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Louis Cyr

Born Cyprien Noé Cyr
alias
 
The Canadian Samson
 
The Strongest Man in Canada
 
The Strongest Man on Earth
 
King of the Circus
 
The Strongest Man that Ever Liveds

The name Louis Cyr calls to mind one of Québec’s greatest folk heroes. A century and a half after his birth, the stories about his life vacillate between myth and reality. The legend began with great exploits, some still unequaled, but was also liberally fueled by inspiring superlatives which struck the imaginations of Quebeckers in former times and even to this day.

Louis Cyr was born on October 10, 1863 in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville. His father was named Pierre Cyr, as were his grandfather and great-grandfather, who were renowned strongmen in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville. His mother, Philomène Berger, baptized Véronneau, came from Sainte-Hélène-de-Bagot. Louis was the second of ten surviving children and the oldest boy.

From a very young age, Louis displayed extraordinary strength.

In December 1878, Pierre Cyr, his wife, Philomène, and their ten children immigrated to Lowell, Massachusetts, seeking a better future. By doing so they were joining the exodus of a half a million French Canadians strewn across several American states. In Lowell, Louis Cyr met his future wife, Mélina Comtois, whose family originated from Saint-Jean-de-Matha. They married in that parish in January 1882. A year later, the couple returned to Lowell where, before a crowd of 4,000, Louis Cyr lifted a large rock to shoulder height. The scale at the general store where it was taken for weighing tipped at 517 pounds! Louis Cyr became a source of pride for the French Canadian community in Lowell.

From that point on, Louis Cyr’s exploits and reputation continued to grow and in many cases seemed beyond reality.

Did you know that…

  • In 1887 at Lowell, for the first time he performed the feat of restraining two horses pulling in opposite directions? During his entire career, he repeated this exploit more than 500 times at Sohmer Park in Montréal, and elsewhere in Canada and the United States.
  • On November 2, 1889, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal offered to Louis Cyr the Fortissimo belt for his numerous exploits and his help promoting the French-Canadian nation? It was awarded to him by Laurent-Olivier David, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, in the presence of the future Prime Minister of Canada, Wilfrid Laurier, and that of Québec, Honoré Mercier.
  • On September 21, 1891, at Sohmer Park in Montreal, a crowd of 10,000 watched him hold back the best horses – totalling 4,800 pounds – from the King Express Company, a piano and safe moving company? This remarkable performance confirmed Louis Cyr’s extraordinary strength for all time!
  • At the end of October 1891, Louis Cyr, then aged 28, embarked at Québec on the SS Vancouver bound for Liverpool, England?
  • On January 19th, 1892, in London, Cyr wrote a new chapter in the history of strength competition by demolishing all the existing records? The 5,000 Londoners, incredulous at first and then euphoric, watched for the first time as a man lifted 273 ¼ pounds with one arm, more than a quarter of a ton with one finger, and then performed a back lift with a load of 3,655 pounds. The Canadian shattered all the records and became the world’s strongest man.
  • On May 27, 1895, in Boston, Louis Cyr performed a historic back lift of 4,337 pounds? Cyr became the first human to lift a platform weighing over 4,000 pounds for more than 5 seconds.
  • Upon his return from London in 1892, he founded the Cyr’s Brothers troupe, specialized in athletic theatre? But the American leading circuses coveted him as he was recognized as the strongest man of all time. The John Robinson Circus hired him in 1896, along with his friend Horace Barré. A year later, they became headliners at the Ringling Brothers Circus, where they remained until 1898. There his salary was $2,000 a week, six times the yearly wage of a manual labourer. These tours took him from one end to the other of the United States.
  • Louis Cyr founded his own circus in 1899 with his friend Horace Barré?
  • For five years, from 1899 to 1904, the Cyr-Barré circus made stands in more than 300 towns and villages in Québec, and some in Ontario? More than 650 performances attended by around 600,000 spectators earned more than $150,000, which would amount to about $4.4 million today. Its big top offered 2,000 seats and had standing room for another 1,000. The show would begin an hour later, and cost 20¢ for general admission and 25¢ seated.
  • In 23 years of public life, Louis Cyr travelled over 80,000 kilometers across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom?
  • His biographer Paul Ohl tallied the balance sheet of his public life: some 2,500 strength demonstrations, more than 1,000 of them with the John Robinson, Ringling Bros and Cyr-Barré circuses, and 2,000 platform or back lifts, totalling 3,000 tons… He wrestled more than 500 times restraining teams of horses and hoisted weights over 240 pounds more than 2,000 times with his right arm.
  • From 1900 on, Louis Cyr’s health deteriorated due to overindulgence at the table, excess weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle? A serious kidney condition, Bright’s disease, forced him to withdraw from the arena. He died on November 10, 1912 at the age of 49.

THE STRONGEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED

LOUIS CYR WAS CERTAINLY THIS, FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL, UNTIL HIS DEATH. HE REMAINS SO, DESPITE THE ADVENT OF MEN GIFTED WITH EXPLOSIVE POWER, BUT WHOSE EXPLOITS ARE LIMITED TO LIFTING WEIGHTS.

BUT NO MAN HAS YET BEEN ABLE TO EXCEL TO SUCH A DEGREE WITH BOTH WEIGHTS AND HEAVY OBJECTS, SUCH AS BARRELS, ANVILS, STONES OR PLATFORMS LOADED WITH LEAD OBJECTS OR HUMANS. IN THIS REGARD, LOUIS CYR REMAINS IN A CLASS OF HIS OWN.

Paul Ohl

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