A File Of Forgotten Firsts At The Canadian Championships

For over one hundred years, history has been made at the Canadian Championships. From Kurt Browning's quadruple toe-loop at the 1989 Canadians in Chicoutimi to Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz's record-breaking tenth Canadian ice dance title in Saskatoon in 2003, the premiere figure skating competition in Canada is an event that has been full of firsts. In today's blog, we're going to explore some of the lesser remembered ones!

John Z. Machado. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

- The first time the Canadian Championships were covered exclusively on the sports pages instead of the 'Society' pages was the 1957 event in Winnipeg.
- The first time an American judge sat on a panel at the Canadian Championships was also in 1957. The judge was Arthur F. Preusch of St. Paul. John Z. Machado, a long-time judge at the Canadian Championships who was an official at the 1936 Winter Olympics, was perhaps the first American-born judge at Canadians, though he grew up in Canada.

Lewis Elkin. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

- The first female judge at the Canadian Championships was Mrs. A.G.E. Robbins of Regina, in Vancouver in 1951.
- The first Canadian Championships to be held in Western Canada was the 1930 event in Winnipeg. The first Western Canadian skater to compete and medal at Canadians was Fraser Sweatman in 1929. He finished third in the novice (junior) men's event. The first woman from Western Canada to place in the top three at the Canadian Championships was Frances Fletcher, in the novice (junior) event in 1931. That same year, Lewis Elkin became the first skater from Western Canada to place in the top three in a senior event.
- Until 1937, only six clubs were represented at the Canadian Championships - the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa, Toronto Skating Club, Granite Club, Montreal Winter Club, Calgary Art Skating Club and Winnipeg Winter Club. That year, two youngsters from the Quebec Winter Club became the first from their province's capital city to compete nationally. Louise Turcott and Pierre Benoit placed fifth and last in junior pairs; Pierre placed fifth and last in junior men's.
- The Open Marking System was used for the first time at the Canadian Championships in 1938. It was "met with universal approval," recalled Constance M. Raymond. "This system gives the skaters an idea of the standard they are reaching as the competition progresses, and certainly provides a very great interest for the spectators, a great number of whom are themselves ambitious young or older figure skaters." Back in those days, judges held up placards with their scores.

Dick Salter

- The first skater from Saskatchewan to compete at the Canadian Championships was Dick Salter of Regina in 1938. The first Albertan was Calgary's Eileen Noble in 1930. The first British Columbian was Roger Wickson in 1943. The first skater from Atlantic Canada was Halifax's Philip W. Fraser in 1949.
- The 1956 Canadian Championships in Cambridge, Ontario, hosted by the Galt Figure Skating Club, was the first to be televised. CBC did a nation-wide black and white broadcast of a portion of the event on a Friday night. Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, who withdrew from the event in the aftermath of the drama between Norris and the CFSA after the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships, skated an exhibition. Robert L. Gillies recalled, "The Saturday night stand-up crowd voiced its displeasure when veteran announcer Jack Hose told the people that the defeated World Pair Champions were no longer Canadian Champions by voluntary default, but stayed around to cheer them to the rafters after a daring, inspired and near perfect display." In 1965, Frances got to turn the tables and commentate the television broadcast of Canadians.

Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden. Photo courtesy Guelph Museums.

- The short program was added to the junior singles events at the 1974 Canadian Championships in Moncton.
- One of the youngest ice dance teams to ever compete at the Canadian Championships were Susan Yarker and John Lynch of the University Skating Club and Granite Club in Toronto. They placed tenth out of eleven teams in the junior dance event in Ottawa in 1953. He was eleven; she ten.

- The first time the program for the Canadian Championships listed the compulsory figures skated was the 1945 event in Toronto. Milda Alten recalled, "For the first time... the compulsory figures, drawn in advance, appeared on the printed programs, which however were not distributed, nor were the figures made known until fifteen minutes before the start of the event. As the competitions for Senior Ladies and Senior Men were on different days, this meant two printings of the program. The program for the last day was complete in every respect. This innovation was greatly appreciated by the spectators each day."
- The first Canadian Championships where records were used instead of a live band was the 1944 event at the Minto Skating Club. Shortly after the event, Mavis Berry Daane and Naomi Slater Heydon remarked, "Some selections are difficult to play, and it is hard for the orchestra to make smooth transitions with only one rehearsal with the skater, so we understand why the skaters chose records. On the other hand, we feel they lack some of the lift which skating to an orchestra gives."

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

- When fifteen year old Collin Thompson won the Canadian novice men's title in Hamilton in 1993, he made history as the first black skater to win a Canadian men's title at any level.
- In 1979 and 1980, there were two interesting firsts at the Canadian Championships. In Thunder Bay in 1979, a computerized Honeywell system was used for the first time to tabulate results almost instantly. In 1980, a digital marking display was used for the first time so spectators could see skaters' marks as they were announced.

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