Saturday, 23 September 2017

Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 5

As autumn creeped in the last four years, I introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it.

Here in Atlantic Canada, we use the expression "hodge podge" to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way. I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. For one, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... an a delicious 6.0 finish!


With the rise of touring ice shows in North America in the forties and fifties, producers were always looking for the next gimmick. Stilt skaters, ice clowns, jugglers and acrobats all received high billing in tours like Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice. Another popular trend was hiring skating twins and triplets. One such act which is largely forgotten by many today but was immensely popular at the time were The Burling Triplets.

James Henry Burling was an immigrant from Malta; his wife Alice Louise Gardner from England. They settled in Toronto, Ontario to raise a family. Sadly, their first daughter, Zena Barbara Burling, passed away in scarlet fever in 1922. Their dream of raising a daughter paid off threefold on March 13, 1929 when Alice gave birth to not one, not two, but three daughters: Gloria, Glena and Gladys. They learned to skate outdoors as children by playing hockey with their brothers and in 1945, they were scouted by ice show producers and joined the ensemble cast of the Ice Capades. Residing together in San Rafael, California, the Canadian born triplets became a popular element of every show. For well over a decade, they alternately toured with the Ice Capades and Ice Cycles, performed before the King and Queen of England and skated at Empress Hall.

By the late fifties, the sisters (now married) arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada and performed separately in skating shows at the El Cortez, The Thunderbird and The New Frontier. They even appeared with the George Arnold Ice Revue on The Milton Berle Show on December 24, 1958. By the late nineties, the widowed sisters became modern day Golden Girls, moving back in together in a Las Vegas trailer home. Gloria worked in a beauty supply shop, Gladys as a clerk in a department store and Glena at a gift shop in a hospital. They even continued to skate together for recreation. Sadly, Gladys passed away at age seventy five on December 22, 2004. As of 2015, Glena was still alive and well, attending an Ice Capades reunion. I was not able to discern much about the fate of Gloria. At any rate, we do not see many skating triplets these days. The story of these three young women from Ontario making a career for themselves in skating is a heartwarming one that could only come from a different time.


Bishop and scholar Charles Wordsworth, in his 1891 memoir "Annals Of My Early Life", claimed to be "the first man in Oxford to introduce skates with the blades rounded off behind, in order to facilitate the cutting of figures backwards, and especially the outside edge." He also shared a very unusual encounter with a group of skaters who were members of the Johnian Society at St. John's College: "There was a small Society of Johnians at Cambridge, who called themselves Psychrolytes, because they rejoiced in bathing all the year round, in any weather, and in any water, however cold. I remember one day, when I went out to skate, falling in with two of them, G.A. Selwyn (afterwards Bishop) and Shadwell, who were equipped with skates in one hand, and a towel in the other, as they intended to bathe first, and to skate afterwards!" Wordsworth went on to explain that this chilly combination was made possible due to springs and currents which caused the ice to freeze unequally, allowing safe skating in some areas and swimming in others. I appreciate a skate and a bath as much as anyone, but I'd much prefer them in the reverse order...  and in much warmer temperatures!


She hailed from the Alsatian region in northern France; he from the south the Rhône valley in the south and together they were magnifique! Nathalie Hervé and Pierre Béchu reigned as France's ice dance champions five years in a row in the early eighties. They appeared at five European Championships and three World Championships, their best finish being fifth at the 1983 European Championships in Dortmund, West Germany. They retired after finishing a disappointing fourteenth at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, got married and took up jobs as coaches at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy and the Viry-Châtillon arena. On August 24, 1988, the couple and their daughter Johanna were returning to Paris after a judging seminar when they were involved in a head-on collision. Twenty nine year old Pierre and eighteen month old Johanna perished in the tragic crash and twenty four year old Nathalie survived, suffering several fractures. Though largely forgotten today, this talented couple helped grow interest in ice dance tremendously during their reign as champions and helped pave the way for the Duchesnay's to make their mark on the international stage.


There's nothing longer than an East Coast winter. Trust, me I know... sometimes they seem to go on forever. While the sun is shining outside, why not cool off with a look back (way back) at a skating show that captivated Brooklyn, New York in the nineteenth century - the Carnival Fantastique.

Held at the Brooklyn Rink on Wednesday, February 15, 1871, the Carnival Fantastique was at the time the largest skating show ever held at the venue. By eight in the evening, every seat at the rink was occupied and those wishing to stand paid at a premium, with over three thousand tickets sold. The February 24, 1871 issue of  the "New York Clipper" explained, "After the procession had marched round the rink the Car Of State stopped in front of the abode of the Queen Of The Rink, and at a signal from the gong the door of the Queen's palace flew open, displaying her little majesty, elegantly attired, standing amidst a blaze of coloured fires. Presently she stepped forth upon the car and taking her seat upon the throne the procession again made the circuit of the rink amidst loud applause. At last it took up a position in the centre and the grand coronation followed."

The show's star, John Engler, was known in skating circles as 'Jersey John' and was a tinsmith by trade. His performance was described as "the most skilful and attractive display given since the Meagher brothers appeared on Capitoline Pond." The two man act of Brady and Dollard didn't fare so well with critics. They were credited with being "noteworthy for grace of movement" but criticized for performing spins, which were considered to be athletic and in bad taste. Interestingly, performing the next month in the Empire City Skating Club's Carnival, Brady and Dollard were again criticized for their inclusion of spins: "Messrs. Brady and Dollard did some combination movements neatly, but they did not excel in other respects... The fact is, our experts confine themselves to the quiet style of skating, and in one respect turn themselves into spinning tops. Spectators prefer to see the dash of our field movements, as in the flying threes, and such displays as Engler and the Meagher brothers excel in." Imagine... a spin! How uncivilized! If they were outraged by what was likely a two feet or corkscrew spin, imagine what they would have thought about the haircutter, right? What never ceases to capture my attention as I delve into skating history is how attitudes and viewpoints towards what is and isn't pleasing to watch change over time. Even now, well over a century later, there are those who prefer athleticism and those who prefer interpretation... and just as the reviewer of Brady and Dollard's spins was entitled to their opinion as to what they did and didn't prefer, we all are entitled to our own.


