Tag Archive for: Hall of Fame

Skate Canada saddened by the passing of Hall of Famer Bernard Ford

Skate Canada was saddened to learn of the passing of Bernard ‘Bernie’ Ford. Ford was an ice dance coach, choreographer, judge, consultant, and technical instructor. He passed away on April 6, 2023, in Calgary, Alberta.

Instrumental in restructuring the Canadian Ice Dance Test system, Ford established the National Ice Dance Centre of Canada and various skating clubs and summer schools. He was a much sought after coach and trained numerous ice dance teams from around the world to national and international titles. Included amongst his Canadian students were Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall who, under his tutelage from 1982-86, claimed the 1986 world bronze medal.

Ford was a successful choreographer and his influence has been felt in all skating disciplines. A technical master, he assisted the ISU Ice Dance Technical Committee in several areas, passed on his knowledge conducting seminars, and was a co-creator of the Cha-Cha Congelado.

The contributions made by this exceptional builder have truly left their mark on the sport of ice dancing in Canada, and around the world. Ford was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 2007.

Skate Canada offers its sincere sympathies to Bernie’s family and friends.

For more details, please see the obituary.

Skate Canada Celebrates Jean Westwood

We all leave legacies when we pass, and Jean Westwood unquestionably has left a tremendous mark on the world of figure skating. An esteemed coach and decorated ice dancer, Westwood and her partner Lawrence Demmy were a British ice dance team, the first to win the world and European championships in ice dancing. The duo would go on to win four consecutive world titles from 1952 to 1955, two European championships and four British championships before deciding to retire.

For Westwood, a well decorated skating career transitioned into a successful coaching career in 1956. Almost Immediately following her retirement Westwood began coaching at a very high-level, carrying a roster of elite skaters, which included Canadian ice dance duo Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan. During her tenure with them, Westwood coached the team to three national titles from 1957 to 1959, two gold medals at the North American Championships and two silver world championship medals in 1957 and 1958.

This was just the beginning for Westwood who would go on to coach figure skating for the next 20 years across all four disciplines. During that time, Westwood was also a NCCP course conductor and a clinic conductor of both CanSkate and CanFigureSkate programs. Westwood was the head coach of National Dance Seminars for 14 years and regularly contributed to publications on ice dance.

Accomplishments continued for Westwood into the late 1970s when her and Lawernce Demmy were the first ice dance team to be inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1977. The team was also inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 1997. Then in 2017, Westwood was inducted into yet another Hall of Fame with Skate BC/YK.

Jean Westwood made history during her 91 years. On July 26, 2022, Westwood passed away following a battle with cancer. Skate Canada wishes to express their immense gratitude for her decades of contribution to the sport, as well as their sincere condolences to Westwood’s family and friends for the loss of their loved one.

Skate Canada announces Hall of Fame Class of 2019

OTTAWA, ON : Skate Canada is pleased to announce four new members into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame. The class of 2019 includes athlete Veronica Clarke, and in the professional disciplines, coach Lee Barkell, choreographer David Wilson, and builder Audrey Williams.

Veronica Clarke, of Toronto, Ont., was a skating pioneer in women’s singles, pairs, dance and fours. Clarke competed from 1928 to 1938, winning 20 Canadian medals—10 of which were gold—as well as three international medals. With her pair partner Ralph McCreath, Clarke won the 1937 North American Championships, three Canadian Figure Skating Championships and along with McCreath, Constance Wilson-Samuel, and Montgomery Wilson, fours medallists in the 1938 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Clarke is being honoured posthumously.

Lee Barkell, of Kirkland Lake, Ont., enters the Skate Canada Hall of Fame as a professional. Barkell has been a leading singles and pairs coach since his retirement from competition as a pair skater with his wife Melanie Gaylor. During Barkell’s skating career with Gaylor, the pair team won three international competitions. Over the course of his 27-year coaching career, Barkell has coached an extensive list of skaters, including world champion and Olympic medallist Jeffrey Buttle, Olympian and world medallist Gabrielle Daleman, and two-time national champions Michelle Menzies and Jean-Michel Bombardier, and Canadian pair champions Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, and Lenny Faustino and Jacinthe Larivière.

