Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The day the falls stopped falling

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The day the falls stopped falling

I should have liked to be at Niagara Falls on 28th March, 1848. About midnight, the falls stopped. Completely. People in their old fashioned beds with Victorian night caps and frilly nightgowns tucked up under their woolen blankets were awakened by the startling sound of it. Silence. And in 1848 the falls hadn’t been siphoned off for hydro electricity the way they are now. The thunderous roar of it was heard and felt kilometers away so its absence must have been terrifying. ‘Have I gone deaf? Has the rapture come? Has time got weary and stopped itself all together?’

I imagine myself at that place in that time running to the falls with everyone else to discover that nothing is falling: just empty space where the falls once fell and we stand there staring like we’re waiting for Blondin or Ferrini or Nik Wallenda one of those other tightrope walkers to fall. Then someone starts laughing. A little girl, maybe, and before you know it we’re out on the rocks, scaling the cliff and finding things no one remembered was lost: bayonets and tomahawks from the War of 1812, the old tug boat some schemers sent over the falls like the Noah’s Ark loaded up with a bear and a moose and geese. There are chairs and engines and safes and school desks, refrigerators and ice skates, snow globes and ash trays, lovers’ hands moulding in wax, white veils and cumberbuns and a jar filled to the brim with wedding rings. Where do you go on your honeymoon if you live at Niagara Falls?

Then suddenly we hear it, raging back from above. It’s rushing like a vengeance, like someone who doesn’t like to be forgotten, like someone who always has to have the final say. And everyone goes running in their frilly dresses and top hats and little boots pulling one another back over the rail but me and the ice skates and the wedding rings, we’re stuck and no one will help me get out of the way, get out of the spray. I look up and see it coming. Water, yes, I see it.


I’m writing a play about the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel – 63 year old widow Annie Edson Taylor. For more on the ongoing development of the show:

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Erin Shields

Erin Shields is a playwright and actor who most recently won the Governor General's Award for her play If We Were Birds (Playwrights Canada Press). She is a founding member of Groundwater Productions through which she creates, develops and produces much of her work.

Go to Erin Shields’s Author Page