The historical record of skating is full of fanciful tales, many of which can be well substantiated and others, well.. making for great stories. First appearing in the 1871 essay "Skates, Skating, And Skaters" published in "Good Health: A Popular Journal Of Physical On The Laws Of Correct Living" published by Alexander Moore in Boston and then later recounted in Robert MacGregor's British essay "Skating And Skaters", published in "Belgravia, a London Magazine", this tale of a French soldier on skates is a fantastic one: "During the winter of 1806, Napoleon, after the battle of Jena, wished to send an order with the utmost despatch to Marshal Mortier, directing him to make himself master, without of Hanseatic towns. The officer charged with this order found himself at the mouth of the Elbe at a point where it is seven and a half miles to the bank. To cross is a boat was impossible, as the river was coated with a surface of newly-frozen ice; to get over by a bridge would necessitate a detour of more than twenty miles. The officer, knowing how precious time was, determined to skate over the thin ice; and though it was too weak to bear a man walking, he skimmed along so rapidly that he got across in safety; gaining great honour for the ingenuity and boldness that enabled him to deliver his despatch six hours sooner than he possibly could have done by the ordinary route." Unfortunately, I was not able to find a single primary source to support the truth of this story but even if it is fiction, it's a great read!


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Min And Mo: The Much Maligned Muscovites

"They were tall, balletic, as remote and glorious as creatures from another planet... Here were two people who were obviously man and woman in a relationship, with a story to tell." - Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, "Facing The Music"

Muscovites Andrei Olegovich Minenkov and Irina Valentinovna Moiseeva - or Min and Mo, as affectionately monikered by North American audiences - were a dominant force on the international ice dancing scene for a decade. They were twice Olympic medallists, twice World Champions and twice European Champions... and like all figure skaters to this day, they faced criticism. However, the sheer variety of critiques that they faced as a team verged on ridiculous.

Andrei, the son of two engineers, was born on December 6, 1954 and Irina on July 3, 1955. They both started skating in 1961 at the Young Pioneers Stadium in Moscow and were paired at twelve and thirteen by their first coach Igor Kabanov.

When Kabanov was offered a job with the Soviet Sports Committee, he handed his team over to the then inexperienced Tatiana Tarasova. Under Tarasova's watchful eye, Min and Mo's skating was characterized very early on by their flair for the dramatic. Stanislav Torakev, writing in the "Sovietsky Sport" noted that "Tarasova's style of mounting a number is theatrical - undisguised, open, rich. She thinks in images. Each of her dance compositions is a bit of a fairy tale - for adults." This was very much the case in Tarasova's choreography for Min and Mo. Many liked it; some didn't. She called these works "her experiments".

Irina Moiseeva. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Frank Loeser, perennial critic for "Skating" Magazine first took notice of the couple at the 1973 World Championships in Bratislava. He noted, "There was a dance couple who should have been observed by all of the free skating pairs... Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov, who displayed a classic concept of pair skating... Neither the man nor the woman shone above the other. There was a constant interplay between the two individuals. Irina appeared delicate, vulnerable and, at times, evasive. Andrei played to these desirable qualities with almost yearning tenderness. The message was inherent to their movement and it is such a quality that will make any pair shine." Yet, as the years passed, Loeser's critiques of the couple were all over the place. By that autumn at Skate Canada, he felt Irina "perhaps carries her arms too high, too long and is a bit 'Pakhomova' in the quality of movement." Irina's tendency to emote with her face much like Lyudmila Pakhomova led others to make the same conclusion that she was copying her more decorated rival in the team's career.

Suggestions that the team was bending - or even breaking - the strict rules of ice dancing at the time were constant. At the 1974 World Championships, there were allegations that some of the judges 'overlooked' an illegal lift. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted that at a year later at Worlds, "Moiseeva/Minenkov scrapped the OSP that had won over the crowds at Skate Canada for a new pattern and new music because a judge questioned if the Skate Canada version fit the blues category. The revised pattern was in fact not new. It had many of the steps of their 1974 tango OSP and imitated Pakhomova. Their beautiful, impassioned free program received very high marks for too much 'sob stuff' and 'two-footed work'... Courtney Jones (GRB) and Mabel Jones (USA) marked down Moiseeva/Minenkov in third place for illegal moves or overactive arms, but all the other judges gave them first... The legend of Mo and Min, the 'cursed', had begun, paving the way for the Duchesnay's in the 1980's. Irina and Andrei from then on would be asked why they persisted in presenting programs the authorities neither accepted or understood."

The "programs the authorities neither accepted or understood" included their one-themed "West Side Story" free dance, which flew in the face of the seventies ice dance convention of skating to a mishmash of rhythms, often badly edited. "West Side Story" won Min and Mo their second World title... but also split the judging panel at the 1977 European Championships. When they opted to skate a more traditional waltz two years later, people thought they were too conservative - which ironically was exactly the same criticism the Duchesnay's faced when they followed up "Missing" with "West Side Story". At times, it seemed as if Min and Mo were damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

Some felt they - or more accurately, Irina - skated in an over the top fashion. Copley-Graves noted that at the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, "Irina ignored the plot and died on Andrei's knee at the end as he moved dramatically around the rink, starting the fad for deaths on ice. She held the pose too long and they collapsed, turning the drama to comedy and losing, forever, the title." That same year, "The Globe And Mail" slammed the Soviets for their costumes. Nora MacCabe, in an impassioned plea for decency, replete with hand wringing, wrote: "The Russians, who dominate the ice dancing competition, were the worst offenders... In the opening dance, defending world champion Irina Moiseeva wore what appeared to be the sexiest dress, a black number with only a Band-Aid sized strip of material to keep the neckline from plunging as low as the briefest bikini. In the second dance, she bared her back almost to the waistline." In a letter to the editor, Sudbury's Virgina Parraga defended the couple: "I for one enjoyed looking at the beautiful twosome of Moiseeva and Minenkov in "The Globe and Mail", much more than the continuous deluge of the Emanuel Jaques case. Why attempt to change an art form such as skating into something ugly or lascivious? The next step will be the size and style of a ballerina's tutu; and Romeo and Juliet will be termed X-rated. Who are these self-appointed guardians of public taste, anyway?"

Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives

In 1979, Min and Mo left Tarasova and worked first with former rival Lyudmila Pakhomova and then with Natalia Dubova. Nearing the end of their competitive career, the criticisms were quite frankly all over the place. In "Ice And Roller Skate", Alexandra Stevenson wrote that Min and Mo skated the Yankee Polka with "his chin out and her doe-eyed, beseeching look - which was totally at odds with the spontaneous peasant gaiety called for in this dance." Wendy Sessions wrote that at the 1981 European Championships, she "couldn't believe the Russians' compulsories. They were all out of step and out of time. I couldn't see how they could get high marks." By the 1982 World Championships, Lawrence Demmy was of the belief that Andrei had the same technical ability of Christopher Dean, but he "was underrated in the shadow of his beautiful and creative wife." Interestingly, that year Min and Mo chose to skate to Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" in one section of their free dance, which Torvill and Dean would of course make their signature program two years later.

Despite being accused of everything from copying to illegal moves to inappropriate costumes to over the top choreography, Min and Mo soldiered on during an intensely political era in ice dance. They held their own with Pakhomova and Gorshkov, Linichuk and Karponosov, Regőczy and Sallay, Torvill and Dean and Bestemianova and Bukin. They also earned the admiration of many of their competitors. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were awestruck by their skating, recalling, "we just watched them open-mouthed... They came from a tradition totally different from the false, staid, uptight background that was familiar to us, the postures and steps that had dominated ice-dancing for a decade, since before we started." Toller Cranston described the essence of their dancing as an "flamboyant, melodramatic, over-the-top, overly choreographed style that the Soviets did well and nobody else could manage." Tracy Wilson raved, "They had grace, elegance and a sense of theatre... I wanted to skate just like them."

Min and Mo officially retired from competitive skating in November 1983 in a ceremony at the Prize Of Moscow News at the Palace of Sport in Luzhniki. Irina was pregnant with the couple's daughter Elena at the time. She graduated from the State Central Order of Lenin Institute of Physical Education, he from the Moscow State Institute of Radio Engineering, Electronics and Automation. Both coached in America for a time before returning to Moscow, where after a failed attempt at running a travel agency, Andrei went into business importing and distributing everything from chocolate bars to frozen shrimp and pizza. In 2001, he moved into producing dairy products - cheese, butter, sour cream... and of course, ice cream.

Reflecting on their competitive careers in a 1990 interview in "Patinage" magazine, Andrei said,
"Rules are not clear. One can interpret them as they wish. There should be more freedom. What is important is that the dances be interesting." Irina added, "There has to be a federation and some officials, but they do not have to interfere in sports programs. It was not our style to go from offices to offices to plead our cause. We preferred to answer on the ice. In spite of all the difficulties in our career, we have tried to apply our conceptions and in that sense, we have succeeded. But each innovation is painful." The wonderful moral to their story is that in the face of critics ripping them apart for a million different reasons, they stuck it out for the long haul and walked away with not only medals... but perspective.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The 1900 European Figure Skating Championships

Held on January 21, 1900 in Berlin, the 1900 European Figure Skating Championships marked the first time since 1893 that Germany had played host to the European Championships. Although good ol' Wikipedia claims "Skaters competed only in the categories of men's singles" and "the competitors performed only compulsory figures", the event included competitions for senior men, junior men and pairs skating. It also most definitely included free skating competitions, a fact that is easily referenced in ISU records as well as numerous German and Austrian newspaper accounts. The judging panel for all three events consisted of three German judges, one Swedish judge and one Swiss judge, stacking the events in favour of the German and Austrian participants.

Ulrich Salchow and Gustav Hügel

The turn-of-the-century competition pitted Ulrich Salchow - the two-time and defending European Champion - against Gustav Hügel - the two-time and defending World Champion. Sweden's Salchow took a comfortable lead in the school figures, only to be defeated by Hügel in the free skating. As was often the case in those days as figures counted for more than half of the overall score, Salchow's early lead was more than enough to win him his third European title. Although a Swede - Viktor Balck - was the ISU President at the time, Salchow defeating Hügel in Berlin with only one Scandinavian judge on the panel was still considered something of an upset, even considering Salchow's competitive record to date at the time. Norway's Oscar Holthe and Johan Peter Lefstad placed third and fourth, ahead of Franz Zilly, the bronze medallist from the very first European Championships in Hamburg in 1891. A sixth competitor, Norway's Martinus Lørdahl, was forced to withdraw as the result of an injury.

A report that appeared in the January 28, 1900 issue of the "Illustrierte Sport-Zeitung" noted, "Salchow, perhaps, did the [compulsory] exercises even better than in the previous year. He made them very large and with excellent coverage. In the free-skating, which was very nicely put together and from him was very beautiful, he began with a jump... a spiral [following with] several dance dance steps, the Engelmann Star, Hügel Star... and the end was a Haines pirouette in deep knee bend. Hügel's [figures] were also large in axis and beautifully covered, but he made a sound when he skated which was more than noticed... The verve with which he otherwise completed his program this time was not so noticeable... With a spiral he ran in, then made a very beautiful standing pirouette, several dance steps, his special Haines-Pirouette with low knee, rising to the high pirouette, and a pirouette with the same swing, then some figures of his own invention and finally a deep pirouette. Holthe and Lefstad from Trondheim, the two in a somewhat acrobatic costumes (black with white dressing) skated the [compulsory] exercises not as good as Salchow and Hügel, but both skated brilliantly in the free-skating with colossal and secure jumps and deep pirouettes. Holthe also performed a waltz on one leg, which was quite good."

