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LIFE: Dupont Street’s “Dynamo on Ice” (May 2024)

June 14th, 2024 · No Comments

Petra Burka reminded of her skating career that started in the Annex

By Mia Keskinen 

Following the article A Forgotten Skating Venue on Dupont in the December issue of the Annex Gleaner, the Gleaner received a letter from Astra Burka. Astra reminisced about her experiences at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, watching her sister, Petra Burka, dance on the ice when they were children. No one at the time could have known the success that Petra would achieve. Petra Burka, an Olympic bronze medalist, and world champion of figure skating, became known as the “Dynamo on Ice,” and she began her journey at the Toronto Curling, Skating and Cricket club. 

Petra Burka won a bronze medal for Canada at the 1964 Winter Olympics. COURTESY ASTRA BURKA

Petra Burka was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Nov. 7, 1946. Petra’s mother and coach, Ellen Burka, was a Dutch national champion of the sport and a visionary of her time. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for elevating skating to an art form and for imaginative choreography on the ice.”  She was the first to introduce ballet and modern dance onto the ice. Petra became the first of Ellen’s international students, and together, the two learned the ropes and found global success.  

The family emigrated from the Netherlands to Canada in 1951. At 14 years old, Petra began to practise skating at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling club. When asked about how the skating club contributed to her later success, Petra mentioned that once she became a competitive skater, she would take months off school to train at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling club for competitions. This club was the perfect place for her to practise because it was open all day and had much more versatile hours compared to other skating clubs at the time, which only opened in the afternoon. 

Petra also mentioned that she enjoyed the competitive environment fostered within the skating club. Many skaters who later became world champions practised at the club alongside her. Because she was surrounded by competition, Petra was inspired to become “the best of the best.” 

Petra said that she always had a “fighting spirit” which she attributes to growing up as a Jewish immigrant in Canada. As an immigrant, Petra always felt different. In her words, “my voice was silent, but my story was told through my craft.” She fought her way to the figures, as her career took flight at the 1962 Canadian Championships. At the national championships, Burka became the first woman to land a triple Salchow and left with a silver medal in hand. In the same year, she debuted in the World Championship in Prague, and achieved fourth place. 

Burka swept the figures, as she won the first of three senior national titles in 1964. She went on to represent Canada at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, and won the bronze medal. Her performance was described as “dazzling.”  

Burka’s success would continue after the Olympics as she won bronze at the 1964 World Championships in Dortmund. She went on to pioneer many firsts in the world of Canadian figure skating. She became the first Canadian skater to perform in the Soviet Union when she toured Moscow and Kyiv. Petra became the first Canadian woman to stand at the top of the pedestal as gold champion in the 1965 World Championship in Colorado Springs, Colorado, since Barbara Ann Scott in 1947. She also became the first woman to complete the triple salchow at the World Championship. She won Canada’s Outstanding Athlete of the Year in 1964 and Canada’s Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year for two consecutive years, 1964 and 1965. 

She retired from competition in 1966, but her impact on the ice became immortalised in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1965, the Canadian Olympic Association Hall of Fame in 1972, and the Ontario Sport Legends Hall of Fame in 1995.

Though Burka retired from competition, her passion for figure skating would not die, as she returned to her roots in Toronto as a coach, following in the footsteps of her mother. Both Petra and her mother were made honorary members of the Toronto Cricket, Skating, and Curling club. Petra became her mother’s assistant, coaching at the Toronto Skating, Cricket, and Curling Club in 1980s. She became a full-time coach with the club during the 1990s, until Skate Canada hired her as a coach consultant for several years. Upon retiring from Skate Canada, Petra returned to the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling club as a coach from 2016 until 2020. Petra Burka dedicated her life to skating and then to coaching those who shared her passion as they learned to perfect the craft of figure skating under her guidance. 

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Tags: Annex · History · Life