October 11, 1863|
Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec, Canada
|Died||10 November 1912
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|Other names||Canadian Samson|
Louis Cyr (born Cyprien-Noé Cyr, 11 October 1863 – 10 November 1912) was a famous French Canadian strongman with a career spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His recorded feats, including lifting 500 pounds (227 kg) with three fingers and backlifting 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg), show Cyr to be, according to former International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness chairman Ben Weider, the strongest man ever to have lived.
Cyr was born in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec, Canada. From the age of twelve Cyr worked in a lumber camp during the winters and on the family’s farm the rest of the year. Discovering his exceptional strength at a very young age, he impressed his fellow workers with his feats of strength. After learning of the tale, Cyr attempted to mimic the practice of legendary strongman Milo of Croton, who as a child carried a calf on his shoulders, continuing to carry it as it grew into a full-grown bull and he into a grown man. Cyr's calf, however, bolted one day, kicking him in his back, after which he instead began carrying a sack of grain 1⁄4 mile (0.40 km) every day, adding 2 pounds (0.91 kg) each day. According to one of his biographers, his mother decided “he should let his hair grow, like Samson in the Bible.” She curled it regularly.
In 1878 the Cyr family immigrated to Lowell, Massachusetts in the United States. It was in Lowell that Cyr changed his name from Cyprien-Noé to Louis, as it was easier to pronounce in English. Again his great strength brought him fame. At seventeen he weighed 230 pounds (104 kg). He entered his first strongman contest in Boston at age eighteen, lifting a horse off the ground; the fully grown male horse was placed on a platform with 2 iron bars attached enabling Cyr to obtain a better grip. The horse weighed at least 3⁄4 short ton (0.68 t).
Rise to fame
Cyr returned to Quebec in 1883 with his family and was married. The following year he and his wife returned to Lowell, hoping to capitalize on his fame there. A tour of the Maritimes was organized, and while it may have benefited the organizer, Cyr gained no profit financially. He then began touring Quebec with his family in a show they called "The Troupe Cyr".
From 1883 to 1885, Cyr served as a police officer in Montreal. Following this he went on tour with a troupe that included a wrestler, a boxer, and a weightlifter. He entered a strongman competition in March, 1886, at Quebec City, against the reigning Canadian strongman, David Michaud. Cyr lifted a 218-pound (99 kg) barbell with one hand (to Michaud’s 158 pounds or 72 kg) and a weight of 2,371 pounds (1,075 kg) on his back, to his opponent’s 2,071 pounds (939 kg) to win the title of strongest man in the country.
Reputation as a strongman
While several of Cyr's feats of strength may have been exaggerated over the years, some were documented and remain impressive. These included:
- lifting a platform on his back holding 18 men for a total of 1976 kg
- lifting a 534-pound (242 kg) weight with one finger
- pushing a freight car up an incline
- At 19 years old, he lifted a rock from ground up to his shoulder, officially weighted at 514 pounds
- He beat Eugen Sandow's bent press record (and therefore the heaviest weight lifted with one hand) by 2 pounds (0.91 kg) to a total of 273 pounds (124 kg).
Perhaps his greatest feat occurred in 1895, when he was reported to have lifted 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg) on his back in Boston by putting 18 men on a platform and lifting them. One of his most memorable displays of strength occurred in Montreal on October 12, 1891. Louis resisted the pull of four draught horses (two in each hand) as grooms stood cracking their whips to get the horses to pull harder, a feat he again demonstrated in Bytown (now Ottawa) with Queen Victoria's team of draught horses during her 'Royal' visit. While in Bytown (Ottawa) he volunteered with the police when they took deputees to round up a local gang of miscreants; they turned him away claiming he would be too slow due to his bulk. He challenged the regular officers to a foot race, beating the majority, and they took him on.
He patrolled as a police officer between 1883–1885 in Sainte-Cunégonde, known now as Petite-Bourgogne (Little Burgundy) in Montreal. Both the Parc Louis-Cyr and the Place des Hommes-Forts ("Strongmen's Square") are named after him. Statues of him are located at Place des Hommes-Forts and the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City. The highschool in his hometown of Napierville is also named after him.
At his peak Louis was 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) in height and weighed 310 pounds (140 kg), with a 21-inch (53 cm) neck, a 54-inch (140 cm) chest, a 45-inch (110 cm) waist, 22-inch (56 cm) biceps, 19-inch (48 cm) forearms, 11-inch (28 cm) wrists, 33-inch (84 cm) thighs, 23-inch (58 cm) calves.
As shown in movie Louis Cyr : l'homme le plus fort du monde
- Crucifix: 97 3/4 pounds (44 kg) left hand and 88 pounds (40 kg) right hand
- One-handed snatch: 188 1/2 pounds (85 kg)
- One-handed press: 273 pounds (123 kg)
- Back lift: 4337 pounds (1967 kg)
- Fran lift: 9000 pounds (4000kg)
- Cyr, C. 2000. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
- "Louis Cyr". Louiscyr-lefilm.com. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Calvert, Alan "The Secret of the Bent-Press." Super Strength – Chapter 24.
- "Canadian Heroes in Fact and Fiction." Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved: 2007-04-24.
- Weider, B. 1976. The Strongest Man in History: Louis Cyr, "Amazing Canadian."” Translation of Louis Cyr, l’homme le plus fort du monde. Vancouver: Mitchell Press.
- Debon, Nicolas. 2007. The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr. Toronto: Groundwood Books.
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