A New Height In Staged Media Events
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A New Height In Staged Media Events

Corporal Paolo Villa demonstrates how simple and easy all of this is.

Sometimes being a journalist is really great. People will give you free food. People will give you free tickets to things. People will give you free swag. However, it is not often that people will give you the opportunity to jump off of a building. When opportunities such as this come along, they must be taken.

Well, perhaps not so much “jump” as “zipline.” The Canadian Armed Forces has a kid-friendly exhibit at the CNE this year, as they have for several years now. The exhibit contains both a variety of neat-looking military vehicles as well as a fun obstacle course which kids can run: it promotes both physical fitness and the general awesomeness that comes along with being an obstacle course. (Really, obstacle courses should be a more regular part of life. Not metaphorical obstacle courses, literal ones. Also the thing where you hit other people with Pugil sticks.)
In addition to the vehicles and obstacle course, the army also runs a zipline show three times daily, where soldiers zipline from the top of the Direct Energy Centre down to street level. One of the soldiers is dressed up as a giant bear, because kids love the possibility of a giant bear splattering to his death, even if that never happens. To promote this event, the army sent out offers to journalists: come and ride the zipline! Clearly it worked, because you’re now reading this article. Either that, or you’re looking at the pictures and thinking “God, they’re fat.”
We couldn’t pass up a chance to zipline off the building in the name of the free press, so we signed up immediately. Arriving at 7 a.m. at the Ex, we were nearly alone other than a pair of reporters working for CHIN. The CAF representatives started gearing us up immediately with harnesses, explaining as they did so that psychologists have discovered that fear of heights kicks in at about thirty-three feet. Corporal Paolo Villa, checking our harnesses, reassured us that the 130-foot height was not a big deal. “See, if you’re afraid of being up thirty-three feet, you’re afraid of anything above that. And if you’re not, then you’re not.” We then asked, just to be sure, if they had anything thirty-three feet high we could climb to see if we were scared of heights. “No.”

Please hum the theme from The Right Stuff when viewing this picture.

The top of the Direct Energy Centre is one of those places most Torontonians will never, ever go. It’s a shame, because the view from up there is spectacular: a gorgeous, panoramic view of the lake and Ontario Place in one direction, then you turn ninety degrees and you’ve got Toronto’s skyline right in your face. There’re a thousand seagulls everywhere, all clearly thinking “this is the best place to wait for somebody to drop some French fries.”
Master Corporal Chris Abate, an advanced mountain operator with the Queen’s Own Rifles airborne infantry regiment, rigged us up once we were on top of one of the Direct Energy Centre’s towers, and he and the other soldiers complimented us on not having any trouble with the ladders and for not freaking out like “the CP24 guys did yesterday.” Actually, comments about how many of the other journalists to attempt the zipline were giant wimps were fairly common from the soldiers present, albeit usually with a “well the first time I did it I was scared too” disclaimer. (The “but not as scared as they were” was left unspoken, but was obvious.)

“It didn’t look that high up when we were on the ground.”

You can see a clip of CP24’s Matte Babel doing the zipline here. We completed our ziplines with far more dignity, because Torontoist only hires people who are not afraid of heights.
Both we and the CHIN representatives were champing at the bit to go down the zipline, because ziplines are awesome. But they’re also a bit awkward. The tricky part of getting yourself off the top of a building is edging yourself off the top. Although the army men have explained to you that the ropes can take ten thousand pounds and that there are six billion safety precautions, they also tell you not to jump off the building; instead you have to lower yourself off using a rope handladder. Obviously, you’re not going to jump off anyway, either because of your innate survival instinct or, in some cases, because you don’t want to get the army men mad at you because they told you not to jump and then you jumped anyway. (The Canadian Armed Forces have guns, which dramatically reduces one’s smart-ass quotient.) Thus, getting off the ledge involves shimmying your ass forward gradually in an undignified way that makes you think the army just wants to snicker at people. But eventually you get off the ledge, and you’re hanging there a hundred feet over the Ex, and it is totally awesome.

Not pictured: dignity.

The zipline’s not scary, despite what Matte Babel might think. It’s fun. It’s a shame that obvious safety and liability issues prevent the general public from getting to go down the zipline, because it’s a liberating experience. If you ever have the chance to go on a zipline, Torontoist officially recommends that you do so.
Now, if only they’d let us hang-glide off the top of the Skydome…
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.