EdgeWalk, outside and very very high above Toronto

Travel writer Hans Tammemagi stands on the roof of the CN Tower

  • Jun. 3, 2019 11:30 a.m.

Story by Hans Tammemagi

Teetering on the outer rim of the CN Tower, the tallest structure in North America, I was petrified, totally terrified. This was EdgeWalk, the world’s highest – and scariest! – urban walkway. I’ve always wanted to get a different perspective on Toronto, but right now I just yearned to be far, far below, back at ground level.

Earlier, six of us were bundled into overalls and harnesses. Jordan, our guide, made sure that anything that might fall off was removed including bracelets, hair pins and even chewing gum. Excited and very nervous, we rode the elevator up and up 116 stories with ears popping. We clipped tethers onto an overhead railing, listened to a final safety talk and then reluctantly and ever-so-gingerly followed Jordan onto the very exposed 1.5-metre-wide ledge circling the tower.

Stepping outside I went into shock. It was like entering another world and I felt threatened. Gradually my senses recovered and an incredible view lay before me. We started facing south, and my first surprise was to see airplanes heading for Toronto Island Airport, but flying far below. Lake Ontario lay before us and sailboats catching the sun looked like tiny butterflies. Next to the lake, rail lines stretched far to the east and west.

Jordan’s voice broke my reverie.

“I’m going to push your personal limits,” he said. “The first exercise is Toes over Toronto.”

The task was to stand with our toes over the edge. Sounds simple, but forcing myself to the edge was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done. We survived this challenge, however, and moved a quarter way around the tower.

A blockbuster view greeted us. Skyscrapers, a signature of Toronto, soared below like a forest of redwoods, providing evidence that this city is the power and financial centre of the country. It was exhilarating to have the earth laid out below me like a map, and I slowly began to appreciate how this grand overview provided unique insights into Canada’s largest city.

Jordan explained, “The city was first called York and in 1793 was named the capital of Upper Canada. In 1834, it was incorporated and renamed Toronto. During the 1960s and 1970s, tall skyscrapers were constructed downtown, interfering with signals from the shorter television and radio towers. So, the CN Tower was completed in 1976, taller than any existing or planned buildings. An engineering feat, it is one of the world’s greatest man-made wonders.”

He then led us into the second exercise. This time, grasping our tethers, we placed our feet on the edge and leaned backwards over the city far, far below. Needless to say, my pulse skyrocketed.

After regaining my feet — and composure — I noticed the Fairmont Royal York hotel far below. Jordan explained that when it was built in 1927, it was the tallest building in the British Empire. How times change, I thought. Now it looked tiny compared to its neighbours.

I started to enjoy being on a high. Instead of being hemmed in by concrete, I was viewing the city stretched out before me like an open book.

We moved another quadrant around the rim. My heart was in my throat as we leaned outward from the rim, facing forward and looking straight down on the streets an eternity below. It was late afternoon and people like tiny insects were emptying out of the skyscrapers and scurrying along streets.

Back on my feet and gazing around, I could see the vastness of Toronto. The city is like a hypergiant star whose enormous gravity field irresistibly pulls more and more objects into its orbit.

All was visible. The head offices of Canada’s major banks and corporations were housed in the skyscrapers around me. The power politics guiding them were played out at Queens Park, easily visible to the north with its surrounding lawns and trees. Tens of thousands attended sports games at the Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) and the Scotiabank Arena (Raptors, Maple Leafs) just below me. And looking carefully, I could make out Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the venerable Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum — all part of Toronto’s vibrant arts and culture scene.

And there was so much more, for Toronto leads the way in urbanization. With its vast size comes incredible diversity and pulsating intellectual, entertainment and entrepreneurial stimulation. Standing exposed, high on a tiny ledge, opened up insights I had not imagined.

Unbuckling our harnesses back inside, I was still high, for I had seen Toronto like never before. I had been drawn into its powerful orbit.

If You Go

The EdgeWalk Experience: edgewalkcntower.ca

Visit Toronto: seetorontonow.com

Stay at: Chelsea Hotel, 33 Gerrard Street West, chelseatoronto.com/en/

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