Josée Picard and Éric Gilles were recently inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame at the 2019 Canadian National Skating Championships in Saint John, New Brunswick. Alumni Committee Chair, Debbi Wilkes, visited with them recently to discuss their success as coaches and to discover that some of their greatest long-term achievements were actually “off the ice”.
Where is Marie McNeil now and what has she been up to?
Written by Marie McNeil Bowness
Newer generations know me as Marie Bowness, an ISU technical specialist and power skating coach. Older generations, many alumni, know me as Marie McNeil, Ice Dance champion with partner Rob McCall. So, as you can tell I have spent most of my life on the ice. As they say, once a rink rat always a rink rat.
My journey in the sport started in Halifax, Nova Scotia when I followed my sister’s footsteps and took to the ice. At age 12, Rob McCall and I performed together for the first time in the Halifax skating club’s ice show. The number was “Tea for Two”. We had no idea what we were in for, but the experience was well worth it. Eight competitive seasons together through Novice, Junior and Senior brought us Canadian Junior and Senior titles along with international competitions and two world championships. The disappointment of qualifying but not being sent to the 1980 Olympics greatly contributed to my decision of retirement following the 1981 world championships. But…figure skating never leaves your blood.
For the next 20 years I travelled the world, worked in our family business, worked for Canadian Airlines, worked for a Member of Parliament, did event marketing, taught some power skating, coached figure skating, got married and had two beautiful children. All this kept life extremely busy and very exciting.
By the year 2000, I was full time with my power skating program and continue to be very busy as the demand continues to grow. I have been fortunate to work with many professional, university and junior players that return to Nova Scotia in the summer. I have worked with NHL teams such as Columbus Blue Jackets, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. My Tampa work was partnering up with Barb Underhill as she has the contract for the team and that was a blast. Lots of reminiscing!
Hockey was always a part of my life as my dad played for the Montreal Royals, the Montreal Canadiens farm team, back in the 50’s. He also attended the Boston Bruins training camp and when you hear stories from the days when there were only 6 teams, that’s impressive. I guess this is what triggered my interest to work with hockey players. The athletic part of our sport was my strongest skill and I love nothing better than to analyze the skating stride. It is very rewarding to work on power, motion and the small details a player needs to work on to be their best. My work is extremely satisfying.
For several years, I was also developing a few young dance teams. I would often tell my fellow Maritimer, Paul MacIntosh, that I was getting them ready to be sent to Waterloo. Lol. We didn’t have the training environment suitable for high level training locally so as teams got the bug, they would at least spend summers with Paul and his coaching team. Continuing my involvement in coaching dance teams ended up being a fortunate activity for me as that was part of the criteria for being selected as part of the technical panel in a new judging system, which would be the next chapter in my life.
Following the scandal at the 2002 Olympics, we all knew that a “new judging system” had to be implemented or Figure Skating was at the risk of no longer being an Olympic sport. Countries were requested to compile a list of people that fell into the criteria developed by the ISU to be part of the “Technical Panel”, the new addition to the new system. I received a call from Patricia Chafe at the time asking if I would like to participate in the first training seminar in Vancouver as I had all the criteria pieces they were looking for. I never in a million years thought I would become an official in figure skating, but this sounded exciting to me to be part of something fresh in our sport and to be part of a fairer judging system for the skaters. So off I went to Vancouver and what an experience that was!!! For those of you that think the Frankfurt seminar is frightful, it is nothing compared to what we all faced. The only positive for us though was that nobody knew what to expect, even the examiners, so we all jumped into it together.
The next 3 years led up to the Olympic games in Turin where the new system was to get the stamp of approval by the International Olympic Committee. This was an extremely busy time for me to say the least. The year leading up to those Olympics I worked every Grand Prix event and was away for 6 weeks. At the time my daughter’s grade six class followed my travels and once I returned, I presented to the class and included souvenirs for all of them from every place I visited. To be on the technical panel for the 2006 games was an experience I will remember forever. Not the way I pictured participating in an Olympics, but life has a funny way of presenting new opportunities.
It is hard to believe it was 16 years ago that my involvement as a technical specialist began. As I train new specialists today and understand how much there is to learn with the ice dance rules, I could not imagine starting again. But for those that take the challenge, it is a wonderful way to stay involved in the sport and be part of the development of fair play. I have been a moderator at the Frankfurt seminar for the training of the dance technical committee for 15 of the 16 years and will be back again this July. I feel privileged to have entered the officiating world at the top without the years of officiating at all levels to reach this goal. It was a very unique situation starting at the beginning of this new system and it has given me such respect and appreciation for the years of dedication our officials put into reaching these goals.
