Tag Archive for: Toller Cranston

Next Gen Award Celebrates Canadian Legend Toller Cranston

TORONTO, ON: Today, Skate Canada and the Canadian Olympic Foundation announced a unique athlete award to honour one of figure skating’s greatest artists. Named after the late skater who helped revolutionize the sport, the Toller Cranston Memorial Fund Athlete Award was created to celebrate young skaters who display exceptional artistry on ice at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in the novice and junior categories.

As an Olympic medallist, Cranston was world renowned for innovation and artistry. In a sport that has evolved to favour technical difficulty and feats of athleticism, Cranston was known for his freedom of expression and dramatic showmanship on the ice.

Off the ice, Cranston was a world-renowned artist. His paintings—colourful, flamboyant and intricate—are sought by collectors all over the world. He viewed painting as an extension of skating and the subject matter of his paintings often revolved around skating and skaters.

Established shortly after his death in 2015, the Toller Cranston Memorial Fund was set up as a way to show appreciation for the artistry he brought to the world of figure skating and to financially assist young skaters who possess the same artistic values and style as he did.

“Toller had a vision for skating that was before his time. He brought art to the ice and changed the dynamic of the sport. We can see his influence in the balance of artistry and athleticism in our Canadian team,” said Debra Armstrong, CEO, Skate Canada. “Skate Canada commends the Canadian Olympic Foundation for keeping Toller’s legacy alive through this memorial fund and for inspiring a younger generation of skaters to value the art of figure skating.”

On June 25th, 2015, friends and family of the skating community gathered at the Art Gallery of Toronto to honour Toller’s memory and launch the Toller Cranston Memorial Fund. On this evening, funds were raised through individual donors and donations continue to be made in Toller’s name through the Canadian Olympic Foundation. Among the speakers was his sister Phillippa Baran.

“My brother Toller always believed that figure skating had unlimited potential for artistic vision and freedom of expression,” said Baran.

“By committing himself to constant innovation he redefined the sport and he became an inspiration to other skaters to explore their own capacity and potential. Toller would be honoured and humbled to know that the artistry of young skaters is being recognized through this Award.”

This year, 14 skaters were selected to receive the award. Each winner will also receive a free pair of industry-leading boots and blades courtesy of Jackson Ultima Skates. The awards were presented by former competitors, family and friends of Toller’s from coast to coast at various Skate Canada awards banquets.

Skate Canada and the Canadian Olympic Foundation are proud to announce the Toller Cranston Memorial Fund Athlete Award winners for 2017:

Brandon Day, Junior Men, Quebec
Bruce Waddell, Junior Men, Ontario
Corey Circelli, Novice Men, Ontario
Dawson Nodwell, Novice Men, Alberta
Triena Robinson, Junior Women, Alberta
Katrine Denis, Novice Women, Quebec
Natalie Walker, Novice Women, Ontario
Evelyn Walsh & Trennt Michaud, Junior Pair, Ontario
Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha, Junior Dance, Quebec
Katerina Kasatkin & Corey Circelli, Novice Dance, Ontario

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.

There will only ever be one Toller

There is only one Toller.

You don’t need to say Cranston to flesh out the spirit of the man: Creative. Flamboyant. Outspoken. Voraciously well read. Colourful. Generous. Prickly.

Toller was a diva. A master of outrageous one-liners. A big spender. A clever self-marketer. A larger-than-life guy who always cut to the chase.

And perhaps, a lonely artist, gone too soon at age 65. There’s a ghostly photo of him walking out of his San Miguel de Allende studio into the Mexican light, a lone figure, reluctantly leaving his work behind.

In his book, “Zero Tollerance,” Cranston noted: “I spent 20 years looking for love (any kind of love) without finding it. The subset of that, ironically, is that at the end of 20 years, I’m not sure that I would have recognized it if I had found it. It might have been right under my nose, but I didn’t have the sensibilities to discern it.”

He always walked his own path. He was an island, even in his own family, he once said. His mother left him nothing in her will. She didn’t support his skating. At the 1974 world championship in Munich, Toller had her kicked out of the rink. His father, an ex-football quarterback, was by Toller’s admission, a kindly man with whom he had no bond. His father once said he was immensely proud of his son, but Toller would never let him become close. “He has always been that way,” Monty Cranston once said. “Out there on his own.”

One of Cranston’s toughest crosses to bear, so he said, was his failure to win an Olympic gold medal in 1976. He took home bronze instead. He later said that loose end largely dictated his “lust for acceptance and recognition.” And that it led to “exaggerated personal behaviours and ruinous conspicuous consumption,” he said.

