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.
More Great Information Pages
About Owen Sound
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In the 1920s, Owen Sound got New Elevators. After losing the CPR elevators to fire, the community fought hard to get new elevators for their harbour and improve the community’s economy.
The 1930s Were Not All Bad there were some successes in the Owen Sound area and there was one natural phenomenon, that was unusual to the region that occurred.
The 1944-1945 Grey North By-Election would surprise Prime Minister King and all of Canada as the Grey North electorate refused to be dictated to by Ottawas political elites.
The were 1950s a Decade of Change in the Owen Sound area. A local boy starred in the NHL; there was a significant industrial change; schools were standing to experience the baby boom.
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1960s Owen Sound marked a period of change and new growth to the commercial and industrial life that would impact the citizens of Owen Sound and change the patterns of doing business.
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Brooke: A brief history of an important, yet distinctly different, community that became a key element in Owen Sound’s development as a important Georgian Bay port city.
Charles Rankin, I Presume: October 7, 1840 marked the meeting of Land Agent John Telfer and surveyor Charles Rankin on the banks of the Sydenham River and the founding of Owen Sound.
The cost of living in 1900 in Owen Sound may seem great, but when you take into consideration other factors, things were perhaps not all that wonderful.
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Billy Bishop: Owen Sound Hero earned national and international fame as a World War One Fighter pilot and used his high profile to aid in the World War Two effort.
John Harrison – A Tough Owen Sound Pioneer whose grit and determination created a prosperous life for himself and his family in a new community.
William Harrison, The Source of John Harrison’s Grit: details the influence of John’s father, William Harrison, on John and his siblings.
John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.
Black Clawson Kennedy: An Iconic Owen Sound Industry provided income for area residents and economic development for the community for almost 150 years.
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Canada’ First Pharmacy Chain Store: The Owen Sound-based drug store chain of Parker and Cattle is credited with being the first pharmacy chain store enterprise in Canada.
DC Taylor: Owen Sound Entrepreneur was not only progressive businessman, he was also an important contributor to the social and cultural fabric of his community.
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.
Newspapers hold a special place in the history of any community, and the Owen Sound Sun Times, and its predecessors, beginning with the Comet, are no exception.
Owen Sound Businesses: 1920s were owned and operated by families whose deep roots in the community and their efforts had created the backbone of the community and brought success to the port city.
Owen Sound’s centennial celebrations in 1957 brought the community together for events such big name entertainers, sports competitions, street dances and much more in honour of the community’s past and projecting the city’s bright future.
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News of War: The 1940s was supposed to provide the world with a respite after the hardship of the 1930s depression. However World War Two brought more adversity.
Owen Sound 1840 Onward! From a clearing in the Georgian Bay wilderness to a booming port city the 1800s were a time of growth and prosperity.
Owen Sound’s First Newspaper: The Comet came into existence a mere 10 years after the first settlers braved the wilderness that would become the Grey and Bruce region.
Owen Sound’s First Town Council was created to develop the necessary infrastructure for a pioneer community to grow and prosper.
Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.
Owen Sound’s 1857 Bylaw: Dog Control illustrated how a pioneer town controlled dogs in the community, sometimes even using harsh measures.
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O.S.C.V.I.: the History of an Owen Sound High School details from the very beginning the establishment of a high school in the community.
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