Today I am still living in Halifax, N.S. and have been happily married to Hugh Bowness for 30 years. Our 2 children, Jamie 29 and Lisa 26, are happy and healthy living on the west coast so it gives us the excuse to travel across the country. We sold our home of 30 years and moved out last week. We built a home on the south shore of Nova Scotia, in the small town of Chester. My brother and sister both have summer homes there and we all plan to spend quality family time together for many summers to come. Who knows what my winters will look like in the future???? My day to day activities are full of power skating as well as frequent travel either to ISU events or work I am doing for the Skate Canada NextGen and High Performance Directors. I also sit on several committees with Skate Canada and enjoy monitoring our dance teams to assist where I can in their technical development.
Life is busy and I would not have it any other way. Retirement for me will be doing less but never giving up everything. I do live life to the fullest and appreciate every day I have on this earth. I jump at every available opportunity. That won’t change. LOL. Oh, and did I say I still like a good party? Us Maritimers love to socialize and there is nothing like a kitchen party.
Reflecting for a moment on my partnership with Rob McCall, I think of him often. He was a big part of my life growing up and we experienced many exciting things together. We lived away from home for weeks at a time and learned how to manage that experience in life together. Two Nova Scotia kids who everyone thought our parents must be fishermen and we must live in a lighthouse. We were together during the years of us figuring out who we were as people and what we wanted to do in life. We remained great friends after we took different paths and I became his and Tracey’s biggest fans. Rob would have skated forever as his passion for the sport was greater than anybody I have ever known. When Rob, Bobby as we all knew him by for many years, passed away in November 1991, I wrote a poem that I read at the celebration of his life. I would like to share the poem with all of you. He had a big influence on my life and remains a huge part of who I am.
Is this world fair?
A question we’ve all asked
As we remember the good times
And the bad times of the past.
Rob McCall has a spot
in the hearts of all of us here
Whether it’s sharing his friendship
Or admiring his career.
As an athlete he was phenomenal
He exceeded his goals by far.
He enjoyed his tremendous achievements
And fulfilled his dreams to become a star.
As an artist he was creative
To a level so many admired
The elite in his sport choreographing programs & shows
Chose Rob McCall to be hired.
As an entertainer he brought joy
and laughter to audiences’ hearts.
There’s no question to be a performer
Is where his love for skating did start.
As a person Rob was loving
A heart that was made of gold
A sense of humor that brought tears of laughter
A sincere warmth shown to the young & old.
To be faced with a tragic illness
With a cure made of only faith & hope
It is hard for any of us to imagine
how one must learn to cope.
The courage and strength shown by Rob
during the past two years.
Are in my eyes, his qualities
That stand out by all his peers.
He was fighting a losing battle
and was optimistic to the bitter end
His attitude was incredible
Which was hard to watch as a friend.
The good Lord chose this time
To take Rob’s soul up above
For what reason, there is no answer
As we grieve the man we loved.
Rob wanted to be remembered
as someone who contributed to mankind.
Well he certainly did, to the highest degree.
There is no question in my mind.
As we gather today and pay our respects
And pray to the Lord for Rob’s soul.
We must remember Rob’s words as he faced his last days.
“Like very few, in my lifetime, I have achieved my goal”.
Rob, you’ve left us great memories.
As we gather to say good bye,
The world will surely miss you
And Bobby, so will I.
Chan visits Skate Canada’s National Service Centre in Ottawa
While the Skate Canada National Service Centre staff dedicates their entire work lives to all our athletes from CanSkaters to our Olympians, it’s not often we see any of these athletes around the “shop”.
On Thursday, February 28, Olympic and World Champion Patrick Chan was in Ottawa for the Rendez-vous de la Francophonie celebration and happily made the time for a surprise visit at the Skate Canada National Service Centre.
The staff had a chance to personally catch up with Patrick, hear how he was doing and what his plans where for the future, reminisce about the 2018 Olympic Games, and the exciting opportunity to see and hold his 2018 Olympic Gold medal – which was surprisingly heavy!
We wish Patrick all the best with his new endeavours and the next stage of his career.
SKATING IS MORE THAN SPORT, IT’S COMMUNITY
Written by Paul Dore
Skating is in my blood. Exactly thirty years ago, I laced up my first pair of skates. On that day, I fell and hit my head, resulting in a goose egg-sized bump above my left eye (wearing helmets was not yet enforced the way it is nowadays). I didn’t really feel the pain because all I was thinking about was the next time I could get out on the ice.
