Take it from me: a 5 p.m. date with an open air walk on a platform 1.5 metres wide, 150 metres long, and 356 metres off the ground really colours the rest of the day. With such an appointment yesterday to test out the new CN Tower EdgeWalk, which opens to the public on August 1, suddenly my morning commute to work was comfortably mundane, and lunch at my desk was satisfyingly simple. A newfound appreciation for the everyday sights and sounds of the city at ground level grew within me as I walked along Front Street towards the structure, like a soldier voluntarily and deliberately choosing to go against the natural instinct for self-preservation, and put her body in physical danger.
Looking back now, safe on solid ground (spoiler alert: I don’t die!), the hyperbolism of these sentiments is obviously unfounded and admittedly embarrassing. The truth is that I really wanted to do it, I was excited to go up (I also love horror movies, don’t you know). It’s just that, to me, the idea of walking around the top of the CN Tower was so…monumental. You know, it’s the CN Tower. Sure, it may not be the official tallest freestanding building in the world anymore, but still, it’s friggin’ big. Literally and symbolically.
I’m not a Toronto native—in fact, I’m from Ottawa, which is about as non-native as you can get—so the CN Tower always felt a little detached from my Torontonian experience. A landmark I could never really relate to, that never spoke to me. It was out of my league, I would even say. So my trepidation about ascending in the glass elevator and traversing the tower’s exterior was less about a fear of falling to my indisputable death, and more about trespassing in an area in which I had no place.
Okay, maybe a bit of it was about the falling part. No matter how accurate the breathalyzer, how tight I double-knot the pristine (for now) black and white sneakers I was given, or how many times my sleeves, shoes, harness, and ropes were checked (which was at least eight), the first step onto the metal grate walkway and seeing the John Street Roundhouse from 116 stories sent my knees quivering, my hands tight against the rope, my voice into fits of nervous giggles. Luckily, I wasn’t alone—the only one of my fellow EdgeWalkers that was completely at home was BlogTO photographer Tom “Rooftopper” Ryaboi, no stranger to living on the edge. And of course, our super-enthusiastic guide Brian, who made sure we had a great time but stayed safe doing it, was hanging, strutting, and smiling beside us, as he spouted pieces of trivia about the Billy Bishop Airport and the rooftop penthouses we could, if we so chose to, peer into.
“The one with the huge patio in the glass building in front of us? That was bought for 15 million dollars.” Well, it looks tiny from here. “Did you know that when the Fairmont Royal York Hotel was built, it was the tallest building in the area?” Dwarfed by the BMO building and now us too, the notion is laughable. “Below us is Union Station, which obviously cleaned up its roof for us.” It was grey, brown, rusted and filthy. We laughed, and not nervously. My confidence built.
With Brian’s encouragement, we moved forward. Baby steps at first, hugging tightly to the inside edge, and slowly loosening up. First we moved our toes over the edge, then trusted the ropes with our lives and leaned backwards over the city, eventually tilting forwards a la Titanic, “flying” complete with a bird’s eye view. Some kind of unspellable sound, something like a “Phewww,” came out of me in awe, looking down at the clouds that hung over the city like a slice of bread left forgotten at the back of the fridge (without the queasiness). As we walked the circumference with our ropes attached to a track overhead, much like the streetcars worlds below us, camaraderie grew within the group. We joked as we took group pictures and did unguided leans over the edge. We watched a Porter airplane take off from the Island Airport, from above. We began to stroll, chat, shoot the shit. At 1,168 feet above ground level.
We were comfortable, surprisingly comfortable. If there had been a cafe on the platform (and it’s only a matter of time before that happens), I wouldn’t be surprised if we had decided to sit down for a nice cuppa.
We groaned in unison when our time was up, and reluctantly descended to the boring stability of terra firma. In hindsight, it was probably excellent timing since I was beginning to feel a Kids In the Hall Head Crusher superiority coming on over the tiny buildings and cars below. But even at ground level, after getting accustomed to the heat, humidity, and huddled masses of course, there still persisted a feeling of accomplishment, of achievement. I had walked on top of the CN Tower. You know, the CN Tower. I received a rare glimpse into what the Tower sees every day. Whether or not it was worth the $175 ticket I’m still not sure about. But for me, the EdgeWalk experience was like when the CEO of your new company finally has a heart-to-heart with you. Or even better, when they bring you up to their level, to see eye-to-eye.