Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Old Winter Sports - Skating

by Anita Mae Draper

This is my third in a series of posts showing Old Winter Sports. You can find the others here:
Part 1 - Early Snowshoes for Man and Beast
Part 2 - Snowshoes from Yesteryear to Today

Medieval bone skates on display at the Museum of London.
Courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_skate 

In researching for this post, I was thrilled to discover this tidbit in the wikipedia page on ice skating:

According to a study done by Federico Formenti, University of Oxford, and Alberto Minetti, University of Milan, Finns were the first to develop ice skates some 5,000 years ago from animal bones. This was important for the Finnish populations to save energy in harsh winter conditions when hunting in Finnish LakelandThe first skate to use a metal blade was found in Scandinavia and was dated to 200 and was fitted with a thin strip of copper folded and attached to the underside of a leather shoe.

That was confirmed in a post by Stefan Lovgren of the National Geographic News who said, " Ice-skating—the oldest human-powered means of transportation—was invented in Finland not for fun but for survival, according to a new study."

Yay, me! (If you haven't been following my blogs, my maternal grandparents are Finns.)

There are many different types of skates, odd and unusual ones like the bone skates above, clog skates, etc at the Virtual Ice Skates Museum. Since the site is copyrighted, I won't copy their images, and I'll let you check them out as you wish. Instead, I'd like to concentrate in the time period I set my stories in - the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.

1900-1910 Wood and metal skates fashioned by a blacksmith in the Montreal area. © McCord Museum

Although many people think the above photo is how ice skates looked in the mid-19th century, lands where snow and ice prevailed had efficient skates for all ages like the one below:

1862 Ice Skates found on Pinterest

I knew I'd filed this image somewhere but couldn't find it until I looked on my Pinterest board of Historic Winter Sports, which is the board I'm displaying all the images I've posted in this series. I don't know where the image originally came from because one of the links along the way isn't good, but I can tell you I repinned it from Carla Olson Gade's Pinterest board. :)

Then, as now, the climax to the season was the Skating Carnival. In the above photo, children pose in their skating carnival costume. Because they often skated on outdoor ponds and rivers, most skating carnivals were held in February before the ice began to thaw.

The Newmarket Era, Feb. 13, 1885
To the left is a write-up I found while researching my husband's family in the Newmarket, Ontario area for the 1911 Courtship Love Letters on my Author Memories blog. Although socially unnacceptable by today's standards due to racial ignorance of the time, the article could have been written about any skating carnival I've ever watched, and with four kids who were all members of the Canadian Figure Skating Association at one time or another (Nick and JJ started at 2 yrs old), I've been to a whack of carnivals. Mount Albert was a small farming community of only a few hundred people, and yet they were blessed with a rink and the article states that they decorated it with Chinese lanterns.

I found this ad for new skates in the 1897 edition of the same paper.

The Newmarket Era, 1897

LouisRubenstein, championship figure skater, Montreal, QC, 1893  ©McCord Museum

Louis Rubenstein (1861-1931) is considered the "Father of Canadian Figure Skating."  Prior to 1892 the  World Figure Skating Championships didn't exist, but there were still championships. Rubenstein was chosen to represent Canada in a championship held in St. Petersburg, Russia. He won the gold medal despite being the subject of anti-semitism.  Rubenstein was the force behind the birth of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada, now known as Skate Canada, and he served as President of the International Skating Union of America from 1907-1909. 

c 1910 Harold and Mary McHugh skating at Banff Winter Carnival, Banff, AB.

In 1910, Harold and Mary McHugh skated at the Banff Winter Carnival in Banff, Alberta. Here they are wearing their skating costumes and medals. The Glenbow Museum states "They won all fancy skating awards in individual and team competitions."

Canadian women have been playing hockey for over a century, as evidenced by this photo taken in 1905 in Banff, AB.

1904-1905 Women's Hockey in Banff, Alberta

 However, as far as I know, we’ve never been as brave as these Dutch women who proved their abilities while wearing bathing suits in 1925 Minneapolis, MN .

c 1925 Dutch Women Playing Hockey in Bathing Suits, Minneapolis, MN.
Photo courtesy of  Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad

Now take these kids… they know how to dress for the weather. Mind you, I’d untangle that little girl from the sled rope around her legs before letting her take a spin on the ice.

Children playing hockey, 1908, Rowley Murphy collection
Archives of Ontario

People in Nome, Alaska know how to enjoy their winter. I’m not sure I’d feel safe skating next to those ships, though.