The junior men's competition which was held in conjunction with the European Championships was won by Edgar Syers of Great Britain. The "Illustrierte Sport-Zeitung" noted, "Syers has significantly improved since the previous year. He's skating now with more momentum and energy and also covers the ice pretty well. His skating was indeed simple, but it was very elegant. Steiner from Vienna skated quite well, and in the free-skating, which was also very simple, he showed some pretty dancing steps."

The pairs competition was won by Viennese siblings Otto and Mizzi Bohatsch. Their program was described as "really exquisitely chosen" and reportedly received "repetitive stormy applause." Madge Cave and Edgar Syers, then engaged to be married, placed second ahead of Christa von Szabo and Herr Euler. They reportedly skated "with great calm and [were] quite elegant."

The Hôtel de Rome in Berlin around the turn of the century

The evening following the competition, the skaters and judges assembled at the Grand Hôtel de Rome for a banquet where the results of the event were announced and prizes awarded.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 16 September 2017

All Hans On Deck: The Hans Gerschwiler Story

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, NISA Archives

"Besides all the honours and fun that skating has brought me, along with the chance to travel and see other countries, I shall always be grateful for the many friends it has given me all over the world... They have been just wonderful to me - generous, kind and welcoming always." - Hans Gerschwiler, "Skating" magazine, January 1948

"Bring on the heavy artillery." - Hans Gerschwiler, on men's figure skating

Born June 20, 1920 in Winterthur, Switzerland, Hans Gerschwiler grew up in a skating family. Although his uncles were famed coaches Arnold and Jacques Gerschwiler, he somehow managed to avoid taking up the sport seriously until he was thirteen, when he received his first lesson from his uncle Arnold in Neuchâtel. Despite the late start, all it took were a few lessons with his uncle for it to be glaringly apparent that he had it going on. He left school at the age of sixteen to pursue the sport and followed his uncle Arnold to London, where he earned the National Skating Association's Bronze, Silver and Gold medals within a two year span. Like most European skaters during his era, Hans Gerschwiler divided his training time between England and Switzerland.

 In 1938, Hans entered the Swiss Championships for the first time and won. It wasn't even close either; he was over one hundred points ahead of his closest rival in figures alone! After repeating as Swiss Champion the following years and making a very impressive international debut at the 1939 European Championships in Davos, Switzerland (finishing fifth in a field of twelve) he returned to England, where he remained throughout World War II. He took up residence with Cecilia Colledge's family when his uncle Arnold was called back to Switzerland for army service.

Dame Anna Neagle and Hans Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, NISA Archives.

Hans worked in a factory and as a fire watcher during the War. He was rarely able to train - sometimes only once a week - with the rinks at Queen's and Richmond being the only two that remained open... with blackout curtains on the windows and gas masks in the dressing rooms should an air raid siren go off.

Despite subsisting on meagre rations, Hans did manage to participate twice a year in exhibitions that benefited British war charities. He even did some pairs skating with Joan (Lister) Noble. Off the ice, he spoke English, French, German and Italian and was well respected by his peers. He played tennis, squash and swam, had a piano accordion and enjoyed yodelling "until his voice broke".

(Silent) footage of Hans Gerschwiler and Dick Button skating at the 1947 World Championships

When skating competitions resumed following the War, Hans returned to win two more Swiss Championships and easily skated to victory at the 1947 European Championships in Davos. His crowning moment came at the 1947 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden when he claimed the gold medal ahead of Dick Button after securing a 34.9 point lead in the school figures. In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Uncle Dick recalled, "The fateful bell sounded again and it was announced that Hans had won. I was second. He had scored seven and I had eight in this placings. But there was more to it. The score was even closer. I had made up the deficit in points! I went beyond the Swiss by 352.86 to 350. But that didn't matter; it meant an E for effort, but Hans still won. He had a majority of first places in the votes of the judges - three to two - and that's what counted. Gerschwiler was ranked first by the Swiss, Czech and English judges, with me second. I won the Danish and United States votes, with Hans second on those cards... I congratulated Hans and assured him that the best man had won."

Left: Maja Hug and Hans Gerschwiler. Right: Hans Gerschwiler and Barbara Ann Scott.

On March 3, 1947, "LIFE" Magazine reported that after Hans beat Dick "immediately the Ostermalm Stadium echoed with angry Swedish whistles." Debbi Wilkes, in her 1994 book "Ice Time: A Portrait Of Figure Skating", hypothesized that Hans "won in 1947 only because Dick Button had poor strategy and didn't compete in the Europeans where the judges could get a look at him. He couldn't break through the wall of judges all lined up for Hans. But in 1948, the Gerschwilers knew Hans wouldn't be Olympic champion the way Dick Button was skating unless they made some deals. In Prague that year for the Europeans, Arnold Gerschwiler said to Sheldon [Gailbraith], 'If Hans doesn't win, too bad for Barbara [Ann].' Sheldon said, 'Shove it up your sleeve.'"

Hans didn't win in Prague. Dick Button did... and decisively at that. This time, Dick had a 2.8 point lead on Hans in the figures too and ultimately beat the Swiss star by seven placings in the free skate. At the 1948 Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Hans' error on the back loop change loop allowed Dick to increase his early lead in the figures. Hans finished second, 29.6 points behind him. Skating after Dick received a 6.0 for his free skate, Hans managed to skate quite masterfully on terrible ice but a fall left him in second with a total of twenty three placings to Button's ten. Even though he was the defending World Champion, if you look the fact that those Olympics were only his fourth international competition... an Olympic silver medal was pretty damn impressive if you ask me. Hans rebounded at the 1948 World Championships in Davos, beating Dick 1149.3 to 1145.4 in the school figures but a flawed free skate left him again in second with nineteen places to Dick's eleven and 1948.5 points to Dick's 1928.7.

