Dashing Duos: The Stories Of 6.0 Canadian Waltzing Champions

In the years before ice dance was established as its own discipline at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, dozens upon dozens of delightful dance teams competed at the National level in Waltz, Tenstep and Fourteenstep competitions. 'Back in those days' it wasn't uncommon for skaters to compete in any combination of singles, pairs, fours and ice dance competition at the same event, often with different partners in different categories. Today, we'll explore the stories of three duos who claimed gold medals in the Waltz, Tenstep and Fourteenstep events that predated the first official Canadian ice dance championship in 1947. The achievements of these dashing duos may be overlooked but believe me... their stories are quite interesting!

HELEN MALCOLM AND JOE GEISLER

Early in the second World War, the number of entries in the Waltzing and Tenstep competitions at the Canadian Championships dropped considerably as more and more skaters enlisted or became involved with war work. Helen Malcolm of the Montreal Winter Club, who won the bronze medal in the junior pairs event in 1940 with Peter Stranger, teamed up with Joe Geisler to win the Waltz event in 1941.

Joe Geisler skating with Mary Jane Rowe. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale du Québec.

Joe Geisler, an immigrant from Germany, went on to be known as 'Mr. Figure Skating' in Quebec, serving on the CFSA board of directors and as chair of the Eastern Canada Section and of the 1967 North American Champonships. For his dedication to the development of skating in Quebec, he was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame in 2001.

GLORIA LILLICO AND WILLIAM A. DE NANCE JR.

At the 1945 Canadian Championships at the Varsity Arena in Toronto, fifteen year old Gloria Lillico claimed the bronze medal in the senior women's competition and William (Bill) A. de Nance Jr. claimed the silver medal in junior pairs with partner Joan McLeod. Lillico and de Nance Jr., who took dance from Albert Enders at the Toronto Skating Club, teamed up to finish first in the Waltz and second in Tenstep. The following year, they finished second in the Waltz and the Tenstep together.

Gloria Lillico with Elizabeth Taylor at an Ice Follies show in 1948

In 1947, Bill formed a partnership with Joyce Perkins and finished second in the Waltz, Tenstep and the first Dance championship of Canada behind Margaret Wilson Roberts and Bruce Hyland. He later teamed up with stenographer Joy Forsyth to finish second in the Waltz and Tenstep at the Canadian Championships in 1950. Off the ice, Bill was a lawyer, author and accomplished tap dancer. Gloria went on to skate in the Ice Follies.

JANET AND FRASER SWEATMAN

Janet and Fraser Sweatman were both born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Their mother, Constance Travers Sweatman, was an accomplished writer of novels, radio plays and poetry. Their father, William Travers Sweatman, was a prominent lawyer and photographer who served as President of the Winnipeg Board Of Trade... and the Winnipeg Winter Club, of which he was one of the founders.

Constance and Janet Sweatman

Nearly a decade before focusing on ice dance with his sister, Fraser achieved success as both a singles and pairs skater. He won a bronze medal in the junior men's event at the 1929 Canadian Championships and a silver in senior pairs with Audrey Garland in 1935... besting Constance and Bud Wilson.

Audrey Garland and Fraser Sweatman. Photos courtesy Nathan Kramer of the Manitoba Historical Society, Winnipeg Free Press.

After competing with Garland at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (where the team had the bad luck of drawing the first position in the starting order), Fraser teamed up with Janet to win the Birks Cup for Waltzing and finish second in the Tenstep at the Canadian Championships in 1938... again besting the Wilson's! What made the Sweatman's success in 1938 so remarkable wasn't only the fact they skated in minus forty temperatures. They were also only voted the third best team in the Tenstep at their own club's selection competition just days prior. The
February 26, 1938 issue of the "Winnipeg Free Press" recalled their performance in that year's Winnipeg Winter Club carnival thusly: "In a lovely Alpine village a pair of waltzers, Janet and Fraser Sweatman... were clad in green and white, with tiny pointed Alpine hats. The rhythm and ease of these two skaters brought them the Canadian waltzing championships in January, and they demonstrated their fine pair skating well."

Clipping courtesy Manitoba Legislative Library. Used with permission.

The following year, the siblings claimed the national Tenstep title that eluded them the year before. Fraser and his parents then moved to Toronto, where their father died in 1941. He married, had three children and served in the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps and Canadian Army during World War II, earning the rank of Captain.

Janet Sweatman. Photo courtesy Nathan Kramer of the Manitoba Historical Society, Winnipeg Free Press.

Janet married a Winnipeg businessman living in Toronto and moved to Barrancabermeja, Colombia for a time before settling in Montreal. Fraser entered the medical supply business, joining Ohio Medical in 1954 and working to develop high quality equipment for anaesthesiologists and establish safe practices for anaesthesia. Fraser passed away on May 15, 1991 in Toronto at the age of seventy seven after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease and Janet passed away some years later.

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