 Skating on Snake River, Nome, Alaska c 1903-1915,
Note: Ships in distance on Norton Sound, Bering Sea

I couldn’t put a list of skating photos without showing an ice waltz. Wouldn’t this be a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon? I’d say yes except that I’m one of the rare Canadians who don’t like to skate. Like most kids in Grade 5, we took the regulatory skating lessons at a local rink, but our family didn’t have much and my skates didn’t have much support left in the ankles. I suppose I didn’t have much strength in my ankles either. So for me, skating was a horrid affair where I spent more time sitting on the ice than skating on it. Let's just say that I'm more of an armchair skater because I love watching it on TV. 

Now take this little guy from Holland…

Young skater with safety cushion, The Netherlands c 1933, 
Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo

 That’s exactly what I needed!
Were you in Chamoix, France for the 1924 Winter Olympics? I wasn't, but I found a video about it. Here's Sonja Henie and some other early winners showing how it was done back then. If the video doesn't show, you can find it at http://youtu.be/pIz-cDy7sv8  

I’ve concentrated on ice skating because it’s a winter sport, but there are other kinds of skating. 
Are you a skater? Blades or wheels? Shoes or board?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at http://www.anitamaedraper.com/


  1. Another lovely job, Anita! This has been a great series.

    I loved ice skating, though I wasn't very good at it. I had the chance to skate on my property (if you didnt mind an occasional dried weed sticking through the ice).
    Can't even stand up on Roller skates.

    My granddaughter just skated on the Olympic outdoor rink in Lake Placid last week. She's four and a half and I know she'll remember it because she was so excited. And she has no real idea the significance of Lake Placid yet, other than it's pretty.

    I think my ice skating days are over. The bone skates are amazing, but of course a frozen river was a great option for travel!

  2. I used to love ice skating. But now I have a permanent daily reminder of my last ice skating venture almost twelve years ago, and I can no longer skate.

    The pictures are awesome, Anita. I like them all, especially the bone skates. To me that's such a cool reminder of the innovative spirit of mankind.

  3. I also used to love ice skating. Now the ice seems a long ways down! :)
    I fantasized about being a figure skating and, in my imagination, did great performances on the frozen pond on our farm (actually skating, pretending to be great). In reality, I was too tall and gangly to be a really graceful skater. Oh well. I had fun anyway! I haven't been on skates for a few years now and do miss it sometimes.
    I had no idea ice skating went back so far in history! Amazing! Thanks for this information!

  4. Deb, you're like me, then. About the only thing I liked about skating was the whoosey feeling afterward where I felt like I still had them on my feet. Like walking on a cloud. Haha.

    And what is the significance of Lake Placid other than being an Olympic venue?

  5. Thank you, Suzie. I hear you on the falling reminders. Today, I am hobbling around as if my knee caps are disconnected - like they're floating a half inch out from where they're supposed to be. So much for the +2 above freezing temps we've been enjoying for the past few days.

    Praying for your daily reminder.

  6. Hi Elaine, I love that 'long way down' comment. I know that feeling. More so since falling and bruising my ribs on an icy curb near the Walmart entrance a couple years ago. That feeling of helplessness as I waited to kiss the dirty-snow-and-ice-from-people's-shoes-and-boots-covered cement just won't go away.

    Thank you and you're welcome. :)

  7. haven't ice skated since before my teens. i enjoyed it, i just wasn't that coordinated.

    i think i'd prefer ice skating to roller blading. it just seems more graceful.

    thanks for another great post Anita. i love reading about the stuff you research!

  8. Oh, I love skating! Ice and roller. So much fun. I haven't been in a long time, but I was reasonably competent at both. No tricks or anything, but I could skate. You make me want to give it another try! :)

  9. Thank You for checking it out, DebH.

    I tried roller skates back in the 60's - you know, the 4 wheeled ones. Although I could stand straighter with them than the blades, I couldn't get the turning or stopping down and either crashed into the boards or knocked into someone to stop.

    That little Dutch boy with the pillow reminds me of Guppy. :)

  10. Ice skating in Texas, DeAnna? Or did you live somewhere else as a youngster?

    I know you have blizzards and such, but I thought they were anomalies. I hadn't realized it got cold enough for ice to hang around awhile.

    And girl, I believe you'd be 'reasonably competent' at anything you put your mind to.

  11. Another fun post in this series. I love the photos (that safety cushion made me laugh)--nicely done, Anita.

    I haven't skated, ice or roller, in years. Anita, it doesn't snow here, really, but we have indoor skating rinks for year-round ice skating. Ice hockey is popular; one of my friends' sons is receiving a college scholarship and will play on the university's ice hockey team.

