POLITICS

Acrobat encouraged after meeting Tourism Minister about Niagara Falls high wire

01/20/2012 11:57 EST | Updated 03/21/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The Niagara Parks Commission has been told to give American daredevil Nik Wallenda a second hearing on his proposal to walk over Niagara Falls on a high wire.

Ontario Tourism Minister Michael Chan suggested Friday the commission give Wallenda another chance to make his pitch for the international tightrope act over the world famous falls after the two met.

"I did phone the Niagara Parks Commission and talked to the chair and encouraged her to have a further conversation with Mr. Wallenda," Chan said in an interview.

"During the meeting I told Mr. Wallenda the same thing. I think his proposal is quite interesting."

Chan said he doesn't have the power to overrule the parks commission, but the minister added he was impressed by Wallenda's presentation.

"He’s really an interesting guy and passionate about what he’s doing, and he’s a person who does not easily give up," said Chan.

Wallenda emerged from the meeting to say he was encouraged and felt one step closer to getting permission for his 550-metre-long tightrope walk over the falls from the United States to Canada.

"I didn’t really expect a commitment today, which was really a preliminary meeting more about meeting minister Chan and explaining the entire process," Wallenda told reporters.

"I’m a positive person so all along I’ve thought it would happen, and we’re just at another step in the process."

The 32-year-old acrobat said the parks commission was having a busy day when he first sought approval for his high-wire act and he didn't have a chance to fully explain the economic benefits and built-in safety measures in his proposal.

"The meeting with the parks commission was very short, and I wasn’t able to really present everything in my case," said Wallenda.

"Maybe minister Chan saw a few things that they didn’t and heard some things that they didn’t have time to (hear)."

A study showed live television coverage of the tightrope walk, along with global media attention, could help generate a $120-million shot in the arm to the Niagara economy.

The commission should seriously reconsider its decision to reject Wallenda's proposal, said Niagara Falls Liberal backbencher Kim Craitor.

"The question simply is is this too big of an opportunity to turn down, and the answer, for me as the provincial member for Niagara Falls, is yes," said Craitor.

Wallenda, a seventh-generation descendent of the famous Flying Wallenda family of high-wire performers, bristled when the Niagara Falls tightrope walk was called a stunt.

"This is more of an artistic expression, something my family has done for over 200 years," he said.

"If it’s a stunt there’s a huge amount of risk to it, you know shooting out of a cannon over a building or something, whereas this is more of a science than a stunt."

Wallenda wants to run his tightrope, which is five centimetres in diameter, from the Goat Island lookout on the U.S. side of the Niagara River, across the Horseshoe Falls to a paved terrace below the visitor's centre on the Canadian side.

He has a backup plan to walk over the Niagara River between two points on the U.S.-side, but would prefer to walk from the U.S. into Canada to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

"I think it makes sense with the celebration of 200 years of peace after the War of 1812 to tie that in between the two countries, to literally string the two countries together," said Wallenda.

"It just makes all the sense in the world."

New York Gov. Andrew Cumo signed legislation last year directing state park officials to allow Wallenda to walk across the Niagara Gorge.

A daredevil known as the "Great Blondin'' was the first to cross the gorge on a wire in 1859, but it's been more than 100 years since anyone has repeated the feat.

Wallenda's great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, brought the family act to the United States from Germany in 1928, joining the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Two members of the Flying Wallendas were killed and a third paralyzed while attempting their famous seven-person pyramid on a high wire in Detroit in 1962.

A year later, Karl Wallenda's sister-in-law died in a fall, and in 1978 Wallenda himself was killed attempting a walk between two buildings in Puerto Rico.