David Wilson, a former figure skater born in Toronto, Ont., has worked as a master choreographer for more than 20 years. Wilson’s choreography expertise begins from crafting a program, to searching for music, to the end product of seeing a skater perform. He has produced numerous artistic programmes for Olympic, world & national medallists including singles skaters Sasha Cohen, Jeffrey Buttle, Yu-Na Kim, Patrick Chan, Yuzuru Hanyu, Joannie Rochette, ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Audrey Williams, from Vancouver, B.C., has served as an official for more than 50 years, first being appointed as a national judge in 1959 and later as a judge for the ISU in 1967. Williams is a role model as a judge, referee, and team leader, especially mentoring pair judges in Canada. She was a team leader at both junior and senior worlds, as well as at the Olympics in 1972. She has sat on several Skate Canada committees over many years. She judged six world championships, four junior worlds and the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer. As a skater, she was a four-time Canadian Figure Skating Championship medallist with pair partner Brian Power. Most recently, she was inducted into the British Columbia Hall of Fame as a Builder in 2011.

Skate Canada is proud to celebrate the achievements of the skating community through the inductions of exceptional members in the Skate Canada Hall of Fame. The exact date and locations of the various inductions will be announced as they become available.

Skate Canada mourns the passing of Hall of Famer Bruce Hyland

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada is saddened by the passing of Hall of Famer Bruce Hyland. He passed away peacefully at age 92 on May 22, 2019 surrounded by his family. Hyland was a successful ice dancer with his wife Margaret and together the went onto create the Metropolitan Ice Skating Schools.

Together they would teach thousands of Canadians in figure skating, hockey and power skating. As a coach, Hyland taught at the elite level. For eighteen consecutive years he would coach at world and Olympic events. His motivational and optimistic approach to coaching lead many of his skaters to success. Included among his students were 1962 World Pair Champions Maria and Otto Jelinek and 1964 Olympic silver medalists Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell.

A celebration of life for Hyland will take place at a later date, please click here for more information.

Skate Canada offers its sincere sympathies to Hyland’s family and friends.

Kawahara at the Oscar’s & Olympic Alumni Highlights

Skate Canada alumni and Hall of Fame member Sarah Kawahara walks the red carpet at this year’s 90th Oscar’s!

Our very own Sarah Kawahara choreographed the recent movie “I, Tonya” which was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress and Best Film Editing.  Allison Janney, a former figure skater who also played Tonya’s mother in the movie, won for Best Supporting Actress.  Read More

Skating Community Mourns the Passing of Donald Gilchrist

OTTAWA, ON: It is with a heavy heart that Skate Canada says goodbye to cherished Hall of Famer Donald Gilchrist. He passed away peacefully at age 95 on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Gilchrist of Toronto, was a champion for figure skating and synchronized skating throughout his life.

His skating career began as a national and international competitor and then went on to become a judge. He began officiating at the international level in 1951 and judged several world championships and Olympic Games over his career. His technical expertise filled a tremendous need in the growing years of figure skating in Canada. Gilchrist was the first Canadian delegate to participate at the 1951 International Skating Union (ISU) Congress.

For the next 40 years Gilchrist was active in every technical aspect of the highest-ranking skating competitions. An event referee at countless competitions, he was made an honorary member of the ISU when he retired in 1992. Gilchrist was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 1996 and was induced into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2006.

Skate Canada offers its sincere sympathies to Gilchrist’s family and friends.