In August of 1948, it was announced that Hans would be the new professional coach of the McIntyre (Porcupine) Skating Club in the northern Cochrane County village of Schumacher, Ontario starting on October 15 of that year. While in Ontario, he continued performing professionally, appearing in the Minto Follies in March 1949 alongside Barbara Ann Scott and Lois Waring and Walter Bainbridge. To improve his credentials and branch out into coaching ice dance, he actually took the CFSA's Preliminary, Bronze and Quickstep Dance tests in 1950. A World Champion taking beginner dance tests might sound funny to you, but it happened a lot in those days, believe you me.

Many of Gerschwiler's students went on to become coaches themselves, among them none other than Doug Leigh, who coached Elvis Stojko to Olympic Silver and World Gold to match his coach's successes. Hans later relocated to the U.S. and got married. He was honoured by the ISI with an induction their Hall Of Fame in 1980. When Stéphane Lambiel won the World title in 2005, he was one of the first people to send him a congratulatory message.

When considering Hans' unique contributions to the sport, skating historian Nigel Brown said it best: "Hans Gerschwiler was a scientific skater. Every movement or move, either in figure or free was calculated technically. Its cold correctness had a powerful charm about it, because it was performed to well-nigh perfection. The aim of the English school had been achieved by Hans Gerschwiler... Until now simple runs in preparation for getting a position or as momentum for a jump were often strewn all over the rink in wasteful fashion which dislocated the continuity of the exhibitions. Hans Gerschwiler pioneered the employment of intricate steps in relation to the other movements as an essential part of the programme."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Oxford Skating Society And The Oxford University Skating Club

The oldest university in the English speaking world, Oxford's history traces back to the late eleventh century. Among its alumni are over twenty British prime ministers, kings of Norway and Jordan and fifty Nobel Prize winners. What many may not be aware of is the institution's important role in skating history.

Recorded evidence of ice skating's popularity at Oxford University dates back to the eighteenth century. John Scott, who grew up to twice serve as Great Britain's Lord Chancellor and as the first Earl of Eldon, wrote of the popularity of ice skating on Christ Church meadow in his days as a student at Oxford in his "Anecdote Book". He recalled, "I was skaiting over a part of the meadow where the ice, being infirm, broke in, and let me into a ditch, up to my neck in water. When I had scrambled out, and was dripping from the collar, and oozing from the stockings, a brandy-vender shuffled towards me and recommended a glass of something warm: upon which Edward Norton, of University College, a son of Lord Grantley, sweeping past cried out to the retailer, 'None of your brandy for that wet young man; he never drinks but when his dry.''"

By the third decade of the nineteenth century, figure skating was a popular pastime among the university's students. A student from Pembroke Street named Henry Boswell instructed other skaters in the intricacies of skating combined figures. With fellow skating enthusiasts at Oxford, he also experimented with different lengths and curves of iron blades and designed a seven inch curved club skate.

Skates inspired by Henry Boswell's design, circa 1865

Boswell commissioned a smith from Birmingham fashion four dozen pairs and distributed among the mechanics, tradesmen and college servants who comprised the Oxford Skating Society, founded in 1838. Henry Eugene Vandervell and T. Maxwell Witham, in their 1869 book "A System Of Figure-Skating: Being The Theory And Practice Of The Art As Developed In England, With A Glance At Its Origin And History" are believed to be the first to write of the Oxford Skating Society and Boswell's efforts. They recounted, "The great aim of the members of the society in combined skating was accuracy, and the attention they paid to this accounts in a great measure for the dexterity obtained. The demand for Boswell's skates was so great that the making of them was taken up by a Sheffield firm, and the improved form of iron came into general use. Mr. Boswell was not only the ingenious inventor of the skate which, so far as the iron is concerned, is the club skate of the present day, but he was also considered the best skater in the Oxford society, and, with one of the other members, was professionally engaged to skate on the artificial ice which had been moved from Baker Street to the Coliseum. It has been suggested that the germs of combined skating emanated from the efforts of this society at Oxford, and not from the London Skating Club; but with this we cannot agree, as the London Skating Club was in existence some eight years before the Oxford society, and it is reasonable to suppose that the members who formed the Skating Club were to a certain extent proficient in their art; and we find on inquiry of the now, alas! few remaining original members, that all the figures which are described in the first series were skated by the members of the Club in 1830, and that figures in combination were skated by the men who afterwards formed the Skating Club some fifteen years before that period. The Oxford society seems to have flourished during the time that Boswell was residing at Oxford; but he came to London some fourteen years ago, and from that time the society fell off, and has now, we believe, ceased to exist. We have previously stated that the names of the originators of the germs of our art are unknown to fame, and it is therefore with pleasure that we notice the name of Henry Boswell, as he is entitled to the gratitude of all figure-skaters for the careful experiments he made, and the improved form of iron which those experiments caused him to invent."

The Reverse Centre Eight And A Half, designed by Henry Boswell

Vandervell and Witham were quite correct in their assertion that the Oxford Skating Society ceased to exist. However in 1880, a second organization called the Oxford University Skating Club was formed. Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams recorded that the club's entrance test consisted of "the forward and back cross-rolls and the figures 'forward eight' and 'forward three'" and that the badge of the club's members consisted of a "model of an orange in silver-gilt engraced with the letters O.U.S.C." In 1889, "The Oxford Magazine" noted that "the annual general meeting of the Skating Club was held on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at Trinity" and that a teacher named E.F.A. Hext and a reverend named A.H. Johnson were among the officers for the coming winter. It was "hoped that in the event of a frost this winter, both the club meadow at Iffley as well as the pond at Worcester College, kindly placed at the disposal of the club by the Provost, will be available for the use of the member."

