042807 WWF CN Tower Climb, Toronto, ON

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In the spring of 1975 (I believe it was) my grade 2 class went on a field trip from our school in Bramalea (now Brampton I suppose) to Centre Island across from Toronto’s (then) nondescript harbour front.  Two images remain burned in my mind’s retina from that day, so I guess I’ll tell you about both of them.

The first was a staggeringly drunk and/or ODing blond woman who was being helped off of the ferry.  The lady simply could not walk on her own and in their struggle to keep her afloat her friend(s) inadvertently tore her blouse off.  Our teacher quickly corralled all us kids and told us to avert our eyes but I could only stare.  I’m utterly convinced that I was struck by the scene not because of some sexual curiosity – though the lady was young and pretty and was all but rolling around on the gangplank wearing just her bra and cutoff shorts – but because I had never seen someone so out of control before, especially so early in the bloody day.  What, was it 10am maybe?  I have no idea what her deal was, how she had gotten into that condition and once she did why she didn’t just stay home, or at least well out of public view?  I just imagine her friends looking at all of us and thinking, “Great, on top of everything else there’s a whole classroom of kids staring at us.”

Anyway, the other image that lives inside me from that day is one of much grander import in my mind, and it’s the one that is pertinent to today’s story.  From my little perspective it seemed like everyone in Toronto (and Bramalea) was all a-giddy about this new CN Tower thing they were building down on the waterfront.  Imagine, the tallest freestanding structure in the entire world, and it was going to be right where I lived (sort of).  

Of course I don’t have to tell you how crushed I was when I found out that our family would be moving away from the Toronto area that summer and we would be living in stupid old Moncton, New Brunswick by the time the CN Tower would be completed.  What did I know?  I figured once we were gone we would be gone; there’d be no coming back to Toronto and thus I would never, ever get to see (much less go up) the already legendary and much-storied* CN Tower.

This is what was weighing on my tiny mind as I stood at the back of that ferry and stared in wonder up at the still-unfinished CN Tower.  A singular focus rising up out of Toronto’s young and still-stunted skyline, the tower was about two-thirds of the way finished that day.  The bulbous restaurant/viewing platform was completed but still totally encased in scaffolding; they had only just begun work on the needle that juts out from the top of the restaurant.  It looked so damn cool, very (pre-)reminiscent of the image of the Death Star under construction in The Empire Strikes Back.  The sight burned my soul with fascination and disappointment.

Oh, how I longed to see it finished!  But alas, I knew that would be impossible…

As I stood there gaping in my pre-adolescent reverie how could I know how life would unfold?  For example I had no idea I was mere minutes away from seeing a young woman stumble around half-naked before my very eyes.  More importantly, I couldn’t possibly know that the family would move back to Toronto(ish) in a few years and I would come to go up my favourite building a dozen times or more.  How could a young bespectacled me predict that I would eventually have the good fortune to spend a weekend in the adjoining Skydome hotel and eat a splendid dinner in the tower’s ever-so-famous revolving restaurant?  

Yes young me, over the years we would come to do all this and more!  But as a CN Tower enthusiast I still had one more item to check off my list.  I wanted to climb the steps. 

I had heard of the stairway opening to the public on occasion for charitable climbs and once the internet got all set up and running I discovered it was WWF who ran the annual event.  Heck, if I could accomplish my dream and at the same time raise money to help out Hulk Hogan and the boys then all the better**.  I signed up for the next available tower climb and raised my obligatory couple of hundred dollars (again, thanks to the internet.  And people I suppose) and when April 28th, 2007 came my friend Jojo and I woke up super-early at a friend’s place and dragged our sleepy carcasses from the couch to downtown.

Even at the ungodly half-hour of 6:30am the Trade & Convention Centre at the base of the tower was abuzz with unimaginable activity; I mean there were thousands of people doing this thing.  Jojo and I registered and got in line.  It was chilly as we waited our turn to enter the stairwell.  I remember craning my neck up towards the tower and thinking that it didn’t really look so tall after all.  

In we went, we punched our cards and started up the first flight.  By the third flight Jojo was gone, destined to finish his trek in under eighteen minutes.  I on the other hand, having done absolutely no training whatsoever and being very out of shape (unless “oval” counts as a shape) climbed and gasped and sweated and grunted and wondered why? for more than twenty-five minutes before I reached the top.  My entire insides were exploding as I got my timecard repunched and was pointed towards the exit.  I approached the door with a gasping feeling of joy and accomplishment, feelings that were instantly replaced by shock and disbelief when I opened the door only to find another seventeen (yes, seventeen) flights of stairs to climb to reach the viewing platform.  I looked around like a lost, pathetic puppydog desperately hoping to be carried.  Please, please (said my weary eyes), there must be another way…

“Move along, move along…you’ve got to keep moving!”  Sheesh!

I would have mutinied if I thought it would have done any good.  Instead I let out a whimper, tucked my tail between my legs and “kept moving”.

But after I did indeed reach the top, caught my breath and drank a bottle or two of water that joy and accomplishment stuff seeped back into my brain.  I held my sweaty head high and stared out at the hazy view of Centre Island, looking small and far away from my perch 1122 feet above the ferry platform.  Looking out over the water I remembered that day from more than three decades before.

And I couldn’t help but wonder a wonder that I’ve wondered many times over the years: What was the deal with that lady?  

*Pun intended, as always.

**Of course I’m joking.  I knew it was a whale-saving deal from the get-go and I was a-okay with that.  Though I do worry about the poor plankton.

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