15 September

Niagara Falls in 1860

Edward Prince of Wales Visits Niagara Falls

This is not the most important thing that has happened in Canada on September 15 over the years, but it is perhaps one of the most colourful. Edward Prince of Wales came to Canada in 1860 representing Queen Victoria (see August 21). He opened Victoria Bridge in Montreal, laid the cornerstone of the original Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, and presided at a number of important functions. When Queen Victoria died, he became King Edward VII.

Edward was only a young man when he came to Canada in 1860, and efforts were made to see that he had a good time, despite his dour guardian, the Duke of Newcastle. One of the entertainments was a visit to Niagara Falls on September 15, where he saw an astonishing performance by the great French tightrope walker Blondin, whose real name was jean François Gravelet.

A tight-rope was stretched across the river, over the roaring cauldron of the falls, and Blondin crossed to the other side carrying a man on his back! When he returned, he amazed everyone by getting on stilts and walking across on them! The Prince was so delighted that he gave Blondin a purse of $400. They became great friends and Blondin eventually went to live in London, where he died in 1897 at the age of eighty.

Blondin walked the tightrope over Niagara Falls a number of times. It was 1,100 feet long, and 160 feet above the water. The first time, in 1859, he went across blindfolded. Then he crossed in a sack. On another occasion he pushed a wheelbarrow. Perhaps his greatest achievement was that of carrying a small stove to the half way mark, and balancing there while he cooked and ate an omelette.

Blondin kept stunting in other parts of the world until he was seventy-nine, and he never had a serious accident. His final performance was in Belfast, Ireland.


15 September

-1688   Governor Denonville acceded to demands by the Iroquois and abandoned and destroyed Fort Niagara.

-1916    Canadian troops fought in the Battle of the Somme where tanks were used for the first time.

-1959    Major-General Georges P. Vanier was appointed governor-general, succeeding Vincent Massey.