Skaters celebrate 100 years

Connaught skaters celebrated the club
Connaught skaters celebrated the club's 100th birthday with a gala show Saturday.
— image credit: Don Fennell photo

The Connaught Skating Club celebrated its 100th birthday in style Saturday. Sporting fashions representative of each of the club’s 10 decades, members showed their skating talents while performing to such popular period numbers as the “Skaters Waltz” (1910), “It Don’t Mean a Thing, if You Ain’t Got Swing” (1940) and “Send in the Clowns” (1970).

Following is a look at the club’s history through the decades.



•Under the patronage of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught, enthusiastic Vancouver residents form the Connaught Skating Club in 1911. Celebrating its 100th anniversary last weekend, the now Richm0nd-based club is the oldest skating club in B.C., and second oldest in Canada. Connaught’s first home was the Denman Arena. Located near the entrance to Stanley Park, the 10,000-seat arena (one of the largest in the world and one of two artificial rinks in Canada at the time) was built at a cost of $300,000 in 1911 to house the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The Millionaires won the Stanley Cup in 1915.


•Connaught began holding competitions and a carnival during a period known as Roaring Twenties, an era when sport enjoyed unprecedented appeal.



•Connaught was forced to relocate to the Forum on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds after the Denman Arena burned down in 1936. But the move proved positive as club membership grew signifcantly.



•Connuaght skaters enjoyed great success under the guidance of Austrian-born coaches Albert Enders and Sadie Cambridge. Notable skaters included Audrey (Downie) Williams and Brian Power who in 1952 and 1954 finished second in Canada in pairs. Williams went on to spend more than five decades in the sport in a myriad of capacities and was a longtime international judge officiating at numerous Olympic Games. She will be inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame this September.

In 1952, the club was denied an application to build its own skating and curling rink near the old Shaughnessy Golf Club because the property could not be rezoned.



•Connaught was close to folding when the Richmond (Minoru) Arena was built in 1965. Arena officials were looking for a club to take over organizing the Learn-to-Skate programs and figure skating in Richmond. Several Connaught directors happened to be Richmond residents, so relocating the club to Richmond was heartily supported. On Oct. 26, 1965, with membership at almost 200, the club held its official Richmond opening with future (1973) world champion Karen Magnussen among the guest skaters.



•In 1973, future Connaught coach Tina (Kichler) Leininger became a principal skater with Holiday on Ice, while in 1977, Donna Burke became the first of many Connaught skaters to pass the national gold level test. She was also one of the first to go on to skate in ice shows, become a pro coach or both, a list that also includes Cheryl (Saretsky) Thorsteinson.



•In 1988, Tanya Bingert reached the top of the Canadian figure skating podium by wining the Junior Ladies title.



•Connaught skaters kicked off the new millenium in style, with Bronwyn Rees-Thomas placing fourth in the Novice Ladies Division at the 2000 Canadian championships. This set the stage for a gold-medal performance in 2001 by Sydney Gelfer, who teamed with Paul Gagnon from the White Rock/Surrey Skating Club to win the Juvenile Dance title at the Skate Canada nationals. And earlier this year, Mitchell Gordon stood atop the national podium as Canada’s newest Junior Novice Men’s champion.

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