Head over heels for heights

In 1998, a local high-school boy called Kenneth Au-Yeung was in the local paper. He was a choirboy, Grade A student, and the son of an upper-class family.

He was an avid volunteer and helped publish his school’s newspaper. One day, as a gag, he wrote some stupid placeholder text referring to convicted serial killer Paul Bernardo in one of the draft articles. Hey, you’re 17 years old, and just typing meaningless words like “Lorem ipsum” gets boring after a while.

The principal found out, got really upset, and decided to shake the newstaff up a bit. He even brought in a cop to freak them out.

Well, it worked. Shortly afterwards, Kenneth went to the Bloor St. viaduct, and jumped to his death twelve stories below.

The community was in shock. But I can understand where Kenneth was coming from – the stress of having to be absolutely perfect. I can also understand why the Bloor viaduct (only tourists call it it’s real name, the Prince Edward Viaduct) was such a suicide magnet. It has a great view of the CN Tower, plus the hilly ravines of the Don Valley. It’s easily accessible by subway. It was more elegant than a bottle of pills, less messy than a gunshot.

Bruce Cockburn wrote about it in the song “Anything Can Happen”. Michael Ondaatje wrote a novel about it.

Then again, it’s ridiculous. It overlooks the ten-lane Don Valley Parkway, and the dirty, narrow and shallow Don River. So you fall, break all your bones, and then get run over. Or fall, break all your bones on the river’s bottom, and then drown in sewage. Utter pointlessness.

While Kenneth’s school was absolved of all guilt, his death led to renewed action toward the construction of a suicide barrier on the viaduct. Personally, at the time, I was opposed to it. It’s going to be ugly, and people will just go back to razor blades and bathtubs.

However, I learned recently that our Bloor viaduct was the No. 2 jumping spot in North America, next to San Fran’s Golden Gate Bridge. In the case of the Golden Gate, it’s almost romantic – you’re just whisked away into the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and suffer terrible internal injuries before drowning and being eaten by jellyfish.

A design competition was held, a prof from Waterloo won, and $4 million later, the “Luminous Veil” was unveiled.

Personally, I hate it. The thin white rods don’t go with the bridge’s muscular black ironwork, and the supports are shaped like tilting crosses. So now you’re driving through a gauntlet of errie white crucifixes, looking like you’re on the road to Golgotha.

Then again, no one has jumped from the viaduct since the Golgotha barrier was erected. The locals are relieved that it isn’t totally ugly. Despite all of this, at least several folks have simply jumped from other bridges around town.

Some people, after so much trouble checking into this world, are just so eager to check out.