You have to admit … skating is in Canada’s DNA.
Millions of Canadians know how to skate. Whether it’s outdoors on a frozen pond, in a backyard on a home-made rink or indoors at the local arena, whether it’s hockey, figure skating, ringette or speed skating, whether it’s in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in Tofino on Vancouver Island, or anywhere in between, Canadians love to skate!
Add to those wearing the skates and you have all the folks who participate in other ways, as club administrators, volunteers, families, friends, supporters, TV watchers and FANS … and you’ll find there’s a love affair going on with the wonderful sport of skating.
How did this love affair begin and what is it about figure skating, in particular, that makes its supporters so passionate about the joys of skating?
Perhaps a little history lesson will help demonstrate that skating and Canada were meant for each other.
Back at the very beginning of the sport, blades were made of animal bone and used for transportation during the long, cold months of winter. With the invention of iron, bone blades gradually gave way to engineered blades of steel, until by the mid 1800’s, improved facilities and equipment led to the development of the “sport” of figure skating.
At that time Canadians were beginning to realize the benefits and joys of skating for fun and started developing and joining skating clubs where they could practice on ice that was smooth and well maintained. The first official club opened in 1833 in Lilly Lake, New Brunswick, but with interest for skating steadily on the rise, it wasn’t long before other clubs followed in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, Toronto and points west.
By the late 1800’s, Canadian Governors General were playing a pivotal role in the sport’s development too. The Earl of Dufferin offered his grounds at Rideau Hall in Ottawa to the local “fancy” skaters; the Earl of Minto and his wife, Lady Minto, hosted skating parties, with the Earl becoming Patron of Ottawa’s Minto Club, still in operation today; Lady Evelyn Grey, daughter of the Governor General in 1910 and 1911, represented the Minto Club when she won two titles at the event considered the forerunner to what would become the official Canadian Championships in 1914.
One hundred years later, that interest in skating has grown and spread out across the nation.
Certainly coverage of our Canadian athletes has contributed to the sport’s popularity and star power both on and off the ice. Names like Barbara Ann Scott, Don Jackson, Petra Burka, Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Liz Manley, Patrick Chan, Joannie Rochette, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir … and their engaging personalities … have brought skating into our homes and into our hearts. We follow their stories, their wins and their losses to such an extent that, for example, when Kurt Browning apologized to the nation for missing an Olympic title in 1994, fans sent him enough metal to open his own mint!
It also helps to build the profile of skating when our athletes become leaders and innovators in the advancement of the sport. When Don Jackson first landed the triple Lutz in 1962 or when Patrick Chan set Guinness World Records 50 years later, we felt proud and a part of that success.
Much of that ownership and pride stems from the realization that our legends, those incredible athletes at the top of our sport, and those who are only beginning to discover their talents, all began their journey at the same place … the local club. Those dreams were identified and nurtured by coaches and volunteers who passed along their passion for skating and inspired gangly beginners to dream of greatness.
Those lovers of the sport who are active at some level of skating … plus many other dedicated fans … were front and centre last week at the National Championships in Kingston, loud and enthusiastic in their support.
What we discovered in Kingston is that fans and participants have as many different reasons for loving the sport as there are clubs in Canada … and it was clear that for each one of them their passion for skating was ignited by something special about the sport.
When asked what they love about skating and what it brings to their lives, many spoke of the lessons they’ve learned from the sport, things that they’ve taken beyond the rink and into life. Perseverance, goal-setting, motivation and dealing with success and failure were common themes. Others spoke of their admiration for the creativity and artistry the sport demands, of the rigors of training and competition and the enormous thrill of witnessing the best in the country perform.
On the softer side, those with less athletic explanations for their interest described the magic of skating, the effortless beauty of a glide across the ice where there are no boundaries except the ones you choose.
But above all, the attribute about skating that was shared the most was about the sport’s ability to offer friendship and community; where individual interests are often set aside in favor of providing thoughtful direction about what is best for skating; it’s here where newcomers are welcome and where new skills are learned.
Whether it’s at a tiny club in rural Canada, in a major training location or at the national championships, Canadians are embracing the joy of skating!
Skating inspires the imagination.
Skating is for life!