James A. Whelpley

Long Reach Saktes

James A. Whelpley

The oldest known ice skates, dating back to 3000 B.C., were discovered in a Swiss lake. They were crafted from the leg bones of a large animal, with holes bored at each end and a leather strap employed to secure the bone to the foot. The old Dutch term for skate is “schenkel,” which translates to “leg bone.”

During the 14th century, the Dutch began utilizing wooden platform skates equipped with flat iron runners on the bottom, enabling them to glide over icy surfaces. The skates were affixed to the users’ shoes using leather straps, assisting in movement across the ice.

Ice Skates

The year 1848 marked a significant turning point, as the first steel clamp was introduced, leading to the replacement of the wooden blade with a metal one. This new blade was directly fastened to the boots, paving the way for skaters to execute dance steps, jumps, and spins. By the 1870s, the introduction of the first toe picks enhanced skates even further, enabling skaters to perform toe pick jumps.

Long Reach Skates

Despite these advancements, a primary drawback of ice skates was the lack of comfort, which made prolonged use challenging.

Between 1860 and 1900, long-distance ice skating became a commonplace method of winter transportation on the lakes and bays of the lower St. John River. It was not unheard of for individuals to complete a skate from Saint John to Fredericton, a journey taking roughly 7 hours, on “Long Reach” skates.

Distinctive types of skates were used by the hardy men and women who resided along the St John and Kennebecasis Rivers. They favored the renowned “Long Reachers.” These skates were invented around 1870 by James A. Whelpley of Saint John, who patented the Long Reach Speed Skates. His skate factory was established at Jones Creek, on the Long Reach, where he manufactured skates that gained fame continent-wide. The skates featured a 17-inch long blade and measured less than an inch and a half at their widest point. They were securely fastened using heavy leather straps at the heel and toe.

Long Reach Saktes

The “Long Reachers” were perfect for the expansive Saintt John and Kennebecasis Rivers, enabling individuals to cover great distances in a relatively brief timeframe. It was not unusual for a healthy young man to skate the approximately 80-mile distance from Saint John to Fredericton in under 7 hours.

James A Whelpley‘s Long Reach skates, developed around 1860, closely resembled today’s tour skates, featuring a flat 40cm long blade and a wooden platform that was strapped to regular winter boots. Speed skaters all over North America used “Long Reachers.” In 1886, the primary Whelpley skate factory relocated to Keene, New Hampshire. Also, JA’s brother, Joseph Lyon Whelpley, operated a branch in Boston, where skates sold bore the label “J L Whelpley, Boston.” The family enterprise, however, ceased operations shortly after James A.’s passing in 1893.

Post-1900, the Canadian skating industry came to be dominated by hockey, leading to a gradual decrease in skate blade length and confined skaters to smaller skating areas. Competitive speed-skating primarily transitioned to short track, i.e., skating on a small hockey rink. With only around a dozen 400-meter ovals across Canada, the last long-blade skate manufacturer in North America, Planert, closed down in the 1970s.

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