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The Great Farini (William Leonard Hunt)

The Great Farini was born in 1838, and spent his youth in the Port Hope and former Hope Township Area. He lived a truly sensational life, filled with many extraordinary adventures, some of the earliest being several amazing high-wire feats that staked his first claim to fame.

He made his debut in 1859, walking a rope strung between two buildings about 80 feet above the Ganaraska River in Port Hope. His second river walk drew a crowd of 8,000, nearly twice the population of the town. People watched in awe as he stood on his head in mid-walk.

His next great feat came a year later in 1860, when he challenged the legendary Frenchman Blondin to a high-wire competition 180 feet above the Niagara Gorge near the Falls.

Farini was more than a showman, he was the genius behind hundreds of innovations, from folding theatre seats to the modern parachute. A fearless explorer, his journey in southern Africa brought about the myth of the Lost City of Kalahari. He spoke seven languages, wrote several books, was an expert botanist and such an accomplished artist that his paintings were shown alongside those of contemporary Canadian masters. There is even some evidence that he worked as a spy in the American Civil War early in his life.

As a boy Farini lived west of Canton on a farm, where he practiced tightrope walking and studied to be a doctor; in later years he lived at 36 North Street in Port Hope. His final residence was at 77 Dorset Street. He died of old age in 1929 and is buried in Union Cemetery. His descendants still reside here in town.

Information from the book "The Great Farini" by Shane Peacock
Cover design and Illustration for "The Great Farini" by Shane Peacock (Penguin Books Canada Ltd.)

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