by Shannon Baxter
This is the ninth in a series of articles featuring Dartmouth’s Starr Manufacturing Company. Established as a nail factory in 1861, Starr Manufacturing soon began making its famous Starr skates and selling millions of pairs around the world from 1863 to 1939. The plant also played an important role in the sale of the first hockey sticks and excelled in other areas such as the production of the golden gates to Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park.
As we have already seen with the skates owned by Dr. Helen Creighton, ice skating was a winter activity that was enjoyed by both men and women. People from both sides of the Harbour looked forward to going to the lakes of Dartmouth when the ice became thick enough with skating.
It is rather amusing to read early newspapers comment on the growing numbers of ladies choosing to join men and boys out on the lakes and ponds. One newspaper from 1866 noted: “Six years ago…there was not a young lady to be seen skating…Yesterday afternoon, however, there were perhaps as many as a hundred lady skaters on the harbour, and the gay dresses rendered the scene quite a colourful one.” (Hockey’s Home, 92).
The Halifax Acadian Recorder went as far to say that the women often did not need the assistance of men, and would “manage ere long to outstrip their preceptors, causing spectators to gaze with astonishment and admiration.” (Hockey’s Home, 92).
Starr Manufacturing Company was quick to advertise to their growing market. In their catalogs of skates, one could see the ‘Ladies’ equivalent of various styles of skates. The most obvious being the styles “Beaver” and “Mercury”. Examples of skates in the Dartmouth Collection, particularly the “Regal” and “Rideau” style skate, both seemed to have been advertised for women. This being inferred by the shape and style of the boots attached to said skates. Other companies would advertise boots and shoes respectfully for men and women that would best suit the sport of ice skating. Even hockey, a stereotypically masculine sport, would have early female hockey leagues. As early as 1890 Dartmouth would have lady hockey teams. The most prominent team would appear in the early 1900s, the “Ramblers” appearing around 1907. In 1913 ‘The Kananites’ would appear on the ice.
It was clear that in Dartmouth, the lakes and the rinks were open to anyone and everyone who had a pair of skates.
Watch for Shannon’s next article in the Starr series, entitled ‘From Blades to Boots’.