Canada’s Sweetheart

9 March 1948

The Fifth Olympic Winter Games began in late January 1948 in the small, Swiss alpine village of St Moritz. It was the first Olympic Games since World War II. The first post-war Summer Olympic Games were to be held later that year in London. The previous Winter Games had been held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Nazi Germany in 1936. St Moritz was selected to host the 1948 Games partly because it was located in neutral Switzerland, and partly because it already had the sports infrastructure in place, having hosted the 1928 Winter Games; economy was an important consideration during the immediate post-war years. Twenty-eight countries participated in twenty-two events. Germany and Japan were not invited, while the Soviet Union participated only as an observer. All events took place outdoors. The centre of attention was Canada’s Barbara Ann Scott. Three weeks earlier, the nineteen-year-old native of Sandy Hill, had successfully defended her European Figure Skating crown in Prague, Czechoslovakia. There, Scott had been lionized, with thousands clamoring for her photograph and autograph. Prague newspapers vied daily for the best pictures of the talented and charming, blond beauty.

The media buzz continued in St Moritz. Time Magazine featured Scott on its cover for the first week of February 1948 with a lengthy write-up on her and her prospects at the Olympics. The Canadian Press dubbed the St Moritz Olympics the “Barbara Ann Scott Olympics.” On the afternoon of 6 February, Scott did what everybody had been expecting, easily winning the gold medal with 163.077 points over her rival Eva Pawlik of Austria (157.588 points) who had also been runner-up to Scott in the European championships. In third position was Jeanette Attwegg of the United Kingdom (156.166 points).  Scott beat her opponents in both the compulsory figures and the free skating components of the competition. Her superb free-skating performance, despite poor ice conditions owing to warm weather and an earlier hockey game, brought the crowd to their feet. (Rare colour film footage of Scott’s performance is available on YouTube; see sources.)

Barbara Ann Scott

Barbara Ann Scott being greeted by Mayor Stanley Lewis and Prime Minister Mackenzie on her arrival home, Union Station, Ottawa, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024868/Newton.

That evening, the headline in The Evening Citizen said it all: “Our Barbara Wins It!” Ottawa went wild with excitement. Plans were set in motion for a huge celebration on her arrival home. Congratulatory messages poured in to Scott from across the country. Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s message read: “From one end of Canada to the other there is great rejoicing at your victory and of the high honour you have brought to yourself and your country. The government joins with the people in extending warm congratulations to you. All are delighted beyond words.” Ottawa’s Mayor Stanley Lewis’ message said: “Ottawa is a city in of rejoicing and triumph. All feel great pride in your victory and honour you for your sportsmanship, your hard work, your genius.”

Ten days later, Scott did it again, winning the World Women’s Figure Skating crown in Davos, Switzerland for the second successive year. Once again, she beat out Eva Pawlik to first place on the podium. It was the first and only time that a Canadian skater had simultaneously held the European, Olympic and World skating titles.

Success did not come overnight for the young Canadian skater. Practising at the Minto Skating Club, Scott quit school at a young age, and was tutored privately so that she could train for seven to eight hours each day. She first came to national prominence when she was the silver medalist in the 1941 and 1942 Senior Canadian Figure Skating championships.  In 1944, at the tender age of fifteen, she won gold, the first of four national championships. The following year, she captured the North American title, and again in 1947. Also in 1947, she placed first at both the European and World Figure Skating Championships. Many compared her to the great Sonja Henie of Norway who was the undisputed queen of ladies’ figure skating prior to the war.

Scott’s chance to add an Olympic title to her string of victories was almost dashed on her return home from the 1947 World Championship when she accepted a canary-yellow Buick convertible with the licence plate 47U1 from the City of Ottawa. Although the Canadian Ice Skating Association had approved the gift, telling Scott that it would not compromise here amateur status, and hence her chance to compete at the following year’s Olympic Games, the U.S. Olympic President, Avery Brundage, complained to the Olympics’ international body that she was in breach of Rule 3 of the Olympic Code—“Participants who have received money, presents or advantage of material character shall not be admitted to the Olympic Games.” He also claimed that Scott had accepted jewellery, and was considering a Hollywood contract. Scott denied these latter charges, and, reluctantly, gave back the car, saying that “It would be selfish of me to keep the car and lose the chance to bring honour to Canada.” The suspicion was that Brundage was trying to improve the chances at the St Moritz Olympics of U.S. skater Gretchen Merrill who had placed third at the 1947 World Championship.

Scott arrived home from her Olympic, World and European victories on 9 March 1948 to a hero’s welcome. As her train stopped in small towns along the line from Montreal, she was applauded by enthusiastic crowds. At Lachute, thousands waited at the station for her train’s seven-minute station stop, and sang “For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” Finally, at 12.40pm, Scott’s train pulled in the capital. The Ottawa Journal reported that she “had changed means of transport to ride a tidal wave of acclaim.” Union Station in downtown Ottawa was packed with adoring fans, with thousands waiting several deep outside on the city sidewalks. It was reported that 70,000 people jammed Confederation Square close to the station, even more than on V-E Day in May 1945. School children were given a half day holiday to greet their idol, while government bosses looked the other way as civil servants deserted their offices.

