8: Canada, part one
This is part of a series of articles based on images from my 1970s home movies. For more details, click here.
In the year 1973, I had worked long enough at Marion CATV to be entitled to two whole weeks of vacation. My father was going to retire that fall, when our family would take an October trip to Florida.
For my other week of vacation, I got together with Terry Rockhold, my friend from high school, to circumnavigate two of the Great Lakes. That is, we drove around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, visiting a few places along the way. I was at the wheel of my 1973 Oldsmobile, and Terry was in the passenger seat.
Terry had more than one hobby. For one thing, he was a lifelong ham radio operator (K2OO). For another, he had a 35mm camera and even developed some of his own photos, experimenting with a relatively new process called Cibachrome.
On this trip he snapped a number of pictures with his SLR, while I filmed several scenes with my Super 8 movie camera. Well get to those images in a moment.
As another of his hobbies, Terry had become a fan of a young athlete about our age named Petra Burka, seen here in a publicity photo.
It seems hard to imagine in today's age of the World Wide Web, but information about celebrities was somewhat hard to come by back then. Terry challenged himself to discover what he could. He essentially made a game out of this research project.
Born in Amsterdam, Petra was the daughter of figure skater Ellen Burka. The family moved to Canada in 1951, and Ellen began coaching her daughter.
At the 1965 Canadian Championships, Petra executed a triple salchow, becoming the first woman ever to land a triple jump. She won the World Figure Skating Championships that year. Retiring from competition in 1966, she signed to tour with Holiday On Ice.
On October 1, 1967, while we were both attending colleges in the Cleveland area, Terry wrote to me:
Only a little P. B. news. A call to the local Holiday on Ice office (even they are moving out of Cleveland!) confirmed my suspicion that shes not going to be with them this year, at least not with either of their national shows. She might be with one of their European shows, but they didnt think so. (I dont think so either. She would have had to join them in the middle of their season.) I dont know where she is or what shes doing, but I know one place where shes not and one thing shes not doing. (Well, at least its something!)
Its probably possible to make a few reasonable guesses as to what shes doing. She, of course, could be with another ice show, but I doubt it. Shes not with the Ice Capades and that only leaves the Ice Follies. Besides, I have a hunch she got fed up with working every Saturday and Sunday and holiday and living out of a hotel room. Otherwise, she logically would have been back with Holiday on Ice.
She could be working as a pro (coach) at a skating club. This is probably the most logical guess. Any club would be glad to get her. She could stay with skating and still live a halfway normal life. Yes, it is undoubtedly the most logical guess.
Now, Ill go out on a limb and give you my official guess! With absolutely no data to suggest it, Im predicting that shes going to college in Canada. Why? Well, in 1966 (or possibly 1965) she should have finished the 13th grade, and according to an article Ive got, she was preparing for college. She tried skating for the public last year, and apparently she didnt like it, or else shed be back this year. Then, too, her skating last year should have brought her quite a bit of money which could be used to pay for her schooling. Since her father is apparently either dead or not living [with] her family, perhaps this is more important than one might at first think. It wouldnt be easy for a woman [i.e., her mother] to raise two teenage daughters by herself. Why in Canada? It would be hard to arrange credit, I would think, for that 13th year at a college in the U.S. Besides, shes lived in Canada since she was four years old and there would be a certain sentimental attachment.
Well, so much for idle guessing. I wont be able to find out anything for a few more weeks.
The Ice Capades are going to be in town in a couple of weeks. I have a seat at the middle of the right side in the first row for the opening night. Ive kind of grown fond of ice shows. Besides, Im taking my camera and a roll of the new 500-speed color film. I want a little practice in case I would ever run into a similar situation.
In other words, in case he ever got the opportunity to take pictures of Petra Burka performing. As I recall, he did eventually, but he never made personal contact with the skater. However, he did keep up with his hobby. For example, at a library he found a Toronto city directory, which yielded not only the Burkas address but such trivia as the occupations of their neighbors.
From Michigan we crossed the Detroit River into Windsor. We drove about 200 miles to the northeast to another spot my parents and I had visited, in this case when we were on our way to Expo 67 in Montreal. This was the small city of Stratford, Ontario, on the Avon River.
UPDATE: Four decades later, the town is still a welcoming place. Stick around Stratford for just a couple of days, wrote the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettes Sharon Eberson in 2015, and you cant help but notice how darn nice everyone is. At every turn, by the banks of the Avon River or around the town center, the folks are just so friendly Mayberry friendly. We encountered drivers who waved on turning buses and helpful folks who run the towns shops and eateries. Twice as I stopped in the street to get my bearings, people stopped to ask if they could help with directions. It was like that everywhere we went in Stratford.
So that was the first day of our adventures. Click here for the second half of this account as we visit Niagara Falls, the Ontario Science Center, an 1812 fort, and the campus of a major university!