A brief history of ice skates

During the past year we had the pleasure to visit two museums that had interesting displays of ice skates. The first museum is the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, Canada. Offered from January 27, 2006 to April 1, 2007 was an exhibit titled Lace Up: Canada's Passion for Skating, that displays over 50 pairs of skates dating back as early as the 1500s. The second museum is the Skógar Museum in Iceland. This museum doesn’t have an exhibit dedicated to skating. However, it has a collection of items that were part of everyday life in Iceland, including a pair of pristine bone skates that were in use up to 1972!

As we learned, skating has a long history rooted in the need to travel during the cold winter months of the northern regions. The first skates were constructed from bones, usually from the foot of a horse or cow. The bone is shaved flat on the bottom, drilled to accept laces on the front and back, then laced to the bottom of the skater’s walking boots. To skate with these skates, the skater used canes - similar to ski poles - fitted with sharp points to grab the ice. With the advent of blacksmithing, steel blades replaced the bones. The blade was fitted to a wooden frame and this frame was attached to the bottom of walking boots. Around 1850, the first all steel skate blade was offered, which also attached to the bottom of walking boots. Around 1890 integrated boots and blades were available for skating. Around this time people started skating for recreation in addition to basic transportation.

Views of the Canadian Museum of Civilization:


Below are some skates in the Canadian Museum of Civilization:

a bone skate, from the 1500's

all steel skate blade

one of Wayne Gretzky's first pairs of skates - note the greater-than-expected wear for a small child's skates

a training skate - 2 extra runners at the back

bone skates in the Skógar Museum

turf houses in the Skógar Museum

a prosthetic skate, in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto, Canada

an older prosthetic skate, in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto, Canada

Last updated May 25, 2007.

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