Figure Skating And The Queen

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on their first Royal Visit to Canada
Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on their first Royal Visit to Canada. Photo courtesy Nova Scotia Archives.

In 1947, Barbara Ann Scott made history as the first Canadian figure skater to win both the European and World title. Dubbed 'The Queen of the Silver Blades', Barbara Ann made her triumphant return to Canada aboard the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth, named after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (later The Queen Mother). Later that year, The Queen Mother's daughter Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten were married at Westminster Abbey in London. 

Barbara Ann Scott aboard the RMS Queen ElizabethPrincess Elizabeth
Left: Barbara Ann Scott aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du QuĂ©bec. Right: Princess Elizabeth. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Seventy-nine days after The Royal Wedding, Barbara Ann Scott made history again in Switzerland as the first Canadian figure skater to win an Olympic gold medal. In London, enroute home to Canada, she received an urgent message to call Canada House immediately. Her Mother telephoned and was told that Princess Elizabeth had invited them to a private audience at Buckingham Palace.

Newspaper clippings about Queen Elizabeth II's ice skating lessons in her youthNewspaper clippings about Queen Elizabeth II's ice skating lessons in her youth
Clippings from the "Framlingham Weekly News", "Western Mail"

Barbara Ann and The Queen talked about horseback riding and ice skating - interests they both shared. They were both accomplished equestrians and The Queen had learned to skate as a young girl on the balcony rink at the Park Lane Ice Rink at Grosvenor House in London. In her book "Skate With Me", Barbara Ann recalled, "We went into her sitting room, with a nice fireplace, and she came through the door opposite us. She walked over and shook hands. We, naturally, curtsied. I was so interested to see what she really looked like, having seen many photographs. The photographs certainly don't do her justice at all because she is perfectly exquisite, a lovely person with very pink-and-white skin and large, deep blue eyes, a beautiful smile, and the most interesting and prettiest soft voice I've ever heard... She dressed much as we do - she had on a yellow tweed suit. We stayed with her for about a half hour. It was a wonderful thrill to meet someone I had read about, seen pictures of, and heard about for so long... Then to find out she was so sweet, so nice! And that wasn't all. The Queen had read in the newspapers that I wanted to see the gifts and the dress. She requested an aide to show us through. We went to St. James's Palace and walked through those magnificent rooms. There were so many gifts, every kind you can imagine. The Princess even had a cookbook. I was amazed. She and the Prince had been given pairs of skates and boots. There were vast quantities of beautiful furniture. I was allowed to lift some of the gold trays; they were very heavy. All her jewels were on display as well as clothes, hats, furs, crystal and chinaware - great rooms and rooms full of presents. Her dress was in a glass case. It was all white satin embroidered in pearls with gold leaves. There were satin slippers and the veil. The bridesmaid's dress that Princess Margaret had worn was also in the case. They were both perfectly beautiful."

Her Majesty The Queen's Coronation in 1953
Her Majesty The Queen's Coronation in 1953. Photo courtesy City of Toronto Archives.

For her entire seventy year reign as Queen of the United Kingdom and The Commonwealth, The Queen served as the Royal Patron of Great Britain's National Skating Association and its successors National Ice Skating Association and British Ice Skating. It was a tradition that dated back to 1881, when the Prince of Wales (later His Majesty King Edward VII) accepted an invitation to be the National Skating Association's Royal Patron.

During Queen Elizabeth II's reign, five British skaters won Olympic gold medals. Jeannette Altwegg was the first, just seventeen days Elizabeth was proclaimed the monarch. As Great Britain was in a national period of mourning, Jeannette wore a black armband honouring His Majesty King George VI. On the recommendation of Sir Winston Churchill, Jeannette was invested by The Queen as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace in 1953. The British Olympic Gold Medallists in figure skating that followed were all honoured similarly by Her Majesty: John Curry (OBE, 1976), Robin Cousins (MBE, 1980) and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (MBE, 1981; OBE, 2000).

Clipping about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's connections to the sport of figure skating
Excerpt from "Skating World" magazine, 1953

In the years following her Coronation, Elizabeth II made several trips to Canada, including a whirlwind forty-five day tour that saw her visit every Canadian province and territory in 1959. Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, the reigning Canadian, North American and World Champions, were invited to dine with Her Majesty and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during The Royal Tour.

Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during their Royal Tour of Canada in 1959
Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during their Royal Tour of Canada in 1959.  Photo courtesy City of Toronto Archives.

World Champion Frances Dafoe was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 for her services to skating. Bernard Ford, a four-time World Champion in ice dancing who taught a who's who of Canadian skaters, was inducted as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1969. Jean Westwood, another World Champion from Great Britain who left an indelible mark on Canadian skating, was presented to The Queen as well. 

Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.  Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

In 1982, Olympic Silver Medallist Liz Manley (then the silver medallist at the Canadian Championships) was one of a number of "young achievers" selected by a local Liberal Member of Parliament to attend a special dinner with Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Liz was seated at the table next to The Queen and was introduced to her afterwards. In her autobiography "Thumbs Up!", she recalled, "The dinner was wonderful. I was seated at table 3, right in front of the Queen's table. I had a clear view and was fascinated by her - she was more beautiful than she looks in photographs, with a flawless skin and very clear blue eyes. After dinner, Prime Minister Trudeau accompanied the Queen as she moved through the guests. When they got to me, he introduced me to her, and she gave me one of her rare dazzling smiles. It was an evening I shall remember forever."

Prime Minister Brian Muloney, Her Majesty The Queen and Canadian figure skater Kurt Browning
Prime Minister Brian Muloney, Her Majesty The Queen and Kurt Browning. Victor Pilon photo.

Kurt Browning had the honour of meeting Her Majesty at a concert in Calgary in the spring of 1990, shortly after winning his second World title in Halifax. She congratulated him on his skating successes to which Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who was accompanying her, interjected and said, "Yep! Taught him everything he knows!" Kurt later recalled, "The Queen looked totally bewildered by this. I wanted to laugh, but I didn't think it would be acceptable under the circumstances... There used to be an aerial photograph of the family farm hanging on the wall above the kitchen table. Today, there's a shot of me, Mom, Queen Elizabeth and the Prime Minister, who taught me everything I know." Five years later, another Canadian skating great, Elvis Stojko, won a gold medal at the first World Championships held in Great Britain during Queen Elizabeth II's reign.

Her Majesty The Queen with Don and Barbara Jackson
Her Majesty The Queen with Don and Barbara Jackson. Photo courtesy Rideau Hall.

On October 14, 2002, World Champion Don Jackson had the privilege of meeting Her Majesty in Ottawa. Don recalled, "She came for a visit to Canada in honour of her Golden Jubilee and hosted a beautiful luncheon at Rideau Hall. One Canadian representing each year of her reign was invited with their spouse to join her.  I was honoured to be her choice for 1962. We were all presented to her and had a chance to chat individually with Her Majesty and Prince Philip. They were charming! After that the luncheon was held in the ballroom of Rideau Hall followed by time outside in the garden for a meet and greet and a royal tree planting. An incredible day and lifetime memory for myself and my wife Barb. I was given the official group photo with Governor General Adrienne Clarkson as a keepsake. We were personally saddened to hear of Queen Elizabeth's passing. She was a remarkable woman."

The Queen's resiliency, dedication and ability to embrace change are all admirable qualities that have served as an inspiration to figure skaters for decades. May she Rest In Peace.

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