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TRAVEL: Living on the Edge in centre of Toronto

Travelwriterstales.com columnist, Hans Tammemagi takes a walk on the wild side. The EdgeWalk at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto is the world’s highest — and scariest — urban walkway.

Teetering on the outer rim of the CN Tower, the tallest structure in North America, I was totally petrified.

I was on EdgeWalk, the world’s highest — and scariest — urban walkway. I’d always wanted to get a different perspective on Toronto, but now

I just yearned to be back far, far below. Earlier at ground level, six of us were bundled into overalls and harnesses.

Jordan, our guide, made sure anything that might fall off was removed, including bracelets, hair pins and even chewing gum. Excited, very nervous and with our ears popping, we rode the elevator up and up for 116 storeys.

Reaching the top, we clipped tethers onto an overhead railing, listened to a final safety talk and ever so tentatively followed Jordan toward the exposed 1.5-metre-wide ledge circling the outside of the tower.

Stepping outside was shocking, like entering another world. An incredible view was laid out before me. Facing south, I was astonished to see airplanes heading for Toronto Island Airport, but flying far, far below our height.

Lake Ontario lay before us and sailboats catching the sun looked like tiny butterflies.

Rail lines stretched like threads far to the east and west. “I’m going to push your personal limits,” Jordan said. “The first exercise is ‘Toes over Toronto.’”

The task was to place our toes over the edge. It sounded simple, but forcing myself to the edge, and having to stand there with nothing but 1,168 feet of air between me and the ground was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done.

Luckily, I survived the challenge and we moved a quarter way around the tower. A blockbuster view greeted us.

Skyscrapers, a Toronto signature, soared below like a forest of redwoods, demonstrating that this city is the power and financial centre of the nation.

It was exhilarating to have the earth laid out below me like a map and I slowly began to appreciate this unique vantage point. Jordan imparted some history facts.

“The city was first called York and, in 1793, was named the capital of Upper Canada. In 1834, it was incorporated and renamed Toronto,” he said. “During the 1960s and 1970s, numerous tall skyscrapers were constructed in downtown, but they interfered with radio signals from shorter television and radio towers.

So, the CN Tower was completed in 1976, taller than any existing or planned buildings. An engineering feat, it is one of the world’s greatest man-made wonders.” Jordan led us into the second exercise.

This time, grasping our tethers, we placed our feet on the edge and leaned back into thin air over the city far, far below.

My pulse skyrocketed. After regaining my feet — and composure — I noticed the Royal York Hotel far below, dwarfed by its neighbours. Jordan explained that when built in 1927, it was the tallest building in the British Empire.

How times change, I thought. I started to enjoy being on a high. Not hemmed in by concrete, I was viewing the city stretched out like an open book. Most impressive was Toronto’s vastness.

It is like a hypergiant star whose enormous gravity field irresistibly pulls more and more objects into its orbit. We moved another quadrant around the rim.

My heart was in my throat as I leaned outward from the rim, holding on desperately to my tether, facing forward and looking straight down on the streets an eternity below.

It was late afternoon and people like tiny insects were emptying out of the skyscrapers and scurrying along streets.

Gulp!

The head offices of Canada’s major banks and corporations are housed in the surrounding skyscrapers and Queen’s Park — with its surrounding lawns and trees and home to Ontario’s legislature — is easily visible to the south.

Tens of thousands of people attend games at Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) and Scotiabank Arena (Raptors, Maple Leafs), positioned just below me.

And, looking carefully, I could make out Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the venerable Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum — all part of Toronto’s vibrant arts and culture scene.

Standing exposed on a this high, tiny ledge opened up so many more insights, for Toronto with its vast size leads the way in urbanization, incredible diversity and pulsating intellectual, entertainment and entrepreneurial stimulation.

Finally back inside, we unbuckled our harnesses and relaxed. But I was still “high,” for I had experienced Toronto like never before.