5 Surprising Facts About Canadian Skaters

Canadian skaters have won Olympic medals in every discipline and from 1982 to 2003, there was at least one Canadian skater on the podium at every single World Championships. The accomplishments of each and every one of the country's golden stars are highlighted in the brand new book "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", available now on Amazon. Here are some surprising facts about Canadian skaters from the book that you might have missed!


Left: Louis Rubenstein. Photo courtesy Musée d'histoire sociale de Montréal - Musée McCord. Right: A penny-farthing bicycle.

Credited as the "Father of Figure Skating in Canada", Louis Rubenstein is best remembered for winning a gold medal in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1890 and serving as the President of the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada for many years. Louis Rubenstein wasn't only a brilliant skater, he was also a talented cyclist as well. He competed in the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association's races on a penny-farthing bicycle, placing in the top ten. He was a founding member and President of the Canadian Wheelman's Association.


Constance Wilson

As a Commonwealth country, Canada has long had very close ties with Great Britain. In the early twentieth century, it wasn't uncommon for Canadian skaters with the means to do so to make the trip 'across the pond' to practice in Britain's well-appointed indoor rinks. Some even passed the National Skating Association's tests, which was considered quite a feather in one's cap back in those days. Imagine the stir caused in Northern England in 1928, when a group of Canadians who had taken a ship over to compete at the World Championships in London decided to extend their overseas trip by a week and vie for British titles. Montgomery Wilson took the silver in the men's event; Maude Smith and Jack Eastwood the bronze in pairs. Constance Wilson and Cecil Smith placed 1-2 in the women's event, defeating the reigning Champion Kathleen Shaw, who was from the host city of Manchester. Canadians were never so greatly represented at the British Championships again, though skaters from other Commonwealth countries such as Australia and South Africa certainly made appearances. In his book "Our Skating Heritage", British skating historian Dennis L. Bird wrote, "Truly the Canadians were doughty invaders of the British skating world; indigenous competitors were glad that they never came back another year." 


Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini. Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada.

Over the years, Canadian pairs have won Olympic medals in every colour and a total of twelve World titles, the most recent being Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's second consecutive win in 2016. What might surprise you is the fact that for over forty years, there has been at least one Canadian pair in the top ten every single year at the World Championships. The last time Canada didn't have a pair in the top ten at Worlds was in 1980 and ironically, Canada's pair that year went on to win a World title just four years later. You may have heard of them... Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini. 


Photo courtesy Ville de Berthierville

Berthierville, Quebec is home to a rink named after the fifth Canadian to win an Olympic medal in women's figure skating. Last month, a wax statue of Joannie Rochette was unveiled at the Aréna Joannie Rochette. In an interview with "L'Action D'Autray", Joannie said, "I am proud that the statue is here. If history can remind young skaters that it's possible to train in Berthierville and make it to the Olympics... so much the better if it inspires them to continue in this beautiful sport that I loved so much and that I always like." Joannie has received much praise for her important work on the front-lines in long-term care facilities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 


Barbara Ann Scott at the RAF Northolt airport in England after winning the 1947 World Championships. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

In 1947, Barbara Ann Scott was perhaps the first woman to travel by air enroute to winning a World title in singles skating. The following year, Barbara Ann and coach Sheldon Galbraith flew from the Dorval Airport in Montreal to Prestwick, Scotland, on the first leg of their trip to the Continent for the European Championships in Prague, Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz and World Championships in Davos. Barbara Ann slept the whole way on the red-eye; Mr. Galbraith "felt quite ill during the entire journey and had only managed a few winks." One of their fellow passengers was Deputy Leader of Great Britain's Conservative Party Anthony Eden, who went on to serve as Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957. In Davos, when Barbara Ann was doing her loop change loop figure, "an airplane practically skimmed the rink, its motors roaring and its shadow hiding my tracing from me... I could thank my old habit of concentration for help in pulling me through." Barbara Ann was no stranger to planes... she joined the Ottawa Flying Club, completed a short solo flight (albeit a bumpy one) and earned her private license. In her autobiography "Skate With Me", she recalled, "I've never had any cause to be frightened in a plane. One time we took off from Boston to St. Andrews... on a fairly nice day. Before we'd gone far we got into the middle of a terrible storm. We were all fastened down with our safety belts around our middles but the dishes flew around and the fruit salad was on the floor and people were getting sick right and left. The pilot tried to get through the storm but that was impossible; it seemed that the wings were practically ready to fall off, they were shaking so. When he couldn't get round the storm either he turned and went back to Boston. I quite enjoyed that. Air travel can be just a bit dull but with a wild storm going on it becomes exciting."

There's always more to know about the people who have shaped the sport. In "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", you will find hundreds of biographies in a Who's Who of Canadian Figure Skating, interesting facts about the governance of the sport and skating clubs, complete results of the Canadian Championships dating back to the very beginning and much more. Order your copy today!

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.