Skate Canada saddened by the passing of Olympic medallist Frances Dafoe

OTTAWA, ON: Hall of Fame pair skater Frances Dafoe passed away at age 86 on Friday evening. Dafoe, a native of Toronto, was a pioneer in pair skating with her partner Norris Bowden. During their career they captured four Canadian titles from 1952-1955, two World titles in 1954 and 1955 and an Olympic silver medal in 1956. They became the first Canadian pair team ever to win a World title in 1954. They were also the Canadian Ice Dance Champions in 1952.

Dafoe has a long list of honours, including becoming a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, entering the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1958, receiving the Order of Canada in 1991 and being inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 1993.

After her competitive career Dafoe remained actively involved in skating. She was an Olympic judge and a successful costume designer. She was a graduate of the famed Parsons School of Design in New York City and went on to design thousands of costumes. She worked for CBC for close to 40 years designing costumes for various shows. She also designed the costumes for the closing ceremonies at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games.

Skate Canada offers its sincere sympathies to Dafoe’s family and friends.

Skating Community Mourning the Loss of Hall of Fame Coach Ellen Burka

OTTAWA, ON: Legendary skating coach Ellen Burka passed away yesterday evening at the age of 95 in Toronto. Burka was a Skate Canada Hall of Fame coach and one of the world’s most respected coaches and choreographers, taking skaters to the highest level of competition over her lifetime.

A national skating champion in her native Holland, she emigrated to Canada in 1950 after surviving the holocaust. Burka joined the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club and began her successful coaching career.

Burka, an Olympic and World coach, taught many accomplished skaters. Memorable students include her daughter Petra Burka, the 1964 Olympic bronze medallist and 1965 World Champion, as well as Toller Cranston, six-time Canadian Champion and 1976 Olympic bronze medallist.

Her commitment, innovative coaching techniques and dedication earned her the Order of Canada in 1978. In 1996, she became an honored member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 2013, she was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Skate Canada offers its sincere condolences to Burka’s family and friends.

2015 Skate Canada Hall of Fame Inductees Announced

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada is pleased to induct six new members into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame.  This year Skate Canada celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Hall. The Hall of Fame was developed in 1990 to pay tribute to athletes, builders and professionals who have made a significant impact on Canadian figure skating.

The slate of 2015 will include ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, 2009 Synchronized Skating Team NEXXICE, and pair skaters Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn in the athlete category. In the builder group, synchronized skating pioneer Cathy Dalton will be inducted. In the professional discipline, coach Richard Gauthier and choreographer Sarah Kawahara will be honoured.

Skate Canada is committed to celebrating the achievements of the skating community through the Hall of Fame, and through alumni programs which engage past skaters, officials, coaches and volunteers. Since the Hall’s inception, Skate Canada has inducted 104 members: 49 athletes, 32 builders and 23 professionals.

Marie-France Dubreuil, 41, and Patrice Lauzon, 39, both of Montreal, were a force on the international ice dance scene for nearly a decade; they enter the Hall in the athlete category. One of Canada’s most loved dance teams, they paired up in 1995. They went on to win the Canadian Championships five times (2000, 2004-2007) and won world silver medals in 2006 and 2007. They competed at the Olympic Winter Games in 2002 and 2006. Dubreuil and Lauzon retired in 2008 and began a successful coaching career in Montreal.

NEXXICE’s 2009 Synchronized Skating Team, from the Burlington Skating Centre will be the first synchronized skating team to enter the Skate Canada Hall of Fame; the entire 20 person team will enter in the athlete category. The 2009 NEXXICE team was the first ever Canadian team to win gold at the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships, in Zagreb, Croatia. The team was comprised of: Jennifer Beauchamp (captain), Carla Coveart, Amy Cebulak, Tiffany Elliot, Ashley Greenhalgh, Morgan Harper, Cara Horan, Julia Horan, Taylor Kemp, Kristen Loritz, Nichole Manahan, Taryn Milne, Cara Moir, Sheri Moir, Michele Moore, Emily Penrose, Allison Proudfoot, Madeleine Wendland, Danyel Wright-Dykstra, and Lauren Zbucki.

Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn, both of Toronto, were the 1935 Canadian Pair Champions and will enter the Hall in the athlete category. Both are deceased; Bertram passed away in 1996 at age 88 and Reburn in 1976 at age 63. They were the first pair team to really skate to the music instead of using it as mere background. Their new and charming style captured audiences in both the figure skating and entertainment worlds. They competed at the 1936 Olympic Winter Games, finishing sixth, before retiring from the sport.

Cathy Dalton, 56, Whitby, Ont., will enter the Skate Canada Hall of Fame as a builder. Dalton has been a pioneer in the development of synchronized skating in Canada and around the world. Since 1996, she has been an appointed coach on the International Skating Union’s Coaches Commission/Synchronized Skating Technical Committee and in that capacity has had a major influence on the development of the international judging system for that discipline: creating rules, standards, and educational materials. Her world-wide seminars for international judges, skaters and coaches have resulted in the sharing of her extensive knowledge about synchronized skating to the international community. In Canada, she founded and coached Canada’s first internationally successful synchronized skating team, black ice. They went on to win Canada’s first world medal, silver at the 2000 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships, in addition to winning eight Canadian championships.

Richard Gauthier, 53, St. Etienne-de-Bolton, Que., has over 40 years of coaching experience and is a NCCP Level 4 coach; he will enter the Skate Canada Hall of Fame as a professional. One of Canada’s most successful pair coaches, Gauthier’s career has pushed pair skating in Canada and around the world. He is responsible for the pairing up of Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, who went on to win the Olympic gold medal in 2002. Most recently he coached Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford to gold at the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. Gauthier continues to coach several world ranked pair teams in Montreal.

Sarah Kawahara, 61, Montreal, Que., introduced an innovative and artistic style of choreography for competitive skating as well as show skating, which has led her to be world renowned in her field; she enters the Skate Canada Hall of Fame as a professional. During her successful career she created memorable programs and choreographed ice shows for world class skaters, including Toller Cranston, Elvis Stojko, Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, John Curry and many others. She would go on to win two Prime Time Emmy Awards, both for best chorography, the first in 1997 for Scott Hamilton, Upside Down and the second in 2002 for the Opening Ceremonies at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Skate Canada is proud to celebrate the achievements of the skating community through the inductions of exceptional members in the Skate Canada Hall of Fame. The exact date and locations of the various inductions will be announced at a later date.

A podium worthy volunteer career

For super volunteer Fran McLellan, her interest in community activities began in her hometown of Ingersoll, Ontario, with parents who were strong role models when it came to offering their time to help.

Volunteering was definitely a community and family priority.

Fran remembers being inspired by the Director of the local YMCA, Al Clark. “He encouraged me to form ‘Teen Town’ and organize Friday Night Dances at the Y. He also helped me to swim competitively and hired me to teach and lifeguard at our local pool.”

That experience and others set the stage for Fran’s love of sports. “We swam in the summer and skated in the winter,” says Fran. “Along with my older brother and two younger sisters, we started skating at a very young age. My brother played hockey and the girls took figure skating lessons. I remember our mother driving us to early morning ‘patch’ lessons and then getting us to school on time.”

Many of her fondest memories revolve around skating in the club Ice Shows and wearing the wonderful costumes. “Some of the costumes were rented from the Unionville Skating Club. I also remember one year when our coach, Liliane de Kresz, skated a solo to the music Sabre Dance. I’ve never forgotten how fast she could skate!”

Growing up, Fran was dedicated to advancing her own skating skills, eventually earning her silver medal in dance. Once married, she and her husband John moved to Oakville where the Oakville Skating Club was a major star in the community. Fran thinks back, “Coming to Oakville, one of my first recollections was the parade welcoming home Maria and Otto Jelinek from the 1962 World Championships in Prague with their gold medal in pairs figure skating.”

That event sparked her interest in the Oakville Skating Club.

“One day I got brave enough to walk into the Club to see about registering our children for lessons and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to sign up. Louis and Marijane Stong were their first coaches – group lessons – three times a week.”

