Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Canadian Figure Skating Legend ~ Toller Cranston

Born Shalitoe Toller Montague Cranston April 20, 1949 in Hamilton, Ontario;
Died January 24, 2015 at age 65 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
...from an apparent heart attack.

He won the 'free-skate' segment of the World Championships four times and won the Bronze Medal at the Olympic Games in Austria. Toller Cranston, a prolific Canadian figure skater, was widely credited for bringing new artistry to the sport whose creativity changed his sport's esthetic. His free-skating style inspired future generations of champion skaters ~ and was one of the most sought-after choreographers. Jeanne Becker, his long-time friend who first met Cranston in 1979 when she lived across the road from him in Cabbagetown in Toronto said, “He was absolutely outrageous!”

Artistic Career: Living also in Kirkland Lake and Montreal (attending Ecole de Beaux Arts), his mother (also a painter)...both her discipline and schooling were both 'too structured'. He became self-supportive as an artist, making enough money to cover his skating expenses. He held his first exhibition at his coach, Ellen Burka's home, in the spring of 1969; and in November 1971, he had another successful one-man-show in Toronto (the result of almost a year's work). He continued to have gallery and museum displays with over 250 exhibitions around the world. He continued to paint even after his official skating retirement.

Skating Career: After an initial failed experience with ballet lessons, Cranston started skating at the age of 7, when his parents bought him a pair of hockey skates. With these, he tried to 'dance on the ice'...which later was called figure skating. His mother, reluctant to allow him to pursue the sport seriously, at the age of 11, Toller met Eva Vasek, who impressed by his talent, coached him 'for free' for the next 8 years. In 1964, at the age of 13, he won 1964 Canadian Junior Championships. After failing to make the Canadian Team for the 1968 Olympics, Cranston struggled with motivation and lack of training discipline. The following season, he began to work with Ellen Burka in Toronto who required him to do several 'run-throughs' of his entire program....and his results began to improve: 3rd at the Canadian Championships in1969 and 2nd in 1970.

He quickly gained a reputation as ...the most innovative and exciting artistic skater of his time. He was the first to emphasize the use of the whole body to express the well as to execute skating moves in best form...even to wearing elaborate costumes. He was particularly known for the quality and inventiveness of his precision landings...and inventive choreographing combination jumps including triple revolutions. His goal in skating was to create 'theatre on ice' as a form of dance expression...rather than winning medals. His first National title included a Triple Salchow and loop jumps (receiving a standing ovation from the audience). At the 1972 Canadian Championships, his marks included 4 6's for 'artistic impression' and 6 5.9's for technical merit. In the1972 World Figure Skating Championships, he won the 'free-skating' medal and again in 1974. He was also the 1976 Olympic Bronze Medalist winning the 'free-skate'.

Professional Career: From 1976 to 1994 he toured with many skating shows in United States, Canada and Europe. One major European show promoted him as Le Patineur du Siecle (the Skater of the Century).He performed 'Skating Specials' for CBC Television which were distributed throughout 67 countries. After breaking his leg while practising for a holiday show in Vail, Colorado, he decided in 1997 to retire from professional skating.
He sold his house in Toronto
and bought a house in San Miguel, Mexico.

As the naturally artistically-gifted Brian Orser once explained,
Canadian men had always been so far behind after the now-dead compulsory figures
that they needed a virtual knockout punch just to climb back into contention.”

So, Orser became the first practitioner of the Triple Axle...
Kurt Browning introduced the Quad...
and Elvis Stojko made the Quad-combination de rigtueur.

Without compulsory figures, Cranston assumed he would have won on the strength of his free-skating segments. He believed figure skating should be a mix of art and athleticism, not just art...while hyper-extending the creative side. Toller Cranston was an artist of considerable talent who produced thousands of paintings. He said, “I was an artist who skated...not the other way around.”

In 2003, he was awarded recognition
with his Star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto.

Merle Baird-Kerr...written January 27, 2015
Your comments about this 'legend' are appreciated.


  1. MEG COMMENTS: "What a lovely tribute to an extraordinary athlete! He changed figure skating forever ~ with much more artistry and appeal.
    Many, many young people joined skating because of him.
    Good Writing."

  2. He had the foresight to push the limits artistically...and the world recognized the high degree of 'finesse' introduced into the ice-skating regime.
    Thanks, Meg for your always continued interest.