The 1996 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Top news stories included the Bosnian War and the tragic crash of Birgenair Flight 301 in the Dominican Republic. The film "Mr. Holland's Opus" had just reached number one at the box office in its second week of release. Joan Osborne had a number-one single with "One Of Us" and two novel new creations - the scented crayon and stuffed crust pizza - captured people's imaginations.

From February 7 to 11, 1996, all eyes were on the nation's capital when three hundred and twenty three of Canada's top figure skater's battled it out at the 1996 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Sponsored by Royal Bank, the event was spread over two venues - the Ottawa Civic Centre and Jim Durrell Recreation Complex. The latter venue played host to all of the novice events and the junior women's and pairs short and compulsory dances, with all senior events being held at the Civic Centre. All-event ticket packages went for one hundred and ten dollars and nearly sold out a year prior to the competition.

World Champions Barbara Ann Scott and Donald Jackson acted as co-chairs for the event, signing autographs and doing interviews to promote the competition. With Rod Black, Barb Underhill, Dan Matheson and Rob Faulds on its commentary team, CTV upped its coverage from the year prior. Leading up to the competition, Donald Jackson had performed in the Governor-General's New Year's celebration and Toller Cranston had performed in a Winterlude ice show at the Civic Centre called "The Great Canadian Ice Breaker", priming local audiences for the skating showdown ahead.

At the opening press conference, David Dore gave a speech which reporters interpreted as"fire and brimstone", repeatedly stressing the importance of young skaters being taking risks and being more aggressive on the ice. In an interview with Cam Cole of "The Edmonton Journal", Elvis Stojko responded, "If [the CFSA] is willing to lend a hand, keep it in balance, enough just to keep them on track, then it's a positive thing. Putting too much pressure on - gotta have the triple Axel at sixteen or you're not going to make it - that's the other side. Kids are going to be so stressed by that time, who wants to compete like that? That's not why they compete." How did those 'kids' fare? Let's take a look back!


Oshawa's Sean Kelly came from behind to win the novice men's event over Carl Des Rosiers and Clinton Petersen. Petersen, who led after the short program, also finished second in novice pairs with his partner Ashley Poole for the second year in a row. That title was won by Marni Wade and Lenny Faustino. One of the more talked about skaters in the novice men's event was thirteen year old hometown favourite Fedor Andreev. Andreev, the son of Marina Zoueva, was making his debut at Canadians and had been mentored by the late Sergei Grinkov. Rebounding from a sixth place finish in the short program, he landed two triples to finish second in the free skate and fourth overall.

Martine Dagenais

Daniel Béland's students Marie-Eve Vezina and Martine Dagenais took the gold medals in the novice and junior women's events. It was the first time Lac-Brome, Quebec's Dagenais had even qualified to compete at the Canadians. The novice dance title went to Barrie's Jessica Nake and Robert Kiricsi, while the junior title was won by a pair of nineteen year olds, Jonathan Pankratz of Chateauguay, Quebec and Dara Henderson of Collingwood, Ontario. Henderson was Pankratz' seventh partner in eight years and their win was quite remarkable, considering they had placed only third at that year's Sectionals.

Collin Thompson. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Samantha Marchant and Chad Hawse took the junior pairs title, while the junior men's title was won by Toronto's Collin Thompson, who trained in Lake Arrowhead with Frank Carroll, alongside soon-to-be World Champion Michelle Kwan. The silver and bronze medallists in junior men's, Jayson Dénommée and Ben Ferreira, would both go on to win medals in the senior men's event at Canadians. Ben Ferreira landed a rare triple Axel in his free skate.


Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz

As predicted, nineteen year old Shae-Lynn Bourne and twenty-four year old Victor Kraatz took a commanding lead after the Silver Samba and Tango Romantica and Paso Doble original dance enroute to winning their fourth consecutive Canadian dance title. Due to some serious partner swapping, Bourne and Kraatz and Janet Emerson and Steve Kavanagh were the only two couples of the top five at the 1995 Canadians in Halifax to return in 1996. Michel Brunet had parted ways and teamed up with Patrice Lauzon's partner Chantal Lefebvre; Lauzon had paired with Marie-France Dubreuil, who had placed fourth in 1995 with Tomas Morbacher. In the lead-up to the event, Brunet had ended up in "Frank" magazine after he got into a scrap with Juan Carlos Noria at the Minto Skating Club that ended up with the cops being called to the rink.

The ice dance podium. Photo courtesy "American Skating World" magazine.

Bourne and Kraatz took the gold in Ottawa with an outstanding performance, with Lefebvre and Brunet taking the silver over Emerson and Kavanagh. Following their win, Shae-Lynn Bourne told reporters, "Performance-wise, that felt great. We'll sit back and analyze this before the Worlds and fix up little things you might not notice that we can feel." 


Left: Josée Chouinard. Right: Jennifer Robinson.

One of the biggest stories in Ottawa was the comeback of Josée Chouinard. The three-time Canadian Champion had reinstated from the professional ranks and won a bronze medal at Skate Canada and a gold at the Trophée de France in the autumn, in the first ever Champions Series. She wasn't the only skater mounting a comeback. Twenty-three year old Shannon Allison, a coach and student at Simon Fraser University from Langley, B.C. had won the bronze medal at the 1988 Canadian Championships in Victoria but hadn't competed at the Canadians since 1989, when she placed fifth. Since then, she went through a divorce, battled an eating disorder, suffered several injuries and twice missed making it out of Divisionals by one spot. 