"The Cambridge Review" recorded that the Oxford University Skating Club was still in existence two years later and that its skaters expressed an interest in participating in speed skating races against skaters from Cambridge University under the auspices of the National Skating Association. A letter included in the "Review" notes that "in spite of the badness of the ice everyone has been skating all the afternoons, and some all the mornings too, the latter having the satisfaction of feeling as they cut their figures, that they are cutting their lectures." Monier-Williams' book attests to the fact that the club would have still been in existence the following year but by the dawn of the twentieth century, evidence of the club's existence is spotty at best. One thing is for certain though: Oxford University wasn't just home to brilliant minds, it was also home to dedicated and resourceful figure skaters.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Four Impossible Skate Guard Blogs

Sometimes researching history is a lot like fishing. You cast out a line and before you know it, you think you've got something... until it gets away from you. Not every photograph or video that sparks an interest or blurb in an old newspaper or magazine that sets you off on a wild goose chase results in you finding out the whole story. Yet, like fishing, half of the fun is trying. Today we'll explore four impossible Skate Guard blogs that never quite made it off the drawing board... and why.


With a catchy motto that promised to sell you a portable ice rink complete with "the ice that gives all the thrills without the chills", the Crystal Skating Ice Company, Inc. set off on a massive American newspaper advertising campaign in the year 1916. The company offered to sell its portable rinks in sections at a cost of one dollar per square foot, suggesting they'd be perfect for carnivals, fairs, motion pictures and Vaudeville shows. The ice, they claimed, was stored in blocks "in a room comfortably heated" at the Shepard-Norwell Department Store's Colonial Restaurant in New York City. The advertisements also claimed that they'd set up a rink at their office on the seventh floor at 727 Seventh Avenue. A mysterious Madame L.M. Kugel - who I was able to find absolutely nothing definitive about - was the woman behind the whole operation. She claimed, "We have had answers from places all over the United States in reply to our advertisements in The Billboard. The inquiries we received were just the ones that we were looking for, and from just the kind of people with whom we want to do business." Newspapers do note that Fred Gerner, a Hippodrome skater and high jumper and Elfrieda MacMillian, champion woman speed skater from New England, gave exhibitions at a Crystal Ice Rink installed at the Sheppard-Norwell Company's Boston store. As well, apparently one Max Falkenbauer bought Ohio state rights as well as rights for Puerto Rico and Cuba under the United States Circus Corporation.  Col. A Carl Mahl bought the Iowa rights. Later the same year, a second Crystal Skating Ice Company, Inc. was even apparently set up in Quincy, Illinois on the sixth floor of a building owned by the Fraternal Order of The Eagles. The last mention of either Madame Kugel or the Crystal Skating Ice Company, Inc. is appears to be a notice that a patent is being applied for. The U.S. Patent Office's extensive records, even sorted by year and in connection with the Shepard-Norwell Department Store - yield plenty of similar outfits but not this one. Who Kugel was and the fate and real story of this operation was one mystery I wasn't able to solve.


Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland

Born June 11, 1886, Oscar Hoppe claimed the bronze medal at the 1912 German Championships behind Werner Rittberger and Artur Vieregg. The following year, he teamed up with Else Lischka to win his the pairs title of his city - Troppau - along with the men's title. The next year, he and Lischka won the German pairs title. At the end of World War I when Austria-Hungary was defeated, Troppau became part of Czechoslovakia and became known as the city of Opava... so naturally Oscar, who trained at the Troppauer Eislaufverein - started representing Czechoslovakia. From 1925 to 1931, he made several trips to the World Championships with his wife Else (Meixner) Hoppe. They even won the bronze medal in 1927, Czechoslovakia's first at the Worlds in pairs. Off the ice, Oscar worked as a Handelskammer official. He passed away on January 19, 1936 in Opava at the age of forty nine. I wasn't able to find anything on Else. Two Else Hoppe's with birth dates that would logically coincide with Oscar's are listed in the International War Graves index as 'body lost or destroyed' so it is quite possible that she didn't survive World War II... but that may not be the case at all.


Historian Elaine Hooper was going through the National Skating Association's membership records back in from 1930 when she contacted me to point out a name that appeared that I'm sure will amuse just about any fan of "The Big Bang Theory"... Dr. L. Hofstaedter. The clipping is below and he's listed on the alphabetical list just two places ahead of the fabulous Gladys Hogg.

As we were discussing the fact that one of my next blog subjects would be Veronica Clarke a.k.a. Biddy Bonnycastle, she also sent me a clipping showing her membership with the National Skating Association at the time. This would have been when her grandmother sent her overseas to attend a finishing school in England with her sisters. My name was immediately drawn to the last name on the list.

Yes... movie star Montgomery Clift. As it turned out, I found this blurb in Patricia Bosworth's 2012 biography of him: "Brooks [his brother] became a champion figure skating in Saint Moritz, and Monty, always competitive, followed close behind. Years later, when he toured with the Lunts in 'There Shall Be No Night', the entire cast went ice skating on frozen Lake Michigan, and Monty impressed everybody with his precise figure eights and dizzying corkscrew turns. 'He was as graceful as Fred Astaire,' an observer recalls."

Montgomery Clift

Unfortunately, beyond a proficiency at skating, there just really didn't seem to be much more to the story beyond the snacky actor's NSA membership. He didn't move to Hollywood until the mid-forties and his first two films didn't even come out until 1948, the year Sonja Henie made her last big box office picture, "The Countess Of Monte Cristo." Had he been on the scene about a decade earlier I'm sure his skating talents would have been put to good use on the silver screen during the craze of Sonja spin-off skating movies. The timing just wasn't right.


Dr. Walter Langer, a member of the Skating Club Of New York, travelled to New Haven, Connecticut in 1928 to compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships where he finished third behind Roger Turner and Frederick Goodridge. He later performed in the famed "Land Of The Midnight Sun" ice carnival at Madison Square Garden in 1930 that boasted an all star cast including Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie, World Champion Willy Böckl and U.S. Champions Maribel Vinson-OwenTheresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles.