When Scott got off of the train, the cheering crowds began singing “Let me call you Sweetheart.” Prime Minister King and Mayor Lewis greeted the skating queen with kisses and a big bouquet of roses, with Scott hugging and kissing them both in return. Dressed in a black velveteen outfit and a beaver coat, Scott made her way with difficulty through the crush of fans to an open, black limousine covered in daffodils for a tickertape parade through the flag-draped, city streets, accompanied by sixteen RCMP motorcycle escorts. The bands of Governor General’s Foot Guards, the RCAF, and the Ottawa Technical School played the tunes to which Scot had skated to victory at St Moritz and Davos. Banners strung across the city streets read “Canada Greets You—Bienvenue” and “Welcome Home, Barbara Ann–Champion of Champions.” At a city reception that followed, Mayor Lewis told Scott that “Today, Ottawa is yours.” For her part, Barbara Ann Scott thanked everyone saying” I’ve been in many wonderful cities of Europe this winter but the greatest thrill of all was to come back to Ottawa and hear the band play O Canada at the station.” She thanked her mother, her trainer, Sheldon Galbraith, and gave a special word of appreciation to the Minto Skating Club.

Barbara Ann Scott greets fans

Barbara Ann Scott waves to her fans outside Union Station, Ottawa, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024867/Newton.

The City of Ottawa later presented Scott with another new car with the licence plate 48U1. This time, as she had retired from the amateur ranks, she gratefully accepted it. In December 1948, she embarked on a professional career, debuting at the Roxy Theater in New York City. In 1951, she joined Arthur M. Wirtz’s “Hollywood Ice Review,” replacing Sonja Henie. The big Christmas gift in 1950 for little girls was the “Barbara Ann Scott” doll which sold in major department stores for $5.95 (equivalent to more than $60 in today’s money). Sixteen inches tall, the blond doll, which wore tiny silver ice skates, and had movable arms, leg, and head, was dressed in white velvet trimmed with fur. In April 1955, Scott appeared with her dog Pierre as the mystery guest on the famous CBS television programme What’s My Line.

Scott’s professional career ended in 1955 when she married Tom V. King, an ex-Marine and ex-professional basket-ball player, who was a publicist for the Chicago Stadium Sports Enterprises and Wirtz’s ice show. The couple settled in Chicago where Scott adopted the traditional 1950s lifestyle. One newspaper reported that “Barbara Ann Scott, now Mrs Tom King, is a housewife, as pretty a homemaker as one can imagine, and she loves cooking, sewing and dusting.” For her part, Scott said “I believe wives should look after their husbands or else don’t get married. I do all his personal laundry by hand. I keep his dresser drawers tidy. I don’t think a husband should have to worry about picking up his own clothes, or shining his razor after he uses it.” However, she still remained active outside of the home, operating for a time a beauty salon in Glencoe, Illinois. She also did commercials and directed theatre. She also became an accomplished equestrian.

During her lifetime, Scott was the recipient of many awards and honours. She won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s outstanding sport star for 1945, 1947, and 1948, and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s top female athlete for 1946, 1947, and 1948. A member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1991, and was given the Order of Ontario in 2008. Barbara Ann Scott passed away at her home in Florida in 2012 at the age of 84. Shortly before her death, she left her Olympic gold medal and other memorabilia to the City of Ottawa which houses them in the Barbara Ann Scott Gallery located at Ottawa City Hall on Laurier Street.

Sources: Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, 2015, Honoured Member Stores – Barbara Ann Scott, http://www.sportshall.ca/stories.html?proID=227&catID=all.

City of Ottawa, Barbara Ann Scott Gallery, http://ottawa.ca/en/liveculture/barbara-ann-scott-gallery.

Floskate, 2009. 1948 Winter Olympics Figure Skating – Dick Button and Barbara Ann Scott, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46bHRVndot0.

The Milwaukee Journal, 1948. “Ottawa Puts on Big Show for Barbara Ann Scott,” 10 March. The Milwaukee Sentinel, 1958. “Whatever Happened To Barbara Ann Scott?” 12 April.

The Montreal Gazette, 1948. “Barbara Ann Scott’s Car To Be Returned.” 7 May.

————————–, 1965. “Barbara Ann Scott Anniversary Today, 6 February.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1950. “Happy Home Life Is Career For Her,” 4 April.

———————–, 1950. “Barbara Ann Scott Doll,” 1 December.

———————–, 1980. “Barbara Ann Scott recalls thrill of Olympics,” 12 February. The Ottawa Journal, 1948. “Ottawa All Out For ‘B.A.-Day,’” 9 March.

————————, 1948. “All Along Line Thousands Cheer,” 9 March.

Skate Canada. 2015. “History and Milestones,” http://www.skatecanada.ca/about-us/history-milestones/.

The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), 1959. “Barbara Ann Scott Prefers Being Housewife to Stardom,” 5 April.

Wikipedia, 2015. “Barbara Ann Scott,” http://www.sportshall.ca/stories.html?proID=227&catID=all.

What’s My Line, 2013. YouTube, 17 April, 1955, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sis3jlplL50.

Images: Barbara Ann Scott greeted by Mayor Stanley Lewis and Prime Minister Mackenzie at Union Station, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024868/Newton.

Barbara Ann Scott Greets Her Fans, Union Station, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024867/Newton.

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