While Fran continued to skate herself and take on new volunteer club responsibilities at the same time, her children were following in her skating footsteps, Michael in hockey and the girls in figure skating. During this time, Fran was also discovering another side to the sport, precision skating, now called Synchronized Skating.

It was at an ACGM where she attended a precision workshop and listened to advocate Elizabeth Swan. “She was so keen to talk about this new discipline that everyone in the room became excited about taking the information back to their clubs.”

Realizing that not every figure skater could become a Barbara Ann Scott, Fran liked the team element. “There were very few team sports for girls when I was growing up,” admits Fran. “Finally, with precision, the girls and I had something we could do together!”

Fran remembers the beginning of the sport. “At first the teams were very large, 24 to 32 skaters, so it meant a lot of individuals found a new home at the rink. The skaters could set new goals, travel as a team to overnight competitions and share in the expenses.”

Fran was so attracted to precision, she continued to skate competitively for 25 years on adult teams and even sometimes on teams with her daughters. Yes, both Laura and Leanne caught the precision bug too, skating on teams in Oakville and in Burlington all while pursuing more traditional skating honors, Laura eventually earning her gold medal in Figures, Free Skate and Dance and Leanne earning her gold medal in Dance.

“Laura started judging when she was sixteen and is qualified to judge all disciplines – singles, pairs, dance and synchro,” boasts Fran. “At the age of 9 Leanne was an alternate on the senior team in Oakville and continued to participate in the sport until she retired at the age of 34.”

Fran recalls her proudest moment as a synchro skater. “It was at Synchro Nationals in 1994 in Verdun, Quebec and our Oakville adult team, skating to Pomp and Circumstance, earned a bronze medal.  I believe that was the first time a mother and two daughters skated together and won a national medal.”

Fran McLellan

1994 Adult Nationals – Fran McLellan

Once Fran hung up her skates, her transition to becoming a full-time volunteer was completely natural. Although she’s tiny in stature, her infectious spirit and endless enthusiasm meant she could take on jobs and get things done.

“Somehow it just happens. One day you’re driving your kids to the rink and the next thing you know you’re attending planning meetings and voting on budgets.”

Skating wasn’t the only activity on Fran’s list of priorities. “I volunteered at our high school, church and the YMCA, helped out with all the activities at school, volunteered at our hospital and the IODE, sat on several town committees and was a founding member of the Oakville Sports Hall of Fame.”

But it was when she was appointed Accreditation Director for the Winter Special Olympics that Fran found one of her most challenging and rewarding experiences.

“My committee accredited over 10,000 participants, officials, managers, chaperones, entertainers, food vendors, directors and special guests. It was a year-long process working closely with the Kodak people to develop the photo ID system. The experience and the people we met along the way were priceless.”

Back in the rink, Fran devoted countless hours volunteering at local, regional, provincial, national and international skating competitions. “At most of the synchro competitions I was judging, skating and managing. Always a challenge for the Tech Rep,” Fran laughs. “I had to make sure I removed the headset before going back on the panel!”

Today as Business Manager for Canada’s World Champions, NEXXICE, Fran is looking forward to the sport’s acceptance into Olympic competition. “My prediction is 2022 in Beijing, China.  And now this year for the first time Synchro will be part of the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. As the old saying goes, we’ve come a long way baby!”

For her vision and commitment, Fran has been recognized by both Oakville and her skating community. She was inducted into the Oakville Sports Hall of Fame this year and has been the recipient of the Elizabeth Swan Memorial Award for her contributions to synchro skating. While delighted with these honors, Fran’s proudest moment came after the 2013 World Synchro Championships in Boston when NEXXICE presented her with the Team Spirit Award.


Oakville Sports Hall of Fame Induction

Over the years Fran’s name has become synonymous with volunteering. “I’ve learned that it takes a ‘team’ effort to make things happen. I’ve gained a lot of friends – young and old.”

