Daredevils have fascinated and thrilled audiences with their death-defying antics in Niagara Falls for decades. Although still active up until quite recently, the latter half of the nineteenth century saw the heyday of high wire rope walking. For some reason, a local boy did not garner as much fame and fortune as he might deserve.
Stephen Peer was born in the Montrose section of Stamford Township in 1840 and was only 19 years old when Blondin, the famed French aerialist made his first crossing in Niagara in 1859. Like many local lads at the time, Stephen tried to emulate his hero. He began practicing on ropes that he made by twining grapevines together and stringing them between trees in the family orchard.
As his technique improved, he began to give performances for local audiences. One such performance saw him cross Main Street on a rope strung between the upper floors of the Prospect House and Kicks Hotel across the street.
In 1873 Stephen Peer was hired by the Australian funambulist Bellini. His job was to help put the three-strand rope safely across the Niagara River. Although Bellini successfully crossed before huge crowds in August and September, he did not want any competition from Peer. For this reason, he would not lend his balancing pole to the local amateur.
When Bellini was absent between shows, Stephen Peer “borrowed” the pole and amazed onlookers with his feats on the rope. Some say he even outperformed Bellini himself! Unfortunately, Bellini returned unexpectedly and was so enraged that he began to cut the rope on the Canadian side. He managed to cut through two of the three entwined ropes before he was forcibly removed by onlookers. Fearing for his safety, Bellini certainly left town in a hurry.
It wasn’t until 1887 that Peer garnered enough fame to perform on his own. This time, Peer would attempt to cross the river on a 5/8 inch wire cable, which was described as a “mere thread” compared to the rope size used by his predecessors. On June 22, wearing white tights and red and black striped trunks, he started his journey from the Canadian side of the river. He slowly made his way to the center of the rope and sat down to rest for a few minutes before getting up and making his way to the American side.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. Only three days later, the lifeless body of Stephen Peer was found on the bank of the gorge directly below his cable. Some say he slipped crossing on a dare after a few drinks with his friends. Others say it may have been suicide. Some family and friend believe that foul play was involved after he was seen earlier in the day with two strangers.
Cathy Roy is the local history librarian.
On Monday Niagara Falls Public Library will be unveiling two new collections.
These collections are both aimed at children and their inauguration coincides serendipitously with the beginning of March break.
On an easel in Niagara Falls Public Library's art gallery, there's a painting of a lighthouse and a boat that is careful to avoid the danger the lighthouse hails.
There's a lot more to modern public libraries than books and technology. Our motto at Niagara Falls Public Library is, "We power community!" Which is why we're always working to identify community needs that we can find a way to help address.
With an estimated 30 million visitors a year, the city of Niagara Falls has certainly enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship with the tourist industry. Other than the mighty cataracts themselves, one of the oldest and perhaps longest running tourist attraction in the city was known as the Burning Spring.
One by one, the bright blue Library bags line up inside the work areas at each one of the four Library locations. They are organized and filled with favourite authors, great movies that someone may have missed, biographies and many other interesting items that have been requested. All these bags are for the Visiting Library Service.
Power your discovery this February at the Niagara Falls Public Library!
Family Day is Monday, February 18, and the Community Centre and Victoria Avenue Libraries will be open from 11:00am - 3:00pm, with a special family drop-in program from 11:30am - 1:30pm. We will also have a 3D Design and Print Drop-in program running at the Victoria Avenue Library from 11:30am - 2:30pm. The Stamford Centre and Chippawa Libraries will be closed on Family Day.
81 years ago, the city of Niagara Falls experienced one of its greatest fires in history when disaster struck at Loretto Academy on the evening of January 10th, 1