Jeff the Seal

 

Photo of Jeff the Seal from Marineland brochure

In May of 1963 a seal named Jeff was reported by newspapers to have escaped from Marine Wonderland theme park at 3657 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Owners Ivan Petric and John Holer recounted that they picked up the seal from Lake Ontario and transported him back to the park in their car on May 27th. The Montreal Gazette reported that Beckman L. Fairbank of Youngstown saw a seal swimming in the Niagara River about 14 miles below Niagara Falls. Toledo newspaper, The Blade, reported that the seal was spotted on the shore 9 miles below the Falls. Young Tommy Haines of Niagara on the Lake was stated to have seen the seal on May 26th. This newspaper went on to describe that Thomas Monaghan of Newark, New Jersey took part in the capture of the seal at Holer's request, and when the men restrained the seal it struggled and bit Holer's right arm. They were then reported to have used a rope to haul the animal up a 40 foot embankment to Holer's car. Holer detailed the seal's injuries from the ordeal as including an injured flipper and inflamed eye and mouth. The seal was placed back with its captive companions on return to the park. Holer was not quoted at the time but it was reported in this article that, "Mr. Holer said he was sure Jeff the seal went over the Falls because after his escape, he