This Week in History


"The Strongest Man Who Ever Lived"

This story was initially published in 2001

On January 19, 1889, Louis Cyr, champion wrestler and weightlifter, performed three incredible feats of strength that assured his place in Canadian folklore. He lifted 250 kilograms with one finger, 1860 kg on his back and 124 kg over his head, one-handed!

Louis Cyr

Louis Cyr
© LAC / C-086343

Born and raised in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec, Cyr proved himself a man of many talents. He was a skilled farmhand, powerful lumberjack and a talented policeman. Yet, what made him a legend was his ability to lift incredible weights.

Cyr was a giant of a man at 165 kg, inheriting his physique from his mother, who stood at six-foot-one and weighed 121 kg. He was also extremely strong. When he was 17, he reportedly pulled a loaded farm wagon out of the mud by lifting it on his back. It was then that he decided to become a weightlifter.

At this time, there was no formal sport of weightlifting; competitions were held as challenge matches. Cyr challenged David Michaud, who claimed to be the strongest man in Canada, to a test of strength. Cyr won by lifting a giant boulder, weighing 218 kg, which Michaud had been unable to budge. In 1885, Cyr became the weightlifting champion of North America and, in 1892, of the world.

Most of Cyr's feats were public demonstrations that drew great crowds including royalty. Returning from a tour in England, he proudly displayed one of the marquis of Queensbury's horses, which he had won in a bet — he held two horses, one tied to each arm and pulling in opposite directions, to a complete standstill! In Boston in 1895, he lifted a platform holding 18 heavy men on his back. The platform, weighing 1967 kg, is believed to be the heaviest weight ever lifted by a man.

Statuette of Cyr carved by A.J. Rho

Statuette of Cyr carved by A.J. Rho
© LAC / C-014087

From 1894 to 1899, Cyr toured with the Ringling Brothers, and the Barnum and Bailey circuses, displaying his strength to amazed spectators. He then returned to Montréal and opened a tavern, where he amused his customers by tossing around full beer kegs and by lifting his wife, Melina, on the palm of his hand. Perhaps because of his tendency to overeat, Louis died of Bright's Disease in 1912, at the age of 49.

A legendary hero, Louis Cyr is commemorated as a person of national historic significance by a plaque in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec.

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