When the Olympic Games came to Lake Placid in 1932, Dr. Langer took advantage of his Czechoslovakian heritage and entered as a representative of his home country. He finished tenth out of twelve skaters, around six hundred points back of the medallists Karl Schäfer, Gillis Grafström and Bud Wilson. This disappointing defeat would prove to be the last mention I could find of Langer competing as a figure skater.

Gail Borden II, Jimmie Madden, Dr. Walter Langer, William Nagle and Roger Turner at the 1931 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Now just who was this character? The truth is, it's pretty complicated. There was a Walther Langer who was born August 23, 1889 in the Oderfurt district of Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Records show that he worked as a civil engineer in Czechoslovakia and lived in Vienna, Austria, Breslau (Wrocław), Poland and Havana, Cuba before he emigrated to the United States in the roaring twenties. This particular Walter - or Walther - Langer went by Dr. Walter Langer at his New York City perfume company Hartnell Perfumes and claimed to have "a Ph.D in chemistry". He also claimed to have ties to Austrian nobility and self-titled himself The Baron von Langendorff.

The Baron von Langendorff and Eveline Diane Westall

The Baron von Langendorff and his British wife Eveline Diane Westall bought out their business partners Felice and Hartnell, renaming the company Evyan Perfumes. Together, the couple developed the famous White Shoulders fragrance. An entry from the Timeless Perfumes blog explained, "The name, White Shoulders, supposedly came from a dinner remark by The Duke of Marlborough, about how Lady Evyan's shoulders looked so white in her evening gown. An image of her in an evening gown was later embossed on the White Shoulders bottles. It would be more politically correct today to simply say the fragrance is based mainly on white flowers... gardenias, lilies, tuberose, jasmine, etc., and is worn on the shoulders when in an evening gown. Of course, it is also suited for anytime use, day or evening. The name may have been inspired by a Mary Astor film of the same name that came out in 1931. Before introducing White Shoulders, Hartnell sold a perfume called Menace and magazine ads featured a model who resembled the title character in the White Shoulders movie. Felice and Hartnell may have wanted to push the hard tough female image during those wartime years but Menace was a strange choice of name for a women's fragrance. Lady Evyan preferred the soft, feminine, grace and dignity with lace, theme. White Shoulders was first bottled in the same bottles as Menace with a large and quite ugly H on the bottle. It was placed in a pretty lace and satin box designed by Lady Evyan, she a collector of antique lace. Once the Hartnell period ended, beautiful bottles were created for White Shoulders and the other Evyan fragrances."

In the forties, The Baron von Langendorff bought a thirty two acre waterfront property in Westport, Connecticut between South Compo and Imperial Avenues and called his estate Golden Shadows. It was built on the site of the home of artist Angus MacDonall and was home to illustrious gardens with a gazebo, a greenhouse full of exotic flowers, an ice skating pond and a healthy shroud of mystery. For the decades, the property was known by locals simply as The Baron's Property.

In the late seventies, The Baron von Langendorff retired to a thirty seven room mansion in New York City previously owned by railroad magnate Stuyvesant Fish. A January 21, 1991 article from "New York Magazine" explained, "Mason got a call from the Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff, better known as Dr. Walter Langer, the creator of White Shoulders perfume and the owner of Evyan Perfumes. Mason gave the courtly old man a tour. 'I thought he was just getting a preview of the art for the Sotheby's sale,' she says. A couple of days later, however, the baron said he would pay $1.5 million in cash for the house. By the summer, it was his. The baron had recently married his second wife, Gabriele Langerwall Klopman Langer von Langendorff, whose flamboyant appearance and behaviour had earned her a certain notoriety in New York society over the years. But he still had a passion for his late first wife, Lady Evelyn Diane Westall, who had helped create the perfume company. He had maintained her New York office exactly as it had been at the time of her death eleven years earlier. She had been called Lady Evyan. And now, in her honour, he named the Sonnenberg mansion Evyan House. But it was almost empty, and in his first few years as owner, the baron did little to change that. He spent weekends in Westport; while in New York, he stayed in a penthouse apartment atop his company's First Avenue offices. His wife had her own suite in the Pierre... After a year or two some of the baron's furniture began to arrive. In 1981, he hired Jane Ashley, an interior decorator, to move in and help fix up the place. Paintings of women with the White Shoulders decolletage were hung on the walls in homage to Lady Evyan. On rare occasions, the baron used the house for corporate functions. By 1983, the baron was in poor health, and his $125-million fortune was the object of a bitter feud between his wife and Leona Robison, the president of Evyan Perfumes. On September 14, 1983, the last owner of No. 19 Grammercy Park died."

Aside from the fact that the country of origins match up and that the Baron von Langendorff had a skating pond, there just wasn't enough proof to satisfy me that Dr. Walter Langer the skater and this perfume Baron were one in the same. To top it off, the Sports-Reference website, which usually - but not always - gets it right, claims that the Dr. Langer who competed at the 1932 Winter Olympics was born in Ostrava in 1899... and died on October 27, 1955. Yet, when you do the genealogical legwork, you just can't find a thing with these dates that makes sense. As much as I dug my heels in to complete this particular blog, I just couldn't rely on my assumptions. When you're researching, you have to go strictly with the primary source material. In this case, there just wasn't enough to make the case.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Put Your Hands Together For Biddy Bonnycastle

Photo courtesy Hilary Bruun

Born May 17, 1912 in Toronto, Ontario, Millicent Veronica Allen Clarke was the daughter of
Charles and Miranda (Allen) Clarke. Her father was a well-respected leather and sheepskin manufacturer who sold jackets to the military that were used in World War I. He worked with his brothers at the family company Clarke & Co. Her mother, according to her son Angus, was a "strong, dominant and determined" woman who devoted considerable time to various local charities and social groups.

Sadly, Veronica's uncle Alfred was a victim of the S.S. Lusitania tragedy in 1915 and her father died of a heart attack when she was only six years old. Her mother sold her interests in the family business, raising enough money to ensure her daughters had food on the table, a roof over their heads and a decent education.

Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

Veronica grew up in Forest Hills with her mother and older sisters Jocelyn, Katherine and Aldyth. She was educated at Bishop Strachan School and at a finishing school in England. As a young woman, she had two loves - ballet and figure skating. Though a talented dancer, when she was presented with the choice between continuing dance lessons or focusing entirely on her efforts at the Toronto Skating Club, skating won out.

John Machado, Veronica Clarke, Margaret Henry and Stewart Reburn. Photo courtesy Hilary Bruun.

A year after her sister Jocelyn - a talented opera singer - tragically passed away at the age of twenty nine of ulcerative colitis, Veronica made her debut at the Canadian Championships at the age of fifteen, teaming up with Stewart Reburn to finish third in the senior pairs competition. The following year, she claimed the medal in the junior women's competition and won the Canadian fours title with Reburn, John Machado and Margaret Henry.

Photo courtesy Hilary Bruun

Over the following decade, Veronica would go on to win an incredible seventeen more medals at the Canadian Championships, including two more fours titles and two more pairs titles with her second partner Ralph McCreath. She even won the Tenstep and Fourteenstep, skating with McCreath and Jack Eastwood.

Veronica Clarke and Ralph McCreath. Photo courtesy Hilary Bruun.

Veronica's biggest accomplishment came at the 1937 North American Championships in Boston, where she finished second in the women's event to Maribel Vinson-Owen... and then went on to defeat her and partner George 'Geddy' Hill in the pairs event. Though Veronica was an exceptional skater who received training from legendary coaches Gustave Lussi and Werner Rittberger, she skated much of her career in the shadow of her training mates Constance Wilson and Cecil Smith. However, at five foot seven, she was a striking figure on the ice that was in high demand to skate in carnivals throughout Canada and the United States. When she travelled to England at one point to train, the National Skating Association even went so far as to state they were "frightfully delighted" to have her perform.

Letter courtesy Hilary Bruun

The Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada actually named Veronica to the 1936 Winter Olympic team, but since so many skaters from the Toronto Skating Club had been selected to compete in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the club circulated a letter informing the skaters that not everyone's travel expenses would be covered. It wouldn't have mattered anyway. Veronica's mother forbid her from attending the Games in Nazi Germany, stating it was "an unsafe environment". Based on some of the stories told of the experiences of the British contingent at those Games, Veronica's mother's fears weren't unfounded. Around the same time, the family home on Russell Hill Road was burglarized and all of Veronica's major competition trophies were stolen. Her daughter Hilary recalled, "These trophies were never found and presumably melted down and sold. This was a huge disappointment to Mom and she was devastated I am told."

Photo courtesy Hilary Bruun

Veronica retired from competitive figure skating shortly before she married Charles Humphrey Bonnycastle on June 29, 1938. Throughout her skating career, she'd been known in skating circles by the nickname 'Biddy', given to her by her grandmother because she was the youngest. So, in marriage, Veronica Clarke became known to friends by the catchy name Biddy Bonnycastle.

Veronica's husband was soon appointed as the headmaster of Rothesay Collegiate School in New Brunswick and soon the happy couple welcomed a daughter, Hilary, and a son, Angus. Veronica skated recreationally on both an outdoor pond and a covered rink at the university regularly, often wearing a favourite buckskin jacket that a friend of her father had given her as a gift on a trip out West. Locals, who'd never seen a 'fancy' skater of her calibre before, were amazed. She tried giving lessons to skaters in Rothesay and Saint John, but found the New Brunswick skating scene to be a bit behind the times and slow to change.

Veronica, Charles, Angus and Hilary Bonnycastle. Photo courtesy Angus Bonnycastle.

Quoted in an oral history interview on file at the Rothesay Living Museum, Veronica reminisced, "Before I got married I did nothing but skate. I mean I did get educated. I went to the Bishop Strachan School School and I managed to squeak through there but my heart was in skating and I skated all over the place. I was sent out to Vancouver once with a group of five. I took part in all the Canadian Championships and the highlight of my career was when I went down to Boston to compete against the Americans and I came second in the singles and I won the pairs with my partner, Ralph McCreath. So we were North American champions. Really, then I got married and I am afraid my career was nearly over at that point, although I did skate. A Saint John policeman came to me and said would you go and skate at the Forum for us and I said yes. The policeman said if you skate for us we will treat you right and I couldn’t resist that."

Photo courtesy Hilary Bruun

Inspired by her late uncle Reverend Robert W. Allen, Veronica devoted much of her life to church and charitable work. She served as President of her local branch of the Red Cross, the Anglican Women's Church Organization, Kennebecasis Garden Club, Riverside Golf and Country Club, played golf and enjoyed music, flowers and reading. However, figure skating remained a lifelong passion. Well into her older years, she watched the sport on television religiously with family friend Rory Grant, often commenting about how drastically the sport had changed since she'd competed. She was so upset about the elimination of compulsory figures that she wrote a letter to the "Telegraph-Journal".

Veronica's daughter Hilary went to great lengths to arrange a touching meeting between her mother and Ralph McCreath when they were both seniors. Hilary recalled, "I was very nervous about it because I thought maybe it would be dead silence. They just sort of looked at each other. It was so long ago! She must have been late seventies or eighties when I did this. They were sort of shy and then they finally began to chatter about the old days and we just sat there looking at them sort of spellbound because they were working... communicating together. Finally, we left the room and let them talk because we felt they didn't need us looking at them."

Sadly, Veronica passed away on July 27, 1999 in Saint John, New Brunswick at the age of eighty seven. Though she won twenty medals at the Canadian Championships and a North American title, she has yet to be honoured posthumously with an induction into the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame... or given much recognition at all for that matter. As is the case far too often in the skating world, certain skaters are fêted for their accomplishments while others are historically ignored. The fact that Veronica has fallen into the latter category is nothing short of unfortunate.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at