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[ICE TIME] Skating Great Toller Cranston's Incredible Life Captured in New Book

The Canadian skating great's life, artistry and legacy shine in sister Phillippa Cranston Baran's loving tribute to her brother, who passed away in 2015.

Figure skating has had many individuals who have impacted the sport in positive and creative ways through the years. From its beginnings until the present day, skating has evolved into a technical and artistic marvel.

In the past 50 years, one name stands out for what he brought to the sport with his charisma, athleticism and approach ― Canada's Toller Cranston. He was a true Renaissance man who became an author, commentator and painter in addition to a champion skater.

Who was Toller Cranston?

Cranston was the bronze medalist at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, and at the 1974 world championships in Munich, Germany, and a six-time Canadian titlist (1971-76). He first skated in the Olympics at the 1972 Sapporo Games, where he finished ninth.

To a younger generation, he is known primarily through YouTube videos and stories about his artistry. However, to those who were around to see him compete, his performances are forever etched in their memories.

Cranston's untimely death at 65 in 2015 came as a shock to his legion of fans. A bright light had been extinguished, never to return.

The cover of Phillippa Cranston Baran's new book.

A Meaningful, Expansive Project

Fortunately, Cranston's sister Phillippa Cranston Baran, has put together a fantastic new book, Toller Cranston: Ice, Paint, Passion, that covers Toller's amazing life both in the rink and outside it. The 273-page, coffee table tome, published in March 2024 by Sutherland House Books, in Toronto, is filled with remembrances of his achievements by his contemporaries, friends, journalists and sister, and it includes dozens of photos.

Following his retirement from competitions and show skating, Toller became a prolific artist. He lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for many years, where his works were featured prominently throughout his estate. There were more than 250 solo art shows in Canada and around the globe for his work. And he created an estimated 20,000 original paintings.

Artists Toller Cranston (left) and Andrew Osta at Cranston's studio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in December 2014. (Andrew Osta/CC BY-SA 4.0/via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

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Skating Luminaries Share Memories of Cranston in the Book

Brian Orser, the longtime former coach of two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, summed up the feelings of many when asked to comment on Toller's passing in 2015.

"He was one of a kind," Orser stated. "Nobody will ever be like him. And such a great contribution to figure skating but for me personally it was his sense of humor, his outlook on life and his free spirit. He was somewhat of a rebel ― always spoke his mind, wasn't always so accurate but he spoke his mind."

When Ice Time spoke with two-time Olympic champion Dick Button of the United States several years ago, the two names that he mentioned for their impact on skating were Toller and Britain's John Curry.

"Toller Cranston! The most exotic skater I think I have ever seen," Button was quoted as saying in the book. "If John Curry is the most elegant, [Cranston] is the most exotic, the most bizarre, and the most unusual and extraordinary style that I have ever seen."

When a person does something different from the traditional way, they often get criticized. This was the kind of treatment that Toller received early on in his career, fellow Canadian and 1962 world champion Donald Jackson recalled.

"Being an innovator came at a price," Jackson commented in the book. "Initially the judges were against Toller. They did not accept him at first, and they didn't give him winning points. To win, you have to have the judges on your side. But then TV helped him, because the general public liked what they saw, and they gave him standing ovations. The judges started to come around after that."

Toller Cranston in 1977. (PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Skating Icon Cranston Honored During and After His Life

In 2011, Toller was awarded an honorary doctorate by Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He spoke to the graduates about the importance of putting aside fear in their endeavors.

"A very important thing I learned in painting and in skating was how not to be afraid, and how to live one's life without inhibition," Toller declared. "You have to say what you want to say, stand up for what you believe in, go after things, and never be afraid."

In 2017, the Canadian Olympic Foundation and Skate Canada created the Toller Cranston Awards, which recognize courage, creativity, and expression for young skaters at the junior and novice levels annually at the national championships.

Everyone in life should be so lucky to have a sister like Phillippa. The time and sheer amount of work she must have invested to complete this incredible chronicle of Toller's life is mind-boggling. To be remembered in such an endearing way by a family member is indeed special.

Toller Cranston: Ice, Paint, Passion is available through,,, and bookstores in Canada.



Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.


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