Big Top grounded
Thomas Wehrli said testing missed conditions that caused tent to collapse
Workers disassemble the Railway City Big Top, which had a successful run in St. Thomas until a pair of mishaps in September. The owner wants to return next year but the St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. says someone else will need to finance the tent in 2018. So far no one has come forward.
A sandy foundation lead to a disappointing September for the Railway City Big Top, its owner says.
The large tent erected across from the Timken Centre collapsed twice last month. After the second collapse Sept. 29, the St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. shut down the Big Top and moved five events to other venues.
Thomas Wehrli of Ayr, who owns the tent and also operates the Canadian Swiss Dream Circus that performed at the Big Top in the summer, said no one was ever in danger.
“You can’t blame anybody. It’s just one of these things,” he said. “There’s nothing to do with tents not being safe or whatever. It’s the ground. The tent is only as good as its ground.”
The Big Top tent can withstand winds up to 160 km/ h, so weather was not a concern, Wehrli said. The ground, too, was considered safe based on random sampling of the site in July, he said.
It turns out that random sampling missed the sand. Wehrli said it’s the first time he’s seen that error.
“Not in 35 years,” he said. “It doesn’t help me to have gravel on top and at the bottom is sand . . . everything (else) was 100 per cent.”
“The main thing is nobody got hurt,” he added. “Everybody is fine.”
The Big Top was brought to St. Thomas with Canada 150 funding. It housed a number of successful events including Canadian comedian Ron James and the Canadian Swiss Dream Circus.
But after high winds knocked down part of the Big Top in early September, a Canada 150 event Sept. 10 hosted by Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio and MPP Jeff Yurek was moved to the Timken Centre.
Part of the tent collapsed a second time Sept. 29.
Whether the Big Top returns in 2018 is unknown. The economic development corporation said it never planned for a second year for the attraction, hoping someone else would take it over instead.
Wehrli remains optimistic about returning to St. Thomas.
“We really hope that we can come back next year again,” he said. “The support we received for the circus was amazing . . . but I think we need to get another site.”
You can’t blame anybody. It’s just one of these things.” Thomas Wehrli, owner of Big Top
Thomas Wehrli, owner of Big Top, says the foundation caused part of the tent to collapse in late September. In 35 years it’s the first time he’s seen their detection system make a mistake.