Jean-Michel Bombardier and Josée Chouinard. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

In the short program, Josée Chouinard won over the judges and audience alike with a charming performance to "Comme ci, Comme ça" but struggled on her combination jump. Nineteen year old Jennifer Robinson, who'd thrice missed her triple Lutz in the warm-up, managed to put it all together but lost to Chouinard in a six-three split of the judging panel. Twenty-one year old Cathy Belanger landed a triple Lutz and flip but faltered on her double Axel to finish third. Susan Humphreys sat fourth, and defending champion Netty Kim - missing all three of her jumping passes - placed seventh.

Sadly, Josée Chouinard had a bit of a meltdown in the free skate, losing the title many assumed would be hers to Jennifer Robinson. Susan Humphreys landed four triples to Robinson's two, but was only able to move up to third. Netty Kim placed seventh, four spots ahead of Shannon Allison. After her loss, Chouinard was inconsolable. In her book "All That Glitters", Chouinard recalled, "I have had low points in my life, but this was the absolute lowest. It sounds selfish of me to say, but at the time, the agony felt as bad as it did when I lost my Dad. I wanted to run away and hide. I don't recollect standing on the podium. I've totally blocked it out, but I do remember feeling like I'd fallen down a very deep black hole." Susan Humphreys recalled,  "It was hard to watch Josée cry... I was holding her hand before we went out for the medals. She's so nice and so beautiful, and she's never done a mean thing to anyone in her life." Chouinard's coach Louis Stong said, "When she came off, she was in shock, I would say. No reaction other than just stunned, like she'd just witnessed a car accident." Jennifer Robinson told reporters, "Honestly, I wasn't expecting [to win] at all. I was hoping to win, but Josée [was as] well. She's Josee Chouinard! I expected to see her name there, not mine." After the women's free skate, Barbara Ann Scott went up to Barbara Underhill brandishing a piece of paper. She exclaimed, "I counted twenty nine splats!"  


Michelle Menzies and Jean-Michel Bombardier

The Skate Gods weren't exactly smiling on the pairs in Ottawa. Though the defending champions, twenty-three year old Michelle Menzies and twenty-five year old Jean-Michel Bombardier, appeared destined for a perfect skate in the short program, a freak fall in the short program marred what was an otherwise perfect performance. Eight out of nine judges still had them first. Bombardier had little sleep prior to the free skate, spending a restless night consoling his girlfriend Josée Chouinard. In a practice session after the short program, Kristy Sargent and Kris Wirtz hit a rut in the middle of a lift. They took a horrific fall, with Wirtz hitting his head on the ice and suffering a concussion and Sargeant wrenching her knee and suffering cuts and scrapes to her shoulder. Both were hospitalized briefly but decided to take the ice for the free skate. Their coach, Kris' brother Paul, told reporters, "I don't worry about their willingness to skate. Last year when he got up, Kris was so sick he couldn't walk, and they went out and did their long program, anyway. So I know they want to try, it's just the quality of what they can do. If he's not one hundred per cent, you're endangering the girl.''

Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz

Three minutes and fifteen seconds into Sargeant and Wirtz's performance, the fire alarm went off in the Civic Centre. Once the alarm was silenced, the pair was given the option of starting over or picking up where they left off. Wirtz told the referee, "Are you nuts? I may not make it to the end as it is." The team managed to finish their program in fine fashion, but weren't able to catch up with Menzies and Bombardier, who had gave an outstanding performance. Marie-Claude Savard-Gagnon and Luc Bradet edged Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice for the bronze.

Higgins and Rice teamed up with Alison Purkiss and Scott MacDonald to win the fours competition for the fourth year in a row. Purkiss and MacDonald had been part of Kerry Leitch's winning four in both 1994 and 1995.


When Elvis Stojko was forced to withdraw from the 1995 Canadians in Halifax after an injury sustained in practice, Brossard, Quebec's Sébastien Britten had won the Canadian men's title. Stojko returned to the national stage in Ottawa happy, healthy and landing triple Axels left, right and center. He was one of three men to land the triple Axel in the short program, easily taking the lead over Britten and Christensen, who didn't attempt one. The other two men to land the Axel were Stéphane Yvars and Matthew Hall. They were ranked fifth and ninth, forcing the question as to what David Dore's message of 'aggressiveness' really meant at the end of the day. There was certainly some discussion about the judging. Both David Pelletier and Daniel Bellemare's ordinals ranged from second to twelfth, while Marcus Christensen's ranged from second to eighth. Both Stéphane Yvars and Jeffrey Langdon had marks putting them from third to seventh. One skating fan quipped that was "a lot to ask from consistency from the skaters if the judges couldn't give the same."

Left: Elvis Stojko. Right: Marcus Christensen. Photos courtesy "American Skating World" magazine.

In the free skate, Marcus Christensen suffered a mishap when his boot strap broke but managed to skate creditably to take the bronze behind Britten. Stojko was in a class by himself, returning to his winning "1492" free skate from the 1995 World Championships after ditching a program to music from the film "Last Of The Mohicans" which didn't work for him. He wasn't perfect, but he attempted a quad - which none of his competitors did. After winning, Stojko told reporters, "I wanted to take a step here, peel off another layer of the program, and I accomplished most of the stuff I went in hoping to do. But it's never easy when you go out. Never. I'm human."

Thanks to a generous donation of VHS tapes by Skate Guard reader Maureen, you can take a trip back in time and rewatch highlights of the 1996 Canadian Championships in digitized video form. The YouTube playlist, which includes several of the medal-winning free skates from the senior events, can be found above or at

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