Barbara Ann Scott may have been Canada’s Sweetheart, but to Ottawa’s Minto Skating Club, she was an inspiration.
Members of the 108-year-old club gathered on Monday to fondly remember Scott, their most famous graduate and the only Canadian to win figure skating singles gold at the Olympics.
Scott, 84, died in her Florida home Sunday with husband Tom King at her side.
“She means a great deal to [young skaters], because Barbara Ann was never a distant figure to our club and to its members and indeed to our skaters over generations,” said Minto Club president Bruce Mayo. “Although she lived in the U.S., she visited the club frequently, and she was always accessible.
“She was an extremely humble person, so she was always pleased to come around.”
Scott was born and raised in Ottawa and perfected her skating form at the renowned Minto.
Childhood friend Judy Reid, who used to practise beside Scott, recalled her impressive work ethic even as a young girl.
“Barbara Ann practised from early morning until early evening every day,” said Reid. “When it came to school figures I was fortunate enough to have the patch next to her and so, naturally, I admired her magnificent tracings but I also was peaking with another eye, learning at the same time that I must be good.”
At the time, figure skaters were judged on how precisely they could cut figures into the ice with their blades.
Barbara Paszat, who was also a member of the Minto Club in the 1940s, recalled how much Scott sacrificed for skating.
“She never attended proper school, never had a birthday party that she was able to go to,” said Paszat in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “It was just skate, skate, skate, skate.”
That dedication paid off for Scott, who dominated international competition in the 1940s. She won the Canadian championships four times, the North American, European and world championships twice.
Scott’s dominance led to some changes in international skating competition, like the exclusion of non-Europeans from that continent’s championship. Her best year was 1948, when she won four major titles including Olympic gold at the Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, all before her 21st birthday.
“She won five titles one after the other — Canadian, North American, European, world and Olympic medals —and no one else has done that,” said Emery Leger, the archivist for Skate Canada. “That’s why we will always remember her.”
But in Ottawa and the Minto Club in particular, it’s her gentle nature that her friends and family in the skating community will always remember.
“She just couldn’t have been a nicer human being and we all were so fond of her,” said Paszat. “She never had a big head about her success in her skating career.
“She was just a nice kid.”
Scott’s sweet disposition benefited later generations of skaters.
“If you were a young skater in our club and you wanted to meet Barbara Ann Scott the opportunity was certainly there,” said Mayo. “She would talk to young skaters, she would autograph things.
“[She was] tremendously accessible for her whole life.”
Reid noted that Scott was always eager to help the Minto Club and especially its young skaters.
“All the years, yes, she kept a connection to Ottawa but she also loved her Minto Skating Club and was always here for us and we were here for her,” said Reid. “Having her in shows or having teas or receptions or balls.”
Mayo was struck with how Scott could light up a room.
“When she walked into a room she had a commanding presence, but not in any sort of negative way, it was more in a glowing way,” said Mayo. “She was extremely well turned out. She looked the part. If you wanted to imagine what a world champion Olympian figure skater would look like, throughout her whole life, I think Barbara Ann Scott would be that person.
“She always looked the part and she was completely appropriate to what you expected from her, but always accessible and always in a humble sort of way, so she was highly approachable.”
With files from Jennifer Ditchburn in Ottawa.