Skater in Residence – Debbi Wilkes Memories

Back in the 1960s, the little village of Unionville had a population of 603. The town was so small it had only one “official” street, Main Street. It was so small, it didn’t even warrant a bus stop for travellers heading to Toronto, at the time, the Big City so far to the south.

What the village did have was a hockey rink, home ice to one of the area’s Junior Hockey Teams. The town was, dare I say, hockey crazy, a detail which meant there was next to no interest or ice time for figure skating.

As the Unionville Figure Skating Club struggled to grow and find its important place in the community, my partner Guy Revell and I were also struggling to find suitable training ice. Unionville’s Crosby Arena was an historic venue but it had a small ice surface, freezing cold dressing rooms and a ceiling so low Guy and I had to carefully plan where to position our upside-down cartwheel lift or my blades would hit the steel rafters!

Thanks to the Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club and to Tam O’Shanter and the Upper Canada Skating Club, we found all the extra ice and support we needed to help us on our path to the Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria in the winter of 1964.

The thrill of being selected for the Olympic Team and then carrying Canada’s colours into competition will always be huge highlights in my life. In time, memories of standing on the Olympic podium and receiving our medals as we watched the raising of Canada’s flag became brilliant reminders of a significant accomplishment and a dream come true.

No question, that was a “biggie” and yet, for me, some of the memories of the smallest experiences give me as much pleasure.

After the Games, apparently Unionville and the village residents were priming for our arrival home.

As I recall, our flights were delayed so long that when we finally landed at Malton Airport around 2 am in the morning (no Pearson for many more years), it was a pretty empty place except for our waiting families. Unionville was about an hour away, Guy’s home in Newmarket even further in a different direction.

About 5 minutes from home along Highway 7 our car was pulled over by the police! I had no idea what was going on and was even more confused when I realized Guy’s car was also pulled over on the side of the road … not even close to the route to Newmarket.

And then the police officer asked ME to step out of the car … I have to say I was more scared than when I was waiting for my name to be called at the Olympic Games! But my Mom said, “It’s okay, go ahead.” At which time the big red fire engine pulled into view to take me and Guy on a celebratory ride down Main Street and in front of all 603 residents of Unionville.

Sirens blaring, horns honking, people stepping out of their front doors to wave with congratulations, that experience is right up there with standing on the Olympic podium in front of the world.

                    

 

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