Press-Republican

Columns

July 26, 2013

Louis Cyr lifted up Quebec

This summer, there’s the usual offering of cinema superheroes, what with your men of steel, wolverines, lone rangers and what-not.

Here in Quebec, though, film-goers have the chance to thrill to the story of a real-life superman, an all-but-forgotten legend of Canadian history.

The film is called “Louis Cyr: Strongest Man in the World,” and its release two weeks ago was a modest box-office hit by Quebec standards.

Back in his day, Cyr was one of the most famous people in the world, who easily packed exhibition halls across North America and England with exuberant fans excited to witness his latest feats of strength.

There is a compelling American angle to Cyr’s story. In 1879, the Cyr family fled south of the border from rural Quebec in search of work, as was the case for about 900,000 French-Canadians, in what is known as the Great Haemorrhage.

It was in Lowell, Mass., where papa Cyr found a job in a mill, as did teenage Louis, that the young colossus first began to startle folks with his amazing strength.

He took up with a local strongman-competition promoter and, finding the earnings for lifting heavy things for show preferable to drudgery in a mill, Cyr was swiftly on the road to muscular stardom.

In his memoirs, Cyr claimed he got his power from his mother, who could toss sacks of flour around like pillows, and who, when the family opened a tavern in Montreal, served as bouncer. Philomene also gave birth to 17 children, Louis being the eldest.

Although mom’s prodigious output of baby Quebecers was an extraordinary effort in what was known as the revenge of the cradle, she also longed for her superman son to lift up the spirit of French-speaking people in North America.

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