For Fran, volunteering has worked two ways. While she’s given her time and dedication, volunteering has given her a lot in return. “It’s kept me grounded,” says Fran.

Her advice? “Get involved and stay involved. One day you’ll be glad you did and the memories will live with you forever.”

Skating Community Celebrates Toller’s On-ice and Off-ice Artistry

Toller Cranston, skating champion, artist, bon vivant, and force of nature, would have been positively bursting at the sight of it: a posh party honouring him. Surrounded by old friends, chocolates, and best of all: at the Art Gallery of Ontario, a place he was never able to professionally penetrate in his life.

But finally he has, with a vast array of his works from the start to the finish of his career, graciously loaned by various patrons of his fantastical art (mystic symbolism, he once called it) under the swooping eaves of the gallery. Beneath large screens where Cranston’s skating performances played and played again, perched a long row of his paintings, forged with colourful strokes from his imaginative world of Silk Road.

Now the brushes are still, but Cranston will live on, if not in many hearts, in a legacy he would cherish.  Through the Canadian Olympic Foundation, a charitable foundation affiliated with the Canadian Olympic Committee, comes the new Toller Cranston Memorial Fund. It’s meant to help those of Cranston’s ilk, skaters with artistic promise. The fund will help young skaters aspire to the Olympics, and artistry counts.

It wasn’t always easy for Cranston in his early days, because he had no such financial aid. Coach Ellen Burka first spotted him in tears after he finished fourth at the 1968 Canadian championships, and missed the Olympic team. She felt compelled to comfort him, telling him: “Don’t worry. Your time will come.”

Two weeks later, Cranston called her to tell her that he had been told to forget about the sport, and that he was too old at 18, but he loved it and wanted one more shot at it. Would Burka coach him?

Burka said she had to think about it, but the next day, he was at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. “He looked pretty overweight,” she recalled, holding court in the AGO as she told her story. “He didn’t look so hot.” She wasn’t impressed after he had done his routines for her. “He stood there sweating,” she said. “Steam was coming off his hair. I’ve never seen that before.”

But Burka gave him the goods, that he needed to lose weight, that he needed to improve his conditioning, and that she didn’t like his program or his music. And she told him he wasn’t properly dressed for the ice. “He was wearing a brown jumpsuit with a zipper from here to here,” she said. “And a belt. And everything was hanging out.”

Cranston turned and left. But two days later he was back, telling Burka, “I will do anything you tell me.”

He showed up at patch the next morning at 7 a.m., but also with a huge portfolio of his work. Burka had no idea he was an artist. “They were beautiful,” she said. And then she discovered that he had been thrown out by two landlords, who weren’t fond of the smell of turpentine, and Cranston had no place to go. He also hadn’t eaten.

Burka told him he could stay with her for seven days until he found another place. He stayed for seven years.

The memorial was a blizzard of sport icons, but also fascinating people from Cranston’s life. Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov sent a note, regretting they could not attend, but writing: “We loved Toller, because his soul and mind were close to us,” they said. “Toller was an artist. We will forever keep the memory of Toller.”

Cranston’s dear friend Ken Taylor shuttled from New York to make the party. He is best known for his role in helping six American hostages escape from Iran while he served as Canada’s ambassador to Iran in 1979.

Norman Jewison, film director for Academy-award winning movies such as “In the Heat of the Night,” “Moonstruck” and “Fiddler on the Roof” also showed up. Olympic champions Dorothy Hamill couldn’t miss it; neither could Jo Jo Starbuck, Sandra and Val Bezic, Barb Underhill, Lynn Nightingale, Donald Jackson, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Petra Burka, choreographer to the stars, Sarah Kawahara and Ron Shaver, Cranston’s nemesis, the man who made it difficult for Cranston to win his final Canadian title and then go on to take the Olympic bronze medal in 1976.

