A Legend for Grand Falls

A Legend for Grand Falls
Story from the book Grand Falls Yesterday by the late Margaret Marceau, Historian, in collaboration with Pat McCooey, President of the Grand Falls Museum. Submitted by Jeannine Watson, Museum Secretary.

Van Morrell Crossing the Falls on Tightrope (Aug 12, 1904.)

A thirty-six year old native from Maine, Evangelist Van Joseph Morrell, wrote his name firmly into the history of Grand Falls, New Brunswick. He did so by walking a tightrope, crossing the falls with skill and daring. He is often remembered and his feat can be read about at our new museum, where his balancing pole and one hook holding the wire can be seen. The museum is directly across the street from the tourist information bureau, Malobeam Centre, on Madawaska Road.

Van Morrell performed his feat, or daring act, as part of a two-day festivity of horse racing held at “The Park” (then called “The Sporting Park”) overlooking the upper basin. Van Morrell, who had been living in Houlton, Maine, volunteered to give a demonstration of tight wire walking over the falls, which included a headstand halfway across.

He saw to the placing of a 400-foot wire across the river at a slight diagonal anchored with guy wires, two metal rings set in the rocks and weighted down at each end with sandbags for greater stability. At the discharge of the Little River, spectators lined the riverbank.

Van Morrell walked across the falls carrying a 20-foot pole of pipe in order to balance himself. As watchers held their breath, he eased slowly over the jagged rocks and turbulent water.

Thirty-four feet out he stopped and began to back up. Disappointment or perhaps a little anger surged through the crowd. He had miscalculated one thing. He had not allowed for the afternoon sun in his eyes, so, while the people waited and the Perth band played, he crossed the traffic bridge to lovers’ lane (Davis Park) and began his walk again.

This time all went well. And he performed many feats of delicate balancing. Van Morrell was born in Bangor, Maine, on March10, 1867, the son of French Canadian parents.

His photo and display can be seen at the Grand Falls Museum in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, where all we have to do is turn around and look out the window at the site where his act was performed with such bravery. It is a feat never achieved in Grand Falls since.