His novel skating style was not always accepted by the establishment. (When he won his Canadian junior title at age 14, his placements ranged from 1st to 22nd, he said.) Nor was his art accepted. Canadian art has been described by some as the “frozen art of a frozen people.” But Cranston’s work burst with warm colour, arabesque forms and exotic Silk-Road characters. He was completely an outsider. Perhaps his fantasy art wasn’t taken seriously. To Cranston, it was very serious, an expression of his inner vision.

“Do you have any paintings by Toller Cranston in your gallery?” Maia-Mari Sutnik, a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario was asked after Cranston’s death. “No,” she replied quickly. “His work doesn’t fit into any of our collections. His work is decorative art. And then he left the country. He wasn’t part of the community. If you have a Toller Cranston piece, just keep it and enjoy it.”

In June of 2011, Cranston was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree at Carleton University, where he addressed a convocation of students. “This is important to me,” he told the begowned ones. “This is the first time I’ve received a pat on the head.”

Ron Shaver, a contemporary of Toller, who pushed him to the max at Canadian championships, knew the artist-skater since he was six years old. “I don’t think he was ever anyone that people got close to,” Shaver said. “He just didn’t let people in. “

Shaver burst into tears when he heard that Toller had died.

Cranston was well known for his conspicuous consumption, so rampant that at age 40, he sold the entire contents of his Toronto home at an auction at Waddington’s in Toronto, hoping to stem the over-the-top collecting and pay for a new abode in Mexico. But in Mexico, it eventually continued apace. “Usually it means that something is missing in your life,” said one of his best friends, Thom Hayim. “When he goes on a spending spree, I know he’s feeling inadequate.”

Other close friends acknowledge that he was a lonely man. “He lived a very independent, alone life,” said Clive Caldwell, who has known Cranston for almost 44 years. “But he was never alone. He was always the life of a party. He wasn’t the guy sitting in a corner, feeling sorry and sad because he was alone. He was hell bent and determined to take over the world, and he was trying to do it every day.”

Caldwell never felt that Cranston missed anything or that he wanted more. He was a driven painter, and hated distraction. Solitude was necessary to create.

“He always used to ask me things like: ‘What’s it like to have a partner?’” said John Rait, an ice dancer who has known Cranston since he was 16. “He didn’t understand how normal people lived and how those relationships worked. He was always quick to ask: “Well, what happens then, and how does that work? Or how do you feel when that happens?’ He was interested in how other people existed, but I think his existence was so rarified.’

Everywhere Cranston went, people followed. He was always surrounded by people. Some of his friends called it “the circus.”

“And everybody wanted something from him,” Rait said. “Everybody was there to take and very few people were there to give. Those are the people that have stayed with Toller over the decades: the givers. The takers have come and gone several times. And there’s always somebody new.”

Toward the end of his life, however, Cranston was getting the “circus” under control and many of the people in his life were the givers, generally concerned about his welfare. Some helped him sort out financial issues. He was in a good place, at peace, calmer than he’d ever been. He began to paint in pastel hues, rather than the fulgent reds and blues. The future looked bright.

His death stunned his long-time coach Ellen Burka. “I think now he’s in peace,” she said. “I think now at least he can smile. He lived his last years in a most beautiful environment.”

Skate Canada mourns the loss of iconic figure skater Toller Cranston

Skate Canada and the entire skating family are saddened to hear of the passing of six-time Canadian champion and Olympic bronze medallist Toller Cranston. Cranston passed away at 65 years of age in San Miguel, Mexico where he had lived for many years.

Referred to by some as a modern pioneer of artistic skating and by the European press as “skater of the century”, Toller Cranston’s influence on men’s figure skating is incalculable.
“A skater with a painter’s eye”, his original artistry and dramatic showmanship on ice broke new ground in figure skating and thrilled audiences.

From 1971 to 1976 Toller was six-time Canadian champion. He placed second in the 1971 ultimate North American Championships held in Peterborough. In 1973 and 1975 he won the newly created competition, Skate Canada International. At the 1974 world championships in Munich he earned a bronze medal. That same year he was chosen as the Sports Federation Athlete of the Year.

At the 1975 and 1976 world championships in Colorado Springs and Gothenburg, respectively, he placed fourth. In Innsbruck, at the Olympic Games in 1976, at twenty six years old, Cranston won the bronze medal.

Since retiring from amateur skating, he was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1976 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1977. He was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada that year. In 1995 he received a Special Olympic Order from the Canadian Olympic Association. In 1997 he was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame. An accomplished painter in his later years, Cranston’s artwork is as well-known as his skating.

Skate Canada offers its sincere sympathies to Cranston’s family and friends. Skating has lost a true legend.