Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz

Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz

Skating Club celebrates 60 years

Skating in Cranbrook has a long history — as long as the town’s itself — and this history will be marked at a special show next week.

Skating in Cranbrook has a long history — as long as the town’s itself — and this history will be marked at a special show coming up next week.

The Cranbrook Skating Club is celebrating the moment when it affiliated itself with Skate Canada, the national skating body.

On Saturday, March 1, the 150 members of the Cranbrook club will be joined by skaters from Kimberley, Invermere, Elkford and Fernie. Almost 200 skaters from around the region will take part in a magnificent ice show — held at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook.

Joining them will be two rising stars in the skating world — Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz,  the 2014 Novice Pairs Champions of Canada, recently crowned at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

The theme is “Celebrating the Decades,” and the show will feature music and costumes from the 1950s onward.

It’s estimated that more than 10,000 children have learned to skate through the Cranbrook Skating Club over the past 60 years. Some have gone on to take up figure skating (now more properly known as artistic skating), some to hockey, some to speedskating, and many just have the skill for lifelong enjoyment and exercise.

Skaters, of course, have been taking to the ice in Cranbrook since always. And the local culture has always featured an ice show.

Before 1954, these shows were largely an impetus of the Gyro Club in the early days. The club would “import” an ice show, from Calgary or Spokane, and a few local skaters would get a chance to take the ice.

Pat MacDonald (née Brown), who skated in the 1940s and 1950s, and was one of the first club professional instructors in the later 1950s, recalled those days.

“When I think of the efforts of local people, I think of the Gyro Club mainly, and other service clubs — and specifically Mr. James Davidson, who directed the early carnivals, and the ticket sales that raised the funds to finance the arena and the artificial ice.”

The arrival of artificial ice in 1951 was a watershed moment for Cranbrook skating. It made for a longer season, more skaters and better skating. But three years later, 1954, was a key year for the club as it affilitated with Skate Canada, and joined the wider world.

“The Cranbrook Skating Club is one of the oldest clubs in Canada, in terms of affilitation with Skate Canada,” said Debbie Mandryk, one of the organizers of the upcoming show.

The affiliation was important. It meant the club, its skaters, coaches and judges subscribed to certain standards of conduct, certification and excellence. Skate Canada’s programs — like its Can Skate teaching program — are world leaders, and have been adapted around the globe.

It is likely that the first Cranbrook designated skating (and curling) surface was in what is now Rotary Park. There is also evidence of an outdoor rink beside the Manual Training School, circa 1912.

A large outdoor arena was built in the 1920s on the corner of 13th Avenue South and 2nd Street North. It was replaced by the Memorial Arena in 1951, which was renovated in the 1970s, and again just a few years ago. Meanwhile, the old curling rink beside the Memorial was converted into a skating rink, but with a small ice surface. And in 2000, the arena now known as Western Financial Place was opened.

And there have been skating shows, as mentioned, certainly since the 1940s, though the first one mounted by the Cranbrook Skating Club was held in 1954, 40 years ago.

“Seeing the visiting skaters, and learning ‘a trick a year’ when they came through annually to put on the carnivals was what inspired us to figure skate,” Pat MacDonald said.

“The Club, now more than ever, is charged with teaching people how to skate,” said Mandryk. This doesn’t mean just figure skating, either, she said, but the basic fundamentals we should all know as Canadians in our ice friendly country. Basics like edge control (stopping in all directions, for example), weight transfer, balance (skating forwards and backwards) and agility (jumps,etc). Also, such simple skills as learning to fall properly.

And since the Skating Club hasn’t had an ice show for several years, it was decided to hold one this year in conjunction with the anniversary.

Mandryk said the Club has been getting the word out to as many Cranbrook Skating Club alumni as possible, inviting them to attend what bodes to be a very gala evening indeed.

“Celebrating the Decades” takes place Saturday, March 1, at Western Financial Place, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets for this family-friendly show are: $10 for adults, $5 for children, with a family rate of $25.