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The Acme Skate and Canada's Favourite Pastime

For the week of Monday, January 26, 2015

January 26, 1834, is the birth date of John Forbes, the inventor of the world-famous Acme Skate. His invention changed the way Canadians thought of ice-skating and sparked the country’s love of ice.

Forbes was born in England and as a child immigrated to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his father. As a young man, Forbes worked as a clerk at the local hardware company of David Starr & Sons, which sold sports equipment, including ice-skates. Skates in the mid-19th century were typically made of wooden blocks with iron blades that were strapped and screwed to the skater’s boot. Such skates had many design flaws. The wood was prone to splitting, straps frequently came loose, and the screws painfully cut into skaters’ heels. Wanting to make skating more enjoyable, Forbes experimented to improve the design. 

John Forbes's patent for his improved ice-skate design. The application was submitted to the Patent Office of the City of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1866.
©Library and Archives Canada
After years of technical education and experimentation, he officially patented the Forbes Acme Skate in 1865. This new skate had a lever that easily attached the blade to the skater’s boot, which meant no more frustrating straps, blocks, or painful screws! It was also more durable and secure. Forbes partnered with John Starr, son of his former employer, and produced his skate at the Starr Manufacturing Company in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. With Forbes’s patent, the company became a world leader in ice-skate design, manufacturing, distribution, and development in new and innovative products. Its market expanded throughout Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Norway, China, Russia, Germany, and France. 

A Starr Manufacturing advertisement promoting the popular Forbes’s Acme Skate.
©Nova Scotia Archives/ Joseph S. Rogers

Forbes’s design made winter sports more comfortable for the recreational skater. With shorter skate blades it also improved competitive performance whereby skaters could make stronger strides, increase speed, and take sharper turns. The invention of the Acme Skate popularized ice-skating and hockey on both indoor and outdoor rinks, at home and abroad.

Starr Manufacturing Company was designated a National Historic Event in 2007 for its role in establishing ice-skating and hockey as Canada’s primary winter recreations. These pastimes continue to be enjoyed throughout the country, including on the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal National Historic Site, or at the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site.

For other stories on these pastimes, see The "Father" of Ice Hockey and Hockey's First Superstar in the This Week in History archives.

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