Organizing the whole soiree was Cranston’s sister, Phillippa, known as a university professor who taught a film course so well that nobody would ever skip class. “Toller was my brother,” she said. “I have been proud to call Toller my brother every day for more than 65 years.”

She was there with husband Dan Baran, twin brothers Guy and Goldie Cranston and “some of the most handsome and talented nieces and nephews and cousins that anybody could ask for.”

“I am the baby brother,” said Goldie, with piercing blue eyes, who admitted that he failed at stick figures and, sadly, at finger-painting as well.  (Gus is 10 minutes older.)  “Many of you here have no doubt experienced firsthand what I am to share with you: the Toller Challenge, or the Toller Inquisition.”

“He would relish putting people through the hoops of his choosing,” Goldie said. “He would challenge any number of people on any number of subjects in which he was extensively well versed: art, skating, current events, books, politics – anything in which he felt he had the upper hand.”

Goldie’s challenge was, ironically art. Toller figured he had a good eye. He’d drag Goldie to all sorts of art galleries, and say: “Okay, what’s the good stuff and I want to know this minute.”

“Apparently I passed because I stand before you here today,” Goldie said.

“As brothers, we weren’t particularly close, as you probably all know,” said Guy. “There’s no particular reason. We just weren’t close. We were no different from any other family.

“But he was family, and families do what families do. They come together. And so we have come together to ensure that his legacy lasts a very, very long time, with your help.”

Cranston’s best friend, Haig Oundjian took center stage, wearing a familiar red jacket. It had belonged to Cranston (“always wear bright colours,” he once said). Cranston had given it to him and then told him he bought it for $10 at a thrift store. Cranston was forever frequenting thrift stores, finding treasures and when he did, he would “Tollerize” them.

The partygoers heard about his penchant for being a generous host, and his lack of knowledge of technology and finance. At 3 o’clock early one morning, Oundjian got a call from Cranston, who blurted: “I’m ruined.  I have nothing.”

“’Could you just email me?’” Oundjian said.

“What’s that?” Cranston said. “I don’t do those things.”

Oundjian had to fly to Mexico, and asked Cranston to show him his accounting process. It meant putting a hand down a vase to see what you can find. “There would be electrical bills, gas bills, all unpaid,” Oundjian said. “He had no concept of those things. He would say: ‘I’m an artist!’”

The memorial also heard how Cranston neglected his health and needed dental work. He also suffered a hernia, which became infected, and he did nothing about it. The result? He ended up in hospital, seriously ill. “He was within hours of death,” Oundjian said.

He loved Monty Python.

A few Tollerisms? Do not tolerate mediocrity. As you age, it is better to skate backwards. (Better for a receding hairline.) And the Oscar Wilde gem: “I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.”

The day Cranston died, Loreen Harper, wife of the Prime Minister, took the flag that fluttered that day at Parliament Hill in Ottawa and reserved it for the Cranston family. It found its way to the memorial. Normally there is a 20-year wait following a request. Cranston would be delighted to have jumped the queue.

Federal sport minister Bal Gosal presented the flag to a young generation of Cranstons.

“He was fearless, courageous and uncompromising, when it came to life on his terms,” brother Guy said.

Skating is all about the exits and the entrances, Cranston once said. He made all of them memorable. This one too.

Skate Maker to the Stars

Believe it or not … John Knebli never set foot on the ice in a pair of skates, yet he contributed more to skating than many of its champions.

Born in Hungary (Roumania) in 1904 and educated there, he became a Master Craftsman in Orthopedic Shoemaking specializing in the properties and tanning of leather, anatomy of the foot and body, the study of kinisthetics, walking, skeletal development and musculature.

When he immigrated to Toronto in 1930, all those talents came with him, although many of those early years found him scraping by to make ends meet. He did everything and anything … from working on a farm to delivering milk … and finally had enough money saved to dream about opening his own shop. By 1944, in partnership with his beloved wife, Elizabeth, John’s dream came true when he launched his own shoe store specializing in children’s shoes, soccer, and hockey and roller-skating boots.

