Man Versus Ice

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at

With the full joys of winter soon to be upon us (as in having our ears and things frozen off while ruining our backs shoveling that beautiful white stuff), it seems appropriate to explore one of the ways humans have found to actually wrest pleasure out of that harsh season.

I’m talking about the unlikely concept of ice skating.  Looking at the matter reasonably, one would assume that it could never have happened.  One would think that in the past, as in the present, when man or beast came to a patch of ice he would try to find a way around it, or, if that didn’t work, cross over it slowly and carefully.  Given mankind’s bent for inventiveness, it is understandable that we would have come up with footwear that would help to prevent us from slipping on ice–and we have done that–but, as though to purposely keep the rest of the universe from acknowledging our sanity, we have also come up with footwear that purposely causes us to slip more easily.

No one seems to know when skates were invented, but there is a serious theory that at some point a winterized caveman type of person fixed some animal bones to his feet and went sliding on them over a patch of ice.  Primitive skates made of bones have actually been found in Asia and central Europe.

The earliest records of skating are dated from about 1175.  These accounts tell of London residents on skates made of bones and of using sticks to push themselves around over the ice.

The next area to carry on this unlikely but true history of mankind trying to bring on extinction of the species through a new ice age, is the Netherlands.  This does make a certain amount of sense because Holland had (and has) all those canals.  In summertime they could be traveled by boat, so, when they froze over in winter … skates?  Yes, that’s what they used, but wouldn’t it have been safer for humans to use dogsleds and put the skates on the dogs?

It seems the Holland skates were made of wood and had iron blades.  No doubt the first such skates were made out of regular wooden shoes with the blades attached to those.  In any case, the skater no longer needed a stick to push himself around on the ice, for the sharp-edged iron provided the needed grip and push.

These innovations worked their way back to Britain and in 1742 the first skating club popped up in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The United States didn’t have one until 1849, and Canada followed with its own in 1862.

Around this time the iron blades were replaced with steel ones; these kept sharp edges considerably longer, thus allowing for greater control.

For a long time skates were made to clamp onto regular shoes and boots, which tended to ruin said shoes and boots by ripping their soles off.  Eventually this concept was replaced by skates with the blades permanently attached to the boots, which gave the ankles much better support.

Skating rinks developed along with skates.  The first one with mechanically produced ice was built in 1876 in London–where Londoners could now challenge their man-made ice on steel blades.  This was just 701 years after they had been sliding around on bones tied to their feet.

And just 72 years after that, in 1948, Barbara Ann Scott was the first Canadian to win a gold medal in Olympic figure skating.





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