A Wartime President: The George M. Patterson Story

Mrs. C.M. Taylor and George M. Patterson. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba, Digital Collections.

"There is no substitute for good coaching and hard work." - George M. Patterson, "The Winnipeg Tribune", January 30, 1942

The son of Jane Wauchop (MacKenzie) and Ephraim Patterson, George MacKenzie Patterson was born April 19, 1878 in the village of Lanark, Ontario, which was then a major hub of the textile and lumber industry. His father was a highly-respected clergyman with the Episcopal church who for many years served as the public school inspector in Stratford. George was the youngest of fourteen children, seven of whom survived infancy.

Like many young Canadians in the Victorian era, George took up ice skating as a recreation to pass time during the long Ontario winters. An avid winter sports enthusiast, he also excelled at both snowshoeing and hockey. In 1898, he and James Philip Fennell penned the book "Directions And Rules For Playing The Game Of Hockey: A New Parlour Game".


It wasn't until George was in his thirties, when he moved to Winnipeg to take a job as the manager of the Portage Avenue branch of the Bank of Commerce, that he became involved with figure skating. At the time, the Anglican Church had started its own skating club and the Winnipeg Skating Club was in its developmental stages. George served as the Club's Secretary-Treasurer beginning in 1906, then as President from 1910 to 1917. He helped organize fancy dress skating carnivals in aid of the Returned Soldiers' Association and Canadian Patriotic Fund during The Great War.

George won an informal ice waltzing contest with Mrs. C.M. Taylor during Wartime and acted as the trainer for the Bank Of Commerce's hockey team. His performance in the Winnipeg Skating Club's carnival in March of 1916 was described in the "Winnipeg Evening Tribune" thusly: "Mr. G.M. Patterson's single figure skating was perhaps the most enjoyable of the evening and many were the gasps of surprise as this finished skater when through the intricate figures, many of which were original."

In 1919, George and his wife Gertrude (Robins) moved to Worthing, Surrey, England. Three years later, Gertrude passed away suddenly at the age of forty-seven. George eventually returned to Canada, settling in Quebec during The Great Depression. He served as the Montreal Winter Club's President and appeared as an Admiral and The Old Lady Who Lived In The Shoe in carnivals. 

George's most important contributions to figure skating occurred during World War II. After serving a one-year term as Vice-President of the Canadian Figure Skating Association under A.L. Dysart, he was elected as President of the CFSA in 1942 - a position he held until 1944, when he was succeeded by Melville Rogers, who had been President of the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada from 1936 to 1938. After his second term of President, he served as a Councillor-at-Large.

Having done much to keep figure skating alive in Western Canada during the first World War, George was the perfect person to take on the CFSA's Presidency during World War II. Though conditions necessitated the cancellation of most of the important senior Championships during his Presidency, George worked hard to keep carnivals, tests and competitions going despite challenging economic conditions and high numbers of members serving in the military or engaged in War work on the home front. One of the events that did end up happening was the 1944 Canadian Championships. It was there that Barbara Ann Scott won her first of four Canadian senior women's titles. George served as one of Barbara Ann's judges at that event - one of few CFSA Presidents who judged at the Canadian Championships before, during and after their Presidencies.

During the time George was the CFSA's President, the newly-formed organization quietly blossomed despite all odds, boasting forty member clubs from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia. Numerous revisions were made to the organization's test structure, Constitution and Rules. The excellent book "Reflections Of The CFSA: 1887-1990, A History Of The Canadian Figure Skating Association" recalled, "In 1944, President George Patterson made the first real attempt to formalize the organization of the Association. An executive committee was introduced through an amendment to the constitution. The executive committee would include the President, two Vice-Presidents - the second was added at that time - the Secretary-Treasurer and two councillors at large - all of whom were to be elected at the annual general meeting... All officers would hold their positions for one year."

A generous benefactor of skating in Quebec, George donated a perpetual trophy to the Montreal Silver Blades Skaters for their annual ice dance competition. He passed away in Montreal on July 24, 1966 at the age of eighty-eight, having toiled quietly behind the scenes to help Canadian figure skating survive and thrive during two World Wars.

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