Did you know that Toronto’s first skating championship was won by a ten-year old girl? What are the chances that the overall winner of this city-wide championship would be Alice Rebecca Worts, the second youngest daughter of James and Sarah Worts, of the G&W Distillery?
Miss Alice Worts, winner of first prize at the Victoria Skating Rink, Toronto as seen on the cover of the Canadian Illustrated News
The April 4, 1863 issue of the Canadian Illustrated News also carried an article describing the event, of which the following excerpt provides a sense of how the championship unfolded.
“…On Saturday, March 7, 1863, a grand prize skating match came off on this rink. It was considered by skaters the great event of the season, and many ‘fair women and brave men’ looked forward to it with delight. It was the first of the kind that had taken place in the city. The frost on Friday night hardened the ice sufficiently to admit of skating in the forenoon, and many availed themselves of the opportunity to practise for the contest in the afternoon. At twelve o’clock it was thought advisable to haul down the flag, as the frozen surface was being deeply cut by the magic irons. The ‘cuttings’ were then swept off the ice to have it in better condition for the coming sport at three o’clock. About half past one, hundreds of the elite, from all parts of the city, began to arrive… It was estimated that more than one thousand persons were present at four o’clock.
About half-past three o’clock, the judges advanced to the centre of the rink and requested that the ladies who wished to compete for the first prize would enter the ring. There was a commotion among the spectators and thirteen young ladies instantly rushed forward. It reminded one of a fairy scene, as the skaters flitted hither and thither, surrounded by a large circle of enchanted admirers, while Maul’s quadrille band played many lively airs. The ice, however, was in a bad condition for the larger ladies, and, in consequence, a few fell by their skates breaking through, while the younger and lighter ones glided along without incident…”
By the early 1860s, the old days of ‘Muddy York’ lingered primarily as faded memories of long-time residents. Those who remembered the colonial outpost before 1834, the year that the old town was renamed Toronto, would surely be shocked by the fast-growing industrial city of mid-century. Immigration and building were two forces that helped reshape the city.
Victoria Skating Rink, Toronto, Canada, West
Shortly after Toronto’s first skating rink was constructed in 1862, the idea of a public skating competition surfaced. Located in what is now Allan Gardens Park, the Victoria Skating Rink quickly became a community hub for social and recreational activities. It is worth remembering that a skating competition was a new kind of indulgence for Toronto – demonstrating that the city was inclined to organize public events that helped build local cohesion, while celebrating the skills and good will within the municipality. However, there was not yet any established standards or protocols for such competitions. The result is a rather quaint process of lay judges assessing the efforts of those who simply have put their names forward as participants.
Despite the rather informal process of judging performances, the prizes were not insubstantial – all made of silver and engraved professionally by a local jeweller, Mr. J.E. Ellis.
Alice’s prize on the right
Having a rather detailed, published report on this event is great. However, the last word on the topic is given to Alice Worts’s sister, Clara. Thanks to Deborah McKinley, a Worts descendant in Clara’s line, we have a glimpse into the skating championship through the eyes of a young woman in 1863. In this excerpt from a letter to her friend/cousin Harriette, Clara writes:
“… Oh Harriette we had such an exciting time on Saturday out at the skating round.… Alice got the first prize & that was a very handsome silver vase for holding fruit or flowers …. I could not muster up courage to go out before fifteen hundred people although a great many of the judges wanted me to go… We were up there from one o’clock until after six in the evening & to hear the congratulations that were given to Alice she being such a little child to the growing up young ladies. We had Maule’s band and after the prizes were given out, we had dancing the quadrilles (such a nice place to flirt).”
Whether it is the 19th or the 21st century, one thing seems clear… many Torontonians like to get out and enjoy skating and fun in the crisp air of winter.
Adapted by Douglas Worts from The Canadian Illustrated News: [Vol. 1, no. 21 (Apr. 4, 1863)]. Hamilton, Ont. : W.A. Ferguson, . Canadiana, https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.8_06635_21
1863 Alice Worts – Toronto’s First Skating Champion
Alice Worts won Toronto’s first skating championship in 1863
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