Jimmy Grant was a high wire walker who was a fearless athlete who faced all challenges without a worry of the possible fatal consequences of his daredevil actions.
A walk around Owen Sound can be a wonderful experience. The classic architecture of the buildings, the natural beauty of the escarpment, and the harbour are all enticements to would-be walkers.
But when John James "Jimmy" Grant went for a walk in Owen Sound, he got a view that more casual walkers would never experience. Jimmy Grant liked to walk above the crowd.
Owen Sound has been the birthplace of many internationally known athletes, however, none of them routinely looked death in the eye each time they performed like "The King of the High Wire" Jimmy Grant.
Grant's father arrived in Owen Sound when this community was little more than a modest clearing in the wilderness. The senior Grant was a stonecutter, who built many of the first stone buildings in Owen Sound. Jimmy was the youngest of three sons. At an early age, he stretched a wire ten feet from the ground between two maple trees in his parents' backyard.
Whenever he had a moment, Grant could be found practicing to be a high wire walker. His brother Sandy told a local writer: "Heights always had a fascination for him and he was absolutely fearless".
Soon friends, neighbours, and other citizens in Owen Sound began to hear about this daredevil youngster. They had an opportunity to witness his prowess as a high wire walker, when he walked on wire strung from the top of the Patterson House Hotel to the top of a pole which had been erected in the market square.
On another occasion he rode a bicycle on a wire from the top of the Sun Times building (which was then located on 2nd Ave. East) across Owen Sound's main commercial thoroughfare to the top floor of the building which housed Thompson's Tailor shop. His unique abilities came to the attention of Jack Coates, an Owen Sound bookstore owner and sometime promoter.
Grant was signed to 'perform his daring feats throughout Canada and the United States. He constantly practiced and tried out newer, and often more daring stunts.
What added to his fame was the fact that he never worked with a safety net. He fell, and on occasion spent time in a hospital recovering from his injuries. But each time he returned to his beloved sport of challenging heights.
He created a stunt which must have been breathtaking to view. He strung electric lights from his bicycle and then rode across a high wire that was situated more than 100 feet in the air. What made the feat even more "electrifying" was the fact that the wire on which he was riding, was carrying the electric current to illuminate the bulbs on his bicycle.
Finally, a fall ended his career on the high wire. He suffered a broken wrist and ankle. But this did not mean the end of Jimmy Grant's daredevil activities. He developed a new challenge. He became a high diver.
Andrew Armitage's Owen Sound: Steamboat Days, provides an excerpt from a Philadelphia newspaper account of Grant's new daredevil feat: "Grant made a daring dive of 80 feet from the top rung of a ladder to a tank of water at the Eagles' Carnival. He dared to make the leap guided by the light of Roman candles substituted for electric illumination."
Unfortunately, Grant was blinded by the Roman candles and he hit the side of the tank and suffered numerous injuries. However, the indomitable Owen Sounder was back diving within six months. He continued to amaze and thrill spectators until he was injured in a dive in Oklahoma City. Jimmy Grant was forced to retire.
This community has known many great athletes whose accomplishments have been well-documented, but only one walked across Niagara Falls on a high wire.
The information used in this column came from several articles in past issues of the Owen Sound Daily Sun Times and from Andrew Armitage's Owen Sound: Steamboat Days.
A version of "Jimmy Grant: A Fearless High Wire Walker ," originally appeared in my Local History column in the June 2, 1997 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.
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