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Super 8:  Canada, part one
Written January 25, 2013


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.  We’ll 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 she’s 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 didn’t think so.  (I don’t think so either.  She would have had to join them in the middle of their season.)  I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing, but I know one place where she’s not and one thing she’s not doing.  (Well, at least it’s something!)

It’s probably possible to make a few reasonable guesses as to what she’s doing.  She, of course, could be with another ice show, but I doubt it.  She’s 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, I’ll go out on a limb and give you my official guess!  With absolutely no data to suggest it, I’m predicting that she’s going to college in Canada.  Why?  Well, in 1966 (or possibly 1965) she should have finished the 13th grade, and according to an article I’ve got, she was preparing for college.  She tried skating for the public last year, and apparently she didn’t like it, or else she’d 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 wouldn’t 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, she’s lived in Canada since she was four years old and there would be a certain sentimental attachment.

Well, so much for idle guessing.  I won’t 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.  I’ve kind of grown fond of ice shows.  Besides, I’m 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.

Now back to our trip.


Starting from Richwood, Ohio, on Monday morning, July 23, 1973, we traveled north to Dearborn, Michigan.

There we made a quick stop at the Henry Ford Museum, a place I’d enjoyed visiting before with my parents.

Terry took a stroll down the aisle of Ford tractors.

The majority of the artifacts on display are industrial milestones from Henry Ford’s lifetime (1863-1947).  That includes 19th-century steam engines and such.

These photographer’s flashbulbs caught our eye.  The huge one appeared to be filled with a wad of magnesium foil, designed to explode into light when electricity was applied.

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.

Of course, England’s Stratford-upon-Avon was the birthplace of William Shakespeare, of whom Ben Jonson wrote “Sweet Swan of Avon! What a sight it were / To see thee in our waters yet appear.”

Therefore, the Canadian Avon also boasted its swans.

It also boasted its Stratford Lawn Bowling Club, with three greens in operation during good weather.

Terry took a profile photo of a bowler delivering a ball.

Meanwhile, I filmed the ensuing discussion about where the ball stopped.

Canadians seem to like these shuffleboard-like games.  During the frozen months, they retreat to ice rinks and compete in curling.

But our visit came during the height of summer, and the Stratfordians had gone to great lengths to decorate their town with flowers.

There were also colorful banners in honor of their annual April-to-November theatrical celebration, founded in 1952 as the Stratford Shakespearean Festival.

The main stage is in the Festival Theatre, which opened in 1957.

A decade after it opened, on our visit during Canada’s 1967 centennial, my parents and I had seen Alan Bates in Richard III.

I was impressed by the layout of the building.  The thrust stage, a revival of the theatres of Shakespeare’s day, appeared ideal for productions that don’t require scenery.

And the seating arrangement must have been inspired by an ancient Greek theatre.  The compact layout — 16 rows of seats plus six more in the balcony, arranged in a 220° arc around the stage  — allowed an audience of about 2,000 to view the performance from no more than about 50 feet away from the actors.

I measured this postcard photo.  I then drew the plan below to confirm the dimensions.

I did think the central octagon, just 14 feet across, was a bit cramped for battle scenes.

And when Richard III’s two princes made their entrance via a 4-foot-wide vomitorium ramp, there was barely room for them and their attendants.

The play that Terry and I saw in 1973 was one of Shakespeare’s lesser works, Pericles.

We stayed that night in a motel on the east side of town.  It had been a long Monday.

When we departed at noon the next day for Niagara, I mistakenly left behind a shirt.  Our hospitable Canadian innkeepers actually mailed the forgotten item back to me at my home address.

UPDATE:  Four decades later, the town is still a welcoming place.  “Stick around Stratford for just a couple of days,” wrote the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Sharon Eberson in 2015, “and you can’t 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 town’s 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!


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