Not all Human Marvels are unique in appearance. Many are unique in their deeds. Some of the most unfathomable deeds and physical feats were performed by the strongmen of sideshow. Perhaps the most famous of these strongmen was the Canadian Colossus Louis Cyr.
Louis Cyr was born Cyprien-Noé Cyr on October 10, 1863 in the Quebec town of St. Cyprien de Napierville. Louis was a large child, weighing close to 18 pounds at birth and, from an early age, those around him were impressed with his natural strength. At the age of twelve Louis was a lumberjack and stories of his strength became legendary amongst his peers and coworkers. In 1878, at the age of seventeen, Louis and his family immigrated to the United States. Standing just five feet and ten inches – but weighing in at over 230 pounds – Louis presented his first public display of strength in Boston during a strongest man competition. He stunned the crowd by lifting a horse clear off the ground.
Attempting to capitalize on his stunning performance, Louis returned to Quebec in 1882 and went on a brief tour of Quebec with his wife and family as ‘The Troupe Cyr’. At the conclusion of his tour, Louis became a police officer in Montreal.
Restless in his vocation, he entered another strongman competition in March of 1886 hosted by Quebec City. His competition was ‘World’s Strongest Man’ David Michaud and Louis Cyr bested Michaud easily. During the competition, Louis lifted a 218-pound barbell with one hand. The best Michaud could manage was 158 pounds. Louis also amazed is opponent by squatting a platform weighing 2,371 pounds. Louis was now ‘officially’ the strongest man in in the world.
It is important to note that the physical feats performed by strongmen are often exaggerated and Louis was no exception to this rule. There are stories surrounding Louis that border on the impossible. However many of his feats were formally documented by witnesses and officials. While touring the world Louis once squatted a platform holding 18 men. He also purportedly lifted a 500-pound weight with one finger and, in a stunning publicity stunt, pushed a freight car up an incline. His greatest feat of all occurred on October 12th 1891, in Montreal. On that occasion he legitimately won a tug-of-war against four horses.
Although Louis Cyr died of chronic nephritis on November 10th, 1912 his legacy lives on. He was dubbed ‘The Strongest Man in History’ for his amazing physical strength and today there is a district of Montreal named Louis-Cyr in his honor. It is located in Saint-Henri – the same area he patrolled as a police officer. There is also a park, the Parc Louis-Cyr, named after Louis and a statue of ‘The Strongest Man in History’ has stood in the Place des Hommes-Forts – ‘Strongman’s Square’ – since 1970.
The cause of his herculean strength is still unknown but during his remarkable lifetime Louis never backed down from a challenge and he was undefeated in Canada and abroad.
image: a modified promotional photo of Louis Cyr in the priviate collection of the author.