Big Top grounded

Thomas Wehrli said test­ing missed con­di­tions that caused tent to col­lapse

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - LOUIS PIN

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.

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