By Laurent d’Entremont
Barbara Ann Scott, who died recently at age 84, was well known in my Acadian village, as well as in the Annapolis Valley, when I grew up in the late 1940s.
We did not have a television set at home back then, but every newspaper, magazines and radio stations had lots of news about the figure skater and her newly-found fame. Barbara Ann Scott was born in Ottawa in 1928 followed in the footsteps of her childhood idol, Norwegian figure skater, Sonja Henie (1912-1969). Before her career on ice was over in 1955, she had won every conceivable award that a professional skater could possibly win in those days following the war years.
Barbara Ann was only seven when she joined the “Minto Skating Club” and, at the age of 10, she passed the gold figures test, the youngest skater ever to do so. By the age of 15, Barbara had secured the title of Canada’s senior national champion and she held the Canadian Figure Skating championship from 1944 to 1947. In 1947, not yet 20, she was voted Canadian Newsmaker of the Year and was given a yellow Buick convertible, a gracious gift for those times (I wonder if the car survived to this day).
The young skater was given the key to the city of Ottawa. She was the cover story for Time Magazine and was featured in hundreds of other publications; there were many interviews and personal appearances as well.
Barbara Ann Scott was so popular at war’s end that then Prime Minister Mackenzie King said, “She gave Canadians courage to get through the darkness of the post-war gloom.” Radio broadcast and newspapers would refer to her as “Canada’s sweetheart.”
Eventually, Scott would appear in films and television and have book deals. She served as skating judge and she was also recognized for her charities. Barbara grew old gracefully and remained a skating, or rather, sport icon; she carried the Olympic torch in 1988 and again in December 2009, all the way up Parliament Hill in anticipation of the coming Winter Olympics. She received the Order of Canada and, this year, the “Barbara Ann Scott room” was announced by the city of Ottawa in honour of her life-long achievements.
People my age, especially women, will remember the Barbara Ann Scott doll made famous after the renowned Canadian skater. This well-known doll was sold from 1948 to 1954 by the Reliable Toy Company of Toronto. Until then, the Shirley Temple doll had been on every little girl’s Christmas list. You can be sure; every girl from that era in my Acadian village wanted one of those skating dolls. Of course, I was not interested in it. I was eyeing the little yellow bulldozers in the Co-Op display window as Christmas approached. That’s not how my sisters felt; they just needed that Barbara Ann Scott doll, no matter what. Those dolls that survived will fetch hundreds of dollars when auctioned off as collector’s items today.
Some mothers would name their daughters for the skater; one woman in my neighbourhood named her daughter Barbara Ann. In summer, during the firemen’s picnic, there was a doll carriage parade and some girls would be dressed as Barbara Ann Scott, skating skirt and the whole white outfit. That display was often a winner, even during the mid summer heat.
As children, we did our skating on local ponds or on an outdoor skating rink near my home. This was one of our best pass times and when a young girl was a really good skater, the grownups would say “look at her, she’s a real Barbara Ann Scott”… I wonder if they still say that today?
Sometimes, it was the mother who was really taken with the skater. If she was any good with needle and thread and had a foot-operated Singer sewing machine, she would complete a skating outfit for her daughter. While the girl in white skates and matching outfit was the envy of every other girl on the pond, the mother would dream of the day her daughter would grow up to replace Barbara Ann Scott.
This was what went through my mind when I learned of the skating icon’s passing some weeks ago. It brought back old memories of a much earlier time in my end of the province and of the long ago days when Canadian legend Barbara Ann Scott skated into world history.