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Museum Blog

Skates are an essential part of the popular tradition of ice skating.

The first skates were introduced in Scandinavia over 2000 years ago and looked very different from modern skates. These skates were made of the bones of various types of animals like caribou, elk, cattle, and horses and were held onto the foot with leather straps. Skaters used pointed sticks like ski poles to propel themselves on the ice. In Canada, the Iroquois used similar skates for transportation, according to legends.

Modern skates made of steel were developed in the 19th century. Like their animal bone predecessors, the metal blades were attached to the foot with leather straps. Originally the blades were attached to bulky wooden footplates. As skating developed from a leisure activity to a sport, skates also evolved. The wooden footplates were replaced with steel and the leather straps were eventually replaced with screws that attached into the soles of shoes and boots. The skating boots we know today with attached blades were invented in the early 20th century.

Sports like ice hockey, figure skating, and speed skating each developed their own special type of boot and blade. Can you tell the difference between the different skates?

Let's have a look at a few of the pairs we have in the MAG's collection!

wooden skatesskates

c. 1880s
This is a pair of skates used for leisure skating in the late 19th century. The footplate is made of wood and the skates attach to the foot with leather straps. Boots with a thick sole and heel were required to avoid getting poked by the screws.

c. 1900
This pair of skates was quite innovative in the early 1900s. The blades came attached to the boot, which laced high up the ankle like the shoes women wore at the time. Note the curled blade at the toe – this was probably a holdover from the fashionable skates of the 19th century. Curled toes like this date back to the 15th century.


c. 1920
The later half of the 19th century saw the development of the hockey skate. Tough leather boots protected the players feet while the rocker-shaped blade helped players make tight turns and quick stops. The tall ankle support in the back helped protect the tendons at the back of the foot while the open front allowed for greater ankle mobility.

The early 20th century saw the invention of an important part of the figure skate – the toe pick. This saw-like bit of blade at the toe of the skate allows figure skaters to grip the ice so they can perform jumps. This pair of figure skates is for women. We know this because the boots are white. Men’s figure skating boots are black.
Fun Fact: the donor of these figure skates received these skates as a prize for selling subscriptions to the Red Deer Advocate!

The MAG collection boasts 90 pairs of skates, dating from the 1880s to the 1970s.

Over 50 pairs of skates in our collection were donated by Murray Palmer, who dedicated much of his free time collecting and refurbishing skates to give to children who otherwise would not be able to afford a pair. Many pairs of skates went Indigenous children in Northern Alberta communities. Murray was well-known in our community for his involvement in hockey, speed skating, and track & field. For his commitment, Murray was honored with the “Sportsmen of the Year” award in 1963.

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