Latest in a series about local collectibles.
This month, stuntman Nik Wallenda became the first person in over 110 years to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. One person who would have known the feeling was William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, an American-born, Canadian-raised daredevil who had a direct, but little known West Kootenay connection.
Farini walked over Niagara Falls several times beginning in 1860. Once he reached the middle, he climbed down another rope onto the deck of a boat, then climbed back up and went the rest of the way blindfolded.
His feat coincided with a similar stunt by the Great Blondin — but Farini drew a bigger crowd. He made other crossings, each more daring than the last: he dangled by his knees, stood on his head, and carried a washing machine.
Farini lived the lives of ten men, but in later life preferred to be known as an author, inventor, and mining promoter.
Therefore not many people were likely aware of his earlier claim-to-fame when he bought a half-interest in Rossland’s Black Eagle mine in 1896, and became vice-president and manager of the Rossland Gold Mining, Development, and Investment Co. the following year.
The company’s properties were on Twelve Mile Creek in the Slocan, including the V&M, Get There Eli (staked by fellow funambulist Eli Carpenter), Memphis, Coronation, and Bachelor — which, according to the Slocan City News of May 15, 1897, “will in future be known as the Farini camp.”
Farini also named the Slocan Lake townsite of Vevey, and in turn had a street named after him.
The Slocan Pioneer of May 29, 1897 wrote: “Professor Farini, who is developing the Bachelor group, is the father of Vevey, which he christened in grateful memory of the agreeable hours he has dreamed away at the famous Swiss resort …”
Vevey never amounted to much beyond one hotel and a ranch.
Farini was later manager of the Oro Gold Mining and Milling Co., which operated the Golden Wedge mine on Lemon Creek. (The phantom townsite of Oro also had a street with his name.)
Farini’s optimism about his various claims proved mostly unfounded. He left for Toronto in 1899, never to return, although he and his wife Anna continued to own property in Slocan.
Last week an 1897 stock certificate from the Rossland Gold Mining, Development, and Investment Co., signed by Farini, sold on eBay for $202.50 US.
The seller, who was aware of its significance, was in New York.
Shane Peacock’s 1995 book The Great Farini: The High-Wire Life of William Hunt details Farini’s involvement with the company.
About a dozen years ago, Kootenay Coop Radio aired a play by Nelson’s Brian d’Eon about Farini’s life, starring a cast of locals.
This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser on June 28.