9 Canadian daredevils

Some lived to tell their stories; others weren’t so lucky

Clifford Calverly. (Get Stock)

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

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