His career hit a turning point in 1948 when a skating coach convinced him to make skating boots for a student with problem feet, a challenge he at first refused because he didn’t understand a skater’s needs or how to build a boot to deal with them.

Gerry Blair, a successful coach in the Toronto area, brought one of his students to the shop. It was a young Paul Tatton (see blog …), a talented up and comer, but like most skaters, he had foot problems that made wearing over-the-counter skates a disaster. Young Paul’s feet needed special attention, boots with strength and flexibility that were customized to fit him and his problem feet.

Gerry was convincing … and John … always with an eye to research, creativity and business opportunities … finally accepted the challenge when he received a sample pair of boots to take apart so he could study their construction. As the story goes, after fastidiously pulling the boots apart, he said, “I can do better than that!” and promptly began the scientific study of designing and building quality skating equipment.

Over the years, John, or Mr. Knebli, or Papa K, as he was lovingly called, developed a philosophy about his masterful work.

The boot should be made to fit:

  • The foot
  • The person wearing it
  • The blade attached to it
  • Its use.

To do this, he was meticulous in his measurements of the foot: the width at the ball, the width at the ankle, the length of the arch, the height of the arch, and the length of the big toe were important parts of the equation.

But those weren’t the only things he considered in his formula.

He thoroughly studied skating and skaters.

By continually dropping in on skating sessions around the city, often with his young daughter Elizabeth in tow, he treated those visits as if they were his own scientific laboratories. Sitting rink side for hours, by watching and studying the dynamics of the sport and how the body needed to move, he realized that skating was nothing like walking where the point of balance is at the back of the arch at the start of the heel. In skating he observed that balance is further forward at the end of the ball of the foot, the body leaning to ease into the push-off.

Mr. K also realized that the height of the heel shifted the point of balance and was unique to every skater, a discovery that led him to further calculations in building the boot by considering the athlete’s body mass and weight distribution as well as their body stance.

A designer, innovator, and true fan of figure skating, Mr. K was constantly investigating how to make skating boots better.

His low-cut boot design was revolutionary.

Until then the widely-held belief was that in order to give maximum support to the ankle, the boot had to be high. Mr. K didn’t buy it for a second. Initially his motivation to build a shorter boot was all about aesthetics, believing that a shorter boot elongated the leg and made a prettier picture on the ice. To create the additional strength needed for the new look, he combined the low-cut design with stronger leathers and finally, around 1954-56, made his first pair of low-cut boots for future Canadian, World and Olympic Pair Champion, Barbara Wagner.

His development of specialized leather to withstand the cold and dampness and to enhance the boot’s strength became a significant part of his success. With his previous knowledge of leathers and their properties, he worked with tanners at Braemore Leathers in Cambridge, Ontario to develop the quality of leather he wanted for the uppers and to create a chrome finished leather sole for the boot’s base to deal with icy cold conditions.

His never-ending attention to detail around the quality of his boots also led Mr. K to other innovations, including developing specialized machinery to fulfil the customized orders that came to him from around the world.

Along with Coach Ellen Burka, he also invented a free skating blade for her daughter, future World Champion Petra Burka, which ultimately became known as Wilson’s Pattern 99, THE free skating blade for champions.

Throughout his outstanding career, John crafted boots for many other Canadian champions and World and Olympic medalists; some of his most famous clients included Brian Orser, Barbara Underhill, Paul Martini, Toller Cranston, and Peggy Fleming.

As stated in his nomination to the Skate Canada Hall of Fame, “Knebli’s dedication to his craft led him to shape the sport of figure skating one skate at a time.”

Mr. K passed away in Toronto in 1997 at the age of 92.

Skate Canada will officially induct John Knebli into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in the Builder category at the 2015 Annual Convention and General Meeting in Winnipeg.

(Thanks to Mr. K’s daughter, Elizabeth, for sharing many details about this remarkable man’s career.)

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