Nik Wallenda, a seventh generation tightrope walker completed a dare devil stunt last night over the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara, crossing from America to Canada. If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls you won’t quite appreciate how risky, scary and downright mad this is. But Nik Wallenda has been doing this all his life. It’s in his blood.
Desperate to do it without a harness, he was not allowed, but this takes nothing away from his achievement. Wearing elkskin slippers made by his mother, he walked across a two inch wide wire for 1800 feet, 150 feet above the falls, mist and wind coming at him from all sides, and with the weight of expectancy on his shoulders.
When I woke up this morning the first thing I had to do was check to see if he had made it as the crossing took place in the middle of our night. I was really excited and very relieved to discover he had. Having been in Niagara in April, with a view of the falls, it was incredible to think anyone could achieve this feat.
As an American citizen, Wallenda had to show his passport as he stepped onto Canadian soil. When asked by an official “What is the purpose of your trip?”, he replied: “To inspire people around the world.”
Canada is a great country but surely there are easier ways to enter it…?
I’m at Toronto Pearson airport, having spent the week in southern Ontario in the Niagara region. I’ve been to Canada several times, and this was my third visit to Niagara. But this trip was different. I came as more than a tourist. I came as a writer, trying to see things I never noticed before, digging deeper and looking closer.
So first… Niagara Falls is a mad mix of powerful nature and man-made tackiness. The falls take your breath away, every time you look at them. They change according to the light, the wind, the time of year. But the aggressive beauty is constant. The skyscraper hotels, noisy garish tourist attractions, chain restaurants and Casino clash with this wonder of the world in a way that you either love or hate. I kind of love it. It’s like Blackpool on acid. Marilyn Monroe in the film Niagara captures the darker, seamier side of Niagara Falls in the classic 1953 film. Niagara launched her into superstardom and ever since she has been an icon of the last century, the beautiful, fragile women, used by the men who flocked around her. There’s nothing fragile about the falls, but they do lure us in…
Secondly… the history. I got to thinking about what is must have been like to be the first people to discover the thundering waters. We don’t really learn much about Canadian history in school in Britain. Maybe because we have so much of our own to handle. But I was fascinated by the War of 1812. Basically this was a war between America and Britain over Canada (which wasn’t yet Canada). Maybe it’s not part of our national consciousness because it was considered a sideshow to the main grabber of attention, the Napoleonic Wars. But it was a key war in Canadian history. What really impressed me is the part a young girl played. There are myths and legends about Laura Secord but it is generally believed that she heard somehow of an impending American attack at Niagara on the British troops. Laura walked twenty miles over rough terrain to warn the British Commander. The result was that the British and the Mohawk contingent were prepared and defeated the Americans.
And thirdly, I love ice wine! Niagara is famous for its wine but the Canadians keep it for themselves. And who can blame them? I went on a winery tour and did some tasting. Some of it was amazing, some of it was like nothing I have ever drunk. One of the Sauvignon Blancs smelt and tasted of cat pee but this was more than made up for by the ice wine. It’s incredibly expensive (because of the way it is harvested, when the temperature hits about -10 degrees) and it explodes with a whole range of flavours and sensations in your mouth. If you ever get the chance to try it, then do…
So just a few thoughts… I’m sad to be leaving this vast country behind as it grabs you by the heart and grips your imagination. But it’s back to dear old Blighty…
Au revoir, Canada…
I first visited Niagara when I was seventeen, back in the day, the summer of 85. I returned there for my fortieth with my husband and again two years ago with the kids. We’re going back to Canada again this summer but there’s no trip to Niagara as we are planning to go to Montreal and Ottawa (like Wills and Kate) as well as Toronto, and an idyllic lakeside cottage belonging to family cousins. I feel a little sad as it is such an awesome sight, even with all the tackiness tacked on to it.
I hear that tourism has dropped there leading to talk of bringing back the tightrope walkers that used to lure tourists in their droves before such dare-devil attempts were outlawed.
Would this tempt me back? Or the honeymooners? I’m not sure, but I would like to return in winter where the spectacle takes on another look entirely.
I have a chapter in my forthcoming novel (The Generation Game for those of you who haven’t heard me mention it) set in Canada where my characters do exactly this.
But for us it will be the heat of summer. Air-conditioning and cool showers. Lunch in the revolving restaurent of the CN Tower, breakfast at Cora, doughnuts and coffee at Tim Hortons, white-water rafting on the Ottawa River, shopping, swimming, chilling in the mountains. Even practising our French in Quebec. Can’t wait.