About two decades ago, I had the privilege of reviewing Wrestling With The North for Slam Wrestling. It was a documentary of the “winter death tours” presented by Winnipeg promoter Tony Condello, bringing young, up and coming wrestlers to indigenous reservations in northern Manitoba, as they traveled down frozen roads of ice to provide their brand of sports entertainment to appreciative fans.
These tours are well-known within the Canadian wrestling community, with everyone from Edge to Kenny Omega having grown up with them. As Executive Producer Chris Jericho says in the film: “You have to go through the Tony Condello wheel if you want to make it in wrestling.”
My primary issue with Wrestling With The North was that it was repetitive at times and didn’t fully tell the stories behind the wrestlers and why they (and Condello) would want to give up the creature comforts of home to perform on this particular tour. Fast forward to 2024: not only are the winter death tours still going strong with Condello at the helm, but a new documentary called The Death Tour has come out to give a new focus on what it calls “the most grueling tour in pro wrestling.”
Directed by Stephan Peterson and Sonya Ballantyne and produced by Sergeo Kirby, The Death Tour is a far more watchable film than its predecessor and gives viewers a true look at not only what happens on the tour, but also why its performers willingly put themselves through hell on ice. In addition to hours of travel each day through the icy tundra, the wrestlers sleep on gym floors and are performing day after day for weeks at a time.
The first thing you notice watching this film is the top-notch cinematography. We’re introduced to some of the performers arriving for the tour with feature film-quality interviews. Overhead shots (I’m guessing camera drones) follow a caravan of trucks across the snowy roads and frozen lakes, making for an outstanding visual. And when Condello presents one of his shows in a tiny school gym, the production values are honestly comparable to something you might see in WWE or AEW (minus the tens of thousands of fans in attendance). This attention to detail is a real difference-maker.
Condello has lots of screen time as the ex-wrestler turned aging promoter, and the true force behind these annual tours. He certainly shows his age in this film, loudly complaining in one scene that his car keys are missing, only to discover they were in his pocket the whole time (although… how many of us have done the exact same thing?). Yet Condello still manages to put these shows together in his 80s, hiring the talent, watching over them, and promoting events at local radio stations — which is impressive.
We also spend time with characters such as “The Matriarch” Sage Morin, a mother who lost her eldest son at an early age and uses pro wrestling to maintain her mental health. Hailing from an Indigenous tribe in Alberta, Morin proudly brings her Cree Nation heritage to the ring and tries to set an example for children in the communities she visits.
In addition, we’re introduced to: “Massive Damage” Sean Dunster, a veteran performer who has kicked addiction issues and is looking for one last run in the spotlight; “McKenrose the Scottish Warrior” a/k/a Sarah McNicoll, a French-Canadian performer who used to be a speed skater and attempts to use wrestling to improve her English skills; and my personal favorite, “The Eskimofo” Dez Loreen, who turned his wrestling fandom into an in-ring career and improves his skills right in front of our eyes.
But the true star of this film are the fans, mainly Indigenous schoolchildren who gleefully enter the venues as though they have scored a front row ticket to WrestleMania. Many of the residents in these communities become despondent during the long winters, paired with an epidemic of suicides, which gives them very little to look forward to. When the wrestlers come to town (and even give talks at the local schools to discuss drugs, alcohol and bullying) it has become a much-needed spot of hope for them.
And perhaps that’s why Condello continues these “winter death tours” after all these years. Perhaps that’s why so many young wrestlers sacrifice the comforts of home to wrestle in frigid locations. And this is certainly why The Death Tour is worth watching.
|Stephan Peterson and Sonya Ballantyne
|Sage Morin, Sarah McNicoll, Sean Dunster, Dez Loreen
|1 hour and 28 minutes