EDMONTON - Canada’s famed figure-skating factory appears to be on the verge of going out of existence.
Once one of the most legendary sports hot-house locations in the world, Edmonton’s Royal Glenora figure-skating facility, which produced four-time world champion Kurt Browning, Olympic and world champion Kristi Yamaguchi, and world and Olympic pairs champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, is in danger of becoming extinct.
“It’s going to be closed at the end of May,” said Kurt Browning’s former coach Michael Jiranek. “I think this will be it. I don’t think they have the money to do anything more with it. I think this is the end.”
The days of figure skating at the Royal Glenora are quite possibly numbered admits club manager Dave Warren.
“Our issue is the physical plant. And it’s been decided to close it down May 31,” he said.
That happens most years at the end of the season.
“This is not normal,” said Warren. “The building is scheduled for a full shutdown at the end of May.”
The question is if it will ever reopen again? And if so, in what form?
“For some time we’ve known we needed to make major capital upgrades for the arena,” said Warren.
The sand-based floor, he said, desperately needs to be replaced complete with a new or improved structure. The mechanical refrigeration or ice plant is at the end of it’s life cycle as well.
Warren said ultimately the club membership of 4,000 will decide. And time is running out to do that.
“We are taking a look at how we might reopen,” said Warren. “No definitive decision has been made. The membership has to decide what it wants to do.”
He said several things are at play.
“What to fix and when to fix it. What to fix and how do we move forward. What do we need to do? What’s best? How we pay for it?”
But it’s now or never, he suggests.
“We’re continuing our deliberations. But now we’re in a new year with a key timetable. We have a May 31 shutdown. We’ve drawn a line in the sand. We’ve decided not to continue to try to operate an ice plant that could break down at any time.”
Warren said there’s no doubt much of the Royal Glenora’s name and most of its fame came from figure skating.
“It was a wonderful time in this club’s history. These things usually have cycles. There was a time we were churning out champions. We’re not turning out champions now. But there’s an ebb and flow. We could someday again.”
It’s believed the club is essentially looking at three options.
n Close it down. Cost minimal.
n Rebuild it with a concrete floor and new ice plant. Cost about $2 million.
n Rebuild it as a multi-purpose facility with hockey boards and dressing rooms. Cost about $4 million.
There’s belief with many that option No.1 is most likely.
For it even to be in danger, much less on the brink of extinction, angers high-performance director of Skate Canada Michael Slipchuk who won a Canadian championship out of the Royal Glenora.
“I have no trouble speaking my mind,” he said. “It would be really unfair if the Royal Glenora ceased to exist. It’s a big club to lose not only for the city but in the country.
“I remember when Jan Ullmark was mentioning the need for a concrete floor years and years ago,” said the former Canadian champion and multi-time world championship competitor with top-10 finishes under Ullmark, who would later coach Sale & Pelletier to their world and Olympic gold medals.
“It was one thing that never got done. It could have been done pretty cheaply back then. It’s not surprising it’s in this shape now. The Glencoe Club in Calgary did it in the mid-90s. They have a great facility today. If this is the end for the Royal Glenora it would be a shame.”
Closing the facility would also open the Royal Glenora to a lot of questions. A significant percentage of the legacy of the sold out Rexall Place for the 1994 Canadian championships leading to the 1996 world championship, record-setting events for both, were directed to the Royal Glenora facility so this day would never come.
How could it be that it got to this day in this way?
“It’s such a shame,” said Rosemary Marks a figure skating judge of 50 years. “I was a member and on the board of the Royal Glenora at the time of the 1994 Canadians and 1996 Worlds. A lot of that legacy money in 1994 was directed to the Royal Glenora and ended up going to other areas of the club. That’s why we made a point of the legacy money from Worlds to go to figure skating in the province and in the section and not to the club to be frittered away.
“I’m so disappointed this is happening,” said Marks. “They are saying ‘Where are the champions?’ Where does this board think Kurt Browning came from? Kurt Browning was a member there for three years before he won anything. I know times change. I thought it would work itself out but it’s not working itself out. It’s criminal.”
Jiranek said the thing he doesn’t understand is what happened.
“Three or four years ago, it was approved to build a new arena. The money was allocated. It was even started. Then we had a flood down here and the money went into a swimming pool. Now they say they have no money.”
The thing that made the Royal Glenora was the combination of facility, coaching and success breeding success said Slipchuk.
“It would really be the end of an era. If it is the end of an era there will never be another club like that.
“It has such a long and rich history. When you have a club getting results, a club with good coaches, more people will come to that club and a lot of young skaters will develop there, too. There’s nothing like having a Kurt Browning out there on the same ice when you’re a kid.
“When I think back to when I started in 1979 and when Kurt came along in 1981 and I remember in 1991 we sent eight skaters, including Yamaguchi, Kurt and myself to the world championships. And the Royal Glenora sustained that right through to Jamie and David winning their Olympic gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Browning, Slipchuck, Lisa Sargeant, Susan Humphreys and Sale & Pelletier were all Canadian champions at least once. Ben Ferreira, Marcus Christiansen, Jason Turner & Sale, Michelle Currie and Cody Hall & Annabelle Langlois were all international calibre skaters. Dozens of others including Skate Canada director of officials Norm Proft and Ravi Walia, currently coach of Kaetlyn Osmond who won two international competitions out of the Palace FSC this season, were familiar names.
“We’d have 18 to 20 skaters going to Canadians every year,” remembers Slipchuk of the national championships.
This week only junior Bryce Chuday and the novice pair Abilgail Seewald and Jared Fell will be making the trip to Canadians in Mississaugua, Ont.. Will they go down in history as the last skaters to ever represent the late great Royal Glenora?
Stuff of memories
The simple fact that someone of your influence is taking an interest in this story shows the power of the mystery and magic that the ice surface at the Royal Glenora created.
Countless hours of young athletes building better minds and stronger bodies is an obvious benefit, but there was something more involved. You might blame the staff and you would be right. You might blame the timing of how much talent found life there at the same time and you would be right. But, in this the potential end of such a meeting place, I would like to shine light on an aspect of the Glenora that is hard to give credit to unless you skated, lived there!
It was ours!
We were young and full of potential and friendship and mischievous adventures and the Royal Glenora was our safe haven. On the ice, the training was both fun and fierce but I am sure that our late night swims and after hours tennis played a part as well.
For me, the Glenora was my home and I could be myself there. The environment was a mix of training and trust. The best part of my day was the chatter before and after each training session which included many races to the phone at the end of the hall to find out what the absent skater on the other end of the line had to say. This was before texting and even when we were not there we still wanted to be there.
Yes, we were an exceptional group of talented kids surrounded by inspired, fun and motivated coaches, but it was the overall magic of the RG that made us special.
Thank you Royal Glenora. I always felt as though I gave up nothing to be the athlete I dreamed of.