One fortunate element to our Canadian winters is the wide access to outdoor rinks. I live in Toronto and almost every city park has one. To this day, I still trek to my local rink, brave the cold, and step on to the ice. Getting exercise is a great by-product, but I’m also there for other reasons.
The rink is where I seek council from my father.
Many times, when I had to make a big decision, I’d call my dad. We’d bat things around, brainstorm my different options, and always come away with a plan. Those of you who knew my dad, knew he loved to plan things out. We wouldn’t always agree, but we respected each other’s decisions. No matter what, we’d support each other.
My dad has been gone for three years now. For a while, I felt lost. I deeply missed these conversations, and at times, it was difficult to figure out a way forward. Then one day, I realized that I could talk to him. We all hold our loved ones in our hearts and have places we can go that reminds us of them. For me, it’s the skating rink.
Being involved with figure skating is much more than a sport, it’s a community. A family. When my dad first stepped on the ice as a child to help rehabilitate his body while recovering from polio, it started a journey for him that lasted his entire life. As a competitor, a judge, volunteer, administrator, and International Skating Union delegate, it’s safe to say my dad was involved with every aspect of the sport. He recognized that skating is a community of people participating in something larger than themselves.
During his tenure as President of Skate Canada (then the Canadian Figure Skating Association), it was always important to him to visit each section, and as many clubs as he could fit into his schedule. He understood the value of connecting all clubs and skaters across the country to the head office. Likewise, when he extended his influence internationally, developing the sport outside of the traditional powerhouse countries was an important goal for him.
He believed in the power of sport and I think this came from a personal place. He recognized and valued how skating had enriched his life. In many ways, his true legacy was in developing opportunities for others to have similar experiences.
This is a big reason why I am so proud to be a part of Skate Canada’s David Dore Mentorship Fund. I believe that it is a continuation of his work. The purpose of the fund is to provide an opportunity for a Skate Canada coach, official, volunteer, or administrator at the club, section or national level to develop leadership skills. The recipient attends the Ice Summit and is matched up with mentors.
Recently, I had someone outside the skating community ask what I thought skating had taught me. I had to think about it because it’s not a short answer. I learned how to be responsible for myself, how to manage myself and my time, what it means to commit to something larger than myself, how to set goals – the list goes on. These items were all very nice and true. However, I think the biggest lesson came from my dad. It wasn’t necessarily something he told me. It was evident in how he lived his life. Search for that thing – whatever it is – that you are supposed to do. Something that provides passion and purpose. For those fortunate enough to find that discovery, dedicate the whole self to it – your focus, your talents, your emotions. With the Mentorship Fund, we hope to inspire individuals to fuel their passion and find their place in the skating community.
But still, at different times in our lives, we all need council, guidance, and mentorship. When I need it, I go to the skating rink. I’ll think to myself, “Alright, here’s the situation…” I can hear his voice as my blades cut across the ice. I can see him leaning over the boards watching. I can feel him in my heart.
To learn more about the David Dore Mentorship Fund, watch this video of past recipients expressing their experience at the 2017 Ice Summit. If you are one of those leaders, further information and the application can be found at the below link. APPLY TODAY!
Bryce Davison welcomes his first newborn!
Olympian, World medalist and three-time Canadian Pair Champion, Bryce Davison and his wife Michele, welcome their first newborn on January 28th, 2019 at the Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario.
Talk about a birthday gift, William Quin Joseph Davison was born one day before Bryce’s birthday on the 29th.
Congratulations!! As new parents may you be filled with much joy and happiness with the arrival of your new bundle of joy.
John Mattatall ties the knot!
We are happy to announce that John Mattatall, World competitor and Canadian medalist officially married his best friend, Shadia Zebian, on October 20, 2018 in Malagash, Nova Scotia. But on February 7, 2019 they celebrated once again among his closest family and friends at the Barcelo Maya Grand in Maya Riviera, Mexico.
“We had amazing weather and there was a great contingent of the skating community in attendance.”
Best wishes on this wonderful journey, as you build your new lives together.
We’d love to hear from you! Today staying in touch is easier than ever!
E-mail us your stories, photos, thoughts, suggestions and questions. We can’t guarantee we’ll print each one however we will certainly read every word and in the case of questions, find answers to them all.
Contact Celina Stipanic, Alumni and Fund Development Manager at [email protected]