Starr Manufacturing Company

Makers of World-Famous Ice Skates

In 1866, Dartmouth's Starr Manufacturing Company invented a revolutionary type of ice skate, which helped popularize ice skating and hockey all over the world.

Starr Manufacturing was established in 1861 by Dartmouth businessman, John Starr. The steel manufacturing company was located on the west side of Prince Albert Road just north of Pleasant Street. Initially, the company produced nuts, bolts, and nails. This would change in 1863 when Starr hired John Forbes, who had been working on a new style of ice skate. Together with co-worker, Thomas Bateman, the two developed the Acme Spring Skate. Patented in 1866, their invention would revolutionize how skates were designed in Canada and abroad.

In the early days, skates were merely sharpened blades of metal that were attached to the bottom of a boot typically with leather straps. These weren't very secure, so by the early nineteenth century, skates were often attached to the bottom of boots with screws. The Acme Spring Skate was revolutionary; since it clamped to a boot with a spring-lock mechanism. This created a secure fit but didn't require a skater to ruin a good pair of boots.

Starr's skates were a great success for the company. By the end of 1866, the Acme Spring Skate was the most sought-after skate on the market. The company developed several styles of skates, which were sold nationally and internationally. Even the King of Spain owned a pair, although his plated in gold. At its peak, Starr employed as many as 250 people and manufactured more than 100 pair of skates a day. Starr's employees profited too: in the 1870s, Forbes built himself a house called Lakeside on Crichton Avenue in Dartmouth, and the company’s Production Manager, Gavin Holliday, built the Octagon House, commonly known as The Ink Bottle House.

People from both sides of the harbour looked forward to winter's chill, when they could clip on their Starr skates and glide across one of Dartmouth's many lakes. In Halifax, the wealthy liked to gather at indoor rinks, which hosted skating parties and carnivals. Amongst the growing numbers of skating enthusiasts were many women. Starr was quick to advertise to this new market and developed the 'Ladies' equivalent of their more popular styles of skates. Hockey was also a favourite activity for men and women alike. As early as 1890, Dartmouth had women's hockey teams, the most prominent being the Ramblers, formed around 1907, and The Kananites, who hit the ice in 1913.

Despite the success of their spring skates, there were some ups and downs for Starr Manufacturing Company. In 1873, the patent on Forbes' skates lapsed, and Forbes himself was fired from Starr in 1878. Without the patent, other companies began developing cheaper versions of Starr's spring skate. One of the more blatant knock-offs came from the Henry Boker Skates Company and their "Halifax Pattern Spring Skates," which appeared in the early 1900s. Department stores also cashed in by selling their own brand of skates - Eaton's "Special Clamp" skate looked strikingly like the Starr Acme Club spring skate. Even though Starr regained the patent around 1878, they continued to face stiff competition, which only increased at the turn of the century.

By the mid-1920s, Starr partnered with local boot manufacturers to keep up with the growing trend of skates and boots being sold as one. Unfortunately this move came a little too late, since Starr's competition had increased not only nationally but also internationally. Skates from the United States and Germany, in particular, were cheaper in price and in quality compared to Starr skates. In Canada, CCM rose in popularity through the 1930s and 1940s, selling boots with skates attached to eager skaters and hockey players.

Starr's final downfall came in the Depression years, when they again let the patent slip on their skates. Unable to keep up with the competition, in 1939, the company closed down the skate department of the factory. For several decades more, Starr continued manufacturing steel and later polyethylene products, but in 1996, the factory closed its doors for good. The building was demolished in 2000, and the site was converted to a small greenspace appropriately called Starr Park.