  12. This is such a fun series, Anita!
    My parents used to take me skating when I was little, but I never got very good at it. I still have my pair of aluminum double-bladed strap-on skates. I remember being SO excited when I finally graduated to the white leather single-blade boots.
    I had to chuckle about your required 5th grade skating class in school... here it was the required 5th grade (and 8th grade) skiing lessons. Oh, the stories of humiliation for those of us who hadn't been swooping down the slopes since we were toddlers. :)

  13. Anita
    now that you mention it. the little guy DOES remind me of Guppy. perhaps i should strap a pair on him and see what he does (with a big pillow for his keister too *heh*)

    i've been reading all your letter stuff on your blog. i enjoy it a lot even though i forget to say hi (because i usually cant think of anything interesting to say) it is so neat to see your family history.

  14. Oh, Anita, I've never ice skated outside! But we do have rinks. In fact, I did most of my ice skating in the middle of a very posh Dallas mall. :D

    We have ice hockey here, too, yanno. :D

    Go Stars!

  15. I don't like cold, so I'll take wheels please. Although I love to watch figure skating.

  16. Susie, how silly of me. Of course you have indoor rinks. After all Gretzky went to play with the Kings, eh. But because it costs so much to run ice rinks in the warmer climates, I keep thinking they're more of a Northern US occurrence. Or at the very least, only kept where there are teams to make them worthwhile.

    Of course, watching movies like The Cutting Edge where she has her own private rink doesn't help.

    And most of the California movies and images we see are of people roller blading near the beaches.

    On the other hand, I guess it costs just as much to run the waterparks and wave pools up here during the winter, eh?


  17. Niki, the kids don't have compulsory skiing lessons here, like they do the skating, but they take an annual ski trip. It's actually next week, and they bus it for 4 hrs each way. It makes for a long day. All grades from 2 to 12 get to go on a voluntary basis. They can choose between skiing, snowboarding, or tubing. My kids like the variety, so they usually choose skiing and tubing. Lessons are included.

    Oh, and then there are the compulsory Grade 5 swimming lessons, but where we live, that is sometimes waived if we've had a cold spring and the outdoor pool and/or weather isn't cooperating by the end of June. The city kids get to use an indoor pool, but farm kids have to make do. Sound familiar?

  18. Thank you, DebH. Don't worry about leaving a comment. I'm the same way. :)

    Do you mean you aren't bored with the letters yet? Great! I was wondering. Haha.

    The courtship letters are good for my writing because they remind me of a slower time when people waited for their marriage bed. It's funny though, that Noah will sign off with things like, "Your faithful lover". Those words were so innocent back then, but have a different meaning by today's standards. I really like watching Noah and Ethel deepen their relationship back in the Edwardian days.

    Thanks for letting me know. :)

  19. Yes, DeAnna, I know you have the Stars.

    I don't think I'll ever live this down. sigh.

  20. Thank you, Dina. I'd don't think I'll take the wheels, but I'd like to take the heat. :)

  21. That was the significance -- and Lake Placid was an Olympic site twice. never again will that tiny town hold Olympics!

    I hung on to my ice skates for many many years and then I think I donated them to someone. I'm still up for sledding but I think that's my limit.

  22. re Lake Placid - I thought that's what you meant, but wondered if I missed something else. Thanks for coming back and clearing that up.

    What about tubing? Have you ever tried it? I think I'd get stuck in the hole. LOL.

  23. Only been ice skating once, and even then barely tried it. My balance is often wanting so I'm not sure if it will be attempted again.

    Have heard of (and written about) Medieval Shin bone skates for a blog post on Medieval sport though- http://wuhstry.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/jousters-tumblers-and-shinbone-skates-a-brief-history-medieval-sport/
    They picture at the top looks a lot like the them.

    Why am I not surprised the Finnish came up with skates first?

  24. Medieval Girl, I believe you're right... they do look the same/similar... which answers one of my questions of how they managed to wear them. But wouldn't the leather thongs stop the forward action?

    LOL on the Finns. My mom has a map of Finland on her wall and there are so many small lakes, rivers, etc, it's hard to see where the land is connected. By golly, it's worse than Swiss cheese.

    Good article you referred me to. I especially like the part about jousting: "Other more interesting activities could include water tilting a form of jousting in which competitors equipped with wooden lances or poles would attempt to knock one another out of boats, instead of knocking them from horses."

    I like that because some of the winter carnivals here have jousting tournaments where 2 kids sit on a beam and batter each other with pillows. The loser is the first to fall off into the piles of snow near their feet. Every time I've seen this, it's been accompanied with laughter - from the audience as well as the combatants. :)

    And having said that, I'll give you a sneak preview - one of my upcoming posts either this month or next winter - will be about fun carnival competitions since I have some pics stored away. Haha.

    Thanks for visiting.

  25. Sounds like the principal of jousting is a versatile one. Glad you liked my article. Managed to turn Olympic theme into something I was more interested in....

    I have no idea about the effect of leather- physics was always my weakest science, but now I may have to research those in more detail.


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