Roller sports offer a wide range of recreational and competitive activities, utilizing either traditional or inline skates. Artistic skating is closely related to ice skating and includes men's and ladies' figures and free skating, pairs and dance events; both traditional and inline skates are permitted. Roller speed skating consists of road racing (open or closed circuit), and long- and short-track racing; inline skates dominate this sport. Roller hockey started as roller polo in the 1880s and was played with a ball or puck; it is now known as roller inline hockey and is played with inline skates; the stick is identical to that used for ice hockey.
The traditional skate is composed of 4 wheels in a rectangular formation, and the inline skate consists of 3, 4 or 5 wheels set in a line. The use of plastic urethane wheels and sealed precision bearings produces a skate that gives a smooth ride on outdoor surfaces and stimulated the roller-skating boom of the 1970s. The roller skate was developed in Holland in the 18th century, with wooden spools attached to strips of wood. The first skates were actually inline skates, with 2 to 6 wheels attached to a wooden plate, and intended to imitate ice blades. The first skate that could be steered was developed in Massachusetts in 1863, and started the first roller-skating craze. Clamp-on skates were developed in the early 1860s, and the 2-piece, adjustable-length skate emerged in the 1890s. The addition of steel ball bearings to the wheels in 1884 was a major innovation. The turn of the century saw the first shoe skate, in which the plate was permanently attached to a skating boot.
Roller-skating facilities were built in the 1880s in Toronto and Montréal. In 1884, skating started in Chatham, Ont, which within a year had become one of the foremost roller-skating centres in the world. Speed skater George Berry, of Chatham, became the Canadian roller-skating champion in 1884 and in the next year won the North American championship and was acclaimed world champion. WWI signalled the end of competitive skating, but a revival in the 1930s stimulated events such as the 5-day roller-skating derby held at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1940. The Canadian Roller Skating Association was formed in 1961, became the Canadian Federation of Amateur Roller Skaters in 1973 and was re-named Roller Sports Canada in 1995. Canada sent a team to the World Artistic Roller Skating Championships for the first time in 1973, placing 5th among 19 countries. In 1977, these championships were held in Montréal.
Canadian skaters have done well in international competitions. In 1979, in the first Pan-American Games (PAG) Artistic Roller Skating demonstration events, Canada won 3 bronze medals (Dance, Ladies' and Men's Free Skating). The 1987 PAG saw roller skating classified as a full medal sport for the first time, and Canadians placed third in the Dance competition. The 1991 PAG produced 4 seconds (Dance, Ladies' Figures and Free Skating, and Men's Figures) and one third (Men's Free Skating) for Canada; in 1995, Canadians won a silver medal in Dance and bronze in Men's Figures; and in 1999, the Canadian Dance team was third. The World Championships have seen similar success for Canadian Artistic skaters, with second places in Pairs in 1980 and 1981. Roller hockey has also been a sport in which Canada performed well at the World Championships; the 1992 and 1994 Ladies' Traditional Hockey Team won gold and silver medals, respectively. Men's inline hockey teams have also been successful, with silver medals in both the 1995 and 1996, and a gold medal for the Junior Men's Team in 1996.
Roller Sports Canada is responsible for competitions, proficiency tests, seminars and clinics for athletes and officials, and the development of all levels of competition. Teams represent Canada at senior and junior world championships for Men's and Ladies' Artistic and Speed Skating, and for Men's Roller Inline Hockey. Provincial federations sponsor provincial championships and develop the sport at their own level; the majority of skaters are from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Québec.