Halifax's Skating History (Part Four, From The Forties To The Future)

Violet Snair congratulating Joan Dorey at the 1949 Bluenose Skating Club competition (clipping from the local figure skating history collection at the new Halifax Central Library on Spring Garden Road)

From Patrick Chan, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Kaetlyn Osmond to the stars of tomorrow, the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships has brought the best skaters in Canada to center stage right here to Halifax, Nova Scotia this week. The last three days, we have explored the host city's rich skating history and today, in the final blog in this four part series, we will take a quick look at how skating in the city developed moving forward after its early days in the Public Gardens and at the Exhibition Building Rink:

FROM THE FORTIES TO THE FUTURE

Alexander Balisch
We have already looked at Halifax's first covered rink in what is today the Public Gardens, the grand Exhibition Building Rink and the legacy of pond skating here in Halifax. Why not take a trip forward in time in the time machine and look at how organized figure skating really developed in the city? By the early forties, the Halifax Skating Club (which operated for a time as the Halifax Skating Assembly) had applied to the Canadian Figure Skating Association for accreditation. By the sixties, the club was using the Dalhousie Memorial Rink as its home base, with its head coach being Alexander Balisch, a former Austrian Champion who emigrated to Canada's East Coast after a career touring Europe as a professional skater.

Concurrently, the Bluenose Skating Club was in operation in the city. It had formed in 1941, using the Shirley Street Arena as its home base, and later moved to the Halifax Forum. An October 28, 2004 article from The Chronicle Herald noted the popularity of the club's annual carnivals from the forties through sixties, which were taken on the road and performed at the Greenwood Air Force Base. Violet Snair, a co-founder of the club with her brother-in-law Roy Snair, recalled, "we had as many as twelve dressmakers for the shows. Kathleen O'Toole, who has since passed away, was instrumental in making and designing the many costumes. She was instrumental in the club's operations."

Many of the club's members went on to become coaches, judges and professional skaters with the Ice Capades. Among the club's members was Evelyn McCall, who is of course the mother of the late Olympic Bronze Medallist and eight time Canadian Champion Rob McCall. McCall holds the distinction of being the first and only Nova Scotian skater to win medals at the Canadian Championships the novice (1975), junior (1977) and senior (1978-1988) divisions. He announced his decision to turn professional in the spring of 1988 after winning the bronze medal at the 1988 Olympic Games and World Championships with partner Tracy Wilson. In a April 28, 1988 interview from The Mail-Star, McCall said, "there would have been nothing better than to win a world championship in Halifax. But unfortunately for Tracy and I it would have been a shallow victory because by that time we would have inherited the title and we didn't want it that way... [but] the only thing I really haven't accomplished is to become world champion. That's the one thing I really wanted to do." Tragically, just three years later he passed away from AIDS-related brain cancer.

Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall's ragtime free dance from the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta, still every bit as fabulous to watch today as it was back then!

McCall's memory lives on here in this province. For decades, the Skate Dartmouth competition was been the premiere open competition in Atlantic Canada, drawing skaters of all levels from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and even Quebec. Renamed in recent years to the Rob McCall Memorial, this year's competition will be held from February 5 to 7 at the Dartmouth Sportsplex, where all of Canada's best skaters have been practicing away all week in preparation for their turns competing on the ice in front of the always discerning judges. Both Marie Bowness (who won the 1981 Canadian ice dance with McCall in this very rink) and Tracy Wilson will be in the house with week and if the rousing reception to Nova Scotian's lone ice dance entry Gina Cipriano and Brad Keeping-Myra in the junior free dance was any indication, Nova Scotia loves its figure skaters more than ever. 

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