman - to go in.' Dad only had only lung. When they went in, the fireman passed out, overcome by the smoke. So Dad had to drag him back out. So the fire chief says, 'Wait a minute, Bill, I'll get another person for you.' He said, 'I don't have time.' and he went in and released the valve so the ammonia could escape. Well, for a man with one lung... and then he came out and then the police showed up. The first thing they wanted to know was, 'Where's the family?' so they got us out of bed and they counted us. Every time we turned around, we were being counted. Dad, for some reason, said, 'No photographs.' We were taken away to a friend of his, you know - a couple, who lived in an apartment building not far away. It was a three story apartment story, and this was on the third floor. It was one of those ones where the stairs went around and there was a big hole in the middle. We got in to share a bed with her son and there was a knock on the door. It was a reporter. Mrs. Jacobs said, 'No, their father said no pictures.' We got up to see what was going on and at that point, he jammed his camera in through the crack of the open door and she leaned on the door and she was a woman of considerable size. It hurt his arm, so he let go and he dropped the camera. She scooped it up, threw it over and it went down that center area below three stories. He said, 'You're in a lot of trouble!' She said, 'I don't think as much trouble as you are.' Then we stayed there that night. Somebody got us clothes because everything we had was gone. Dad didn't have much insurance - six hundred dollars. I think we went to our grandparents place the next day... They drove us by and there were the bunk beds, fused to the wall. That's how intense that heat was..."

Barbara Ann Scott. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

"So, Barbara Ann Scott was much unlike her Mom - she was a really nice person. My parents got me skates so that I could learn and we got in some kind of a disagreement and I said, 'I'm not going to learn to skate.' A child rebelling... Well, Barbara Ann Scott taught me to skate... Now, when Barbara Ann was contending in '48 for the Worlds and Ottawa, she would come in around five or five thirty in the morning to practice skating. My Dad had to get up, open the building, turn on all the lights. She went [through the management] and came back and said, 'I've spoken to the President and they're going to give me my own key.' She told my Dad, 'Bill, you don't have to get up anymore. They've given me a key. You just have to show me how to turn on the lights.'... Her mother was more, 'Do you know who I am?' She was kind of full of herself, the mother. She was kind of hard to deal with, but Barbara herself was lovely. Now, moving forward... When Barbara Ann was at the height of her career, she had dress shops called Barbara Ann's Dress Shop or something and there was one here [in Halifax] on Spring Garden Road. It was in the paper that she was going to be in the store. Our daughter Dawn wanted to borrow the car and I said, 'I was going to go over to Halifax because I'd love to stop into the store and see Barbara Ann Scott.' After, I changed my mind and said to Dawn I wasn't going to go. She said, 'No Dad, you're going.' She agreed to drive me over there. When I went in, there were a number of people, of course, around her. I waited for a chance. When I saw the opportunity I stepped up and said, 'Hi Barbara Ann, I'm Wayne Ayre'. She said, 'Bill Ayre's son! How's your parents?' I thought that was pretty good for her to remember that after all those years. She was just a really nice person and my claim to fame is that she taught me how to skate."

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