By Blog of Lists - Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 0 Comments
Staid? Risk-averse? Not on your life. Canada has produced some of the world’s greatest daredevils, “stunters” and all-round thrill-seekers. Some lived to tell their stories; others weren’t so lucky:
1. Jay Cochrane, Saint John, N.B.: His list of death-defying high-wire feats is long, but his record-smash- ing, 1995 crossing of China’s Qutang Gorge—636 m across, 400 m above the Yangtze River—is surely his masterpiece.
2. Ken Carter, Montreal: Known as the “Mad Canadian,” this car jumper set a record in 1974 piloting a Chevy 34 m through the air above 13 Subarus. In 1979, he was five seconds from attempting a two-kilometre jump over the St. Lawrence in a rocket-propelled Lincoln when he aborted. He died in 1983 trying to jump a pond.
3. Dean Gunnarson, Winnipeg: Perhaps the greatest “escapologist” since Houdini. He’s escaped beer tanks, car crushers and sub- merged coffins. Two years ago, on the anniversary of Houdini’s death, Gunnarson had himself buried in a grave and dug his way out, emerging two days later.
4. Clifford Calverly, Clarksburg, Ont.: In 1887, the young tight- rope artist stunned tourists at Niagara Falls by performing a series of tricks while balancing on a high wire, including hanging by one arm and skipping a rope. He even pushed a wheelbarrow across the wire.
5. Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, Vancouver: A star of the so-called “freediving” movement, where divers go as deep as possible without the benefit of oxygen tanks, she sank using ballast to a depth of 88 m in 2007, setting a women’s world record.
6. Anna Chevalier, Red Deer, Alta.: During the Roaring Twenties in Chicago, she and her trusty horse Johnny would mount a 15-m tower on the Steel Pier, then hurl themselves into a vat of water only three metres deep. Horse diving, it goes without saying, is a lost art.
7. Karel Soucek, Hamilton: In 1984 he rode over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel and lived. A year later, he was killed performing a fall off the roof of the Astrodome in Houston. As 35,000 people looked on, his barrel hit the rim of a water tank placed below.
8. Lonnie Bissonnette, St. Cathar- ines, Ont.: Perhaps the greatest of Canada’s BASE jumpers, he has parachuted off the famous KL Tower in Malaysia and Angel Falls in Venezuela. He was left a paraplegic after a 2004 bridge jump in Twin Falls, Iowa, went awry, yet continues to jump.
9. Carol Pilon, Masham, Que.: Canada’s pre-eminent wing-walker is the only woman to have ventured onto the wings of a jet-propelled aircraft—or to have performed her act in winter.
Source: Personal websites, news reports
Have you ever wondered which cities have the most bars, smokers, absentee workers and people searching for love? What about how Canada compares to the world in terms of the size of its military, the size of our houses and the number of cars we own? The answers to all those questions, and many more, can be found in the first ever Maclean’s Book of Lists.
Buy your copy of the Maclean’s Book of Lists at the newsstand or order online now.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 5:43 PM - 0 Comments
Charlie Gillis makes way for the Falls where he’ll be live-blogging a Flying Wallenda’s walk from one side to the other
Chalk one up for the forces of fun.
As of this morning, a 550-metre steel cable runs the breadth of the Niagara Falls, and Nik Wallenda is limbering up for his long-anticipated walk. I’ll be there, filing updates through Friday, and live-blogging the event itself. Don’t leave this to ABC. Join us as you watch.
If Wallenda succeeds, it will go down as a bureaucratic, as well as physical, feat. He and his agent, Winston Simone, have persuaded—in rough order—the New York legislature; the City of Niagara Falls, Ont.; the City of Niagara Falls, N.Y.; the Niagara Falls Parks Commission; the New York State Parks Police; the Niagara Falls, Ont. police; the Niagara Parks police service; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the Canada Border Services Agency and Transport Canada to get access to the gorge and permission to cross from the United States to Canada.
That’s not an exhaustive list. You could throw on the Ontario Ministry of Tourism & Culture, because the parks commission needed a little prodding from Queen’s Park to waive its century-old prohibition on stunting at the Falls. And with four days to go before the big night, Wallenda’s team learned that the helicopter company they’d hired to fly a rope across the gorge lacked a necessary dispensation under NAFTA. They needed that rope to pull the cable across.
Yes, that’s NAFTA, as in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
You can see, then, why Wallenda, 33, was sounding a bit chippy by the time he started to rehearse. Indeed, he’d all but lost his patience when ABC, which begins its live special at 9 p.m. (he’ll hit the wire around 10:25 p.m.), demanded that he wear a tether that would keep him from plunging into the chasm should he slip off the wire. He’s been griping about it ever since, suggesting not-so-subtly during the past few days he’ll ditch the cord. Personally, I can’t see him flouting a network paying him a rumoured $500,000. But that’s the showman in Wallenda: he knows how to make you watch.
Back when he went public with this idea, Maclean’s paid Wallenda a visit in southern Missouri, where he and his family troupe were performing at a theme park, and watching them push home for me why this seemed like a great idea—or at least, an idea whose time had come. The act is truly an anachronism, a kind of live-action artifact that makes you long for the days before Bachelorette and Call of Duty. Back when real people risked their actual well-being so the rest of us could feel a bit more alive.
To me, that’s what the Falls’ history of dare-devilling means. Yes, the scene had grown lurid by the mid-19th century. But the river’s guardians did a good job fixing that and—not to go all Seabiscuit here—but things have gotten tough. Not just in Niagara, but right across the eastern industrial belt. Tourism’s down. Jobs are scarce. The economy sucks.
If there was ever a moment to resurrect the Falls lost grandeur, to unashamedly sell the spot with a brash act of showmanship, this is it. Slide to the edge of your seats, folks. A Flying Wallenda is about to step on the wire.
By Nicholas KÖhler Photograph by Jean-François Bérubé - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 2 Comments
Helen Upperton SPEED demon
Bobsled pilot Helen Upperton has elevated the pre-competition ritual to the standard of high voodoo. Her brakeman, Shelley-Ann Brown, twists her hair into elaborate “speed braids” that Upperton swears make her faster. She paints her fingernails black. And, as she negotiates the vertiginous corners of the bobsled run at high speed, she chews gum—for years it was 7-Eleven blue raspberry Slurpee flavour—like some snowbound Chuck Yeager. Don’t let the hocus-pocus fool you; it all enhances wicked focus. “I could close my eyes right now and picture any track in the world, every corner,” she says. “You have to—it comes at you so fast it has to be automatic.”
She was born to British parents on a Halloween 30 years ago in Kuwait, where her father, Kerry, worked in the oil industry. For a while it looked as though she might have been born under a bad sign: as a kid in Calgary, the middle girl of three, she spent hours in hospital thanks to a penchant for daredevil antics—catapulting off banisters, sticking metal doodads into electric sockets. Her mother, Hilary, has a vivid memory of Helen hanging in her diaper from a tree she’d climbed. “The girl was an ongoing, walking emergency-room case,” says a friend. Always athletic, she played soccer (her dad was her coach) and competed in luge as a tween: “I was like, ‘Sure, it’s like super-fast tobogganing!!!’ ” says Upperton, an avid gesticulator who speaks at bobsleigh speeds—but stopped when, true to form, she crashed, nearly knocking out all her teeth. “We’d spent all these thousands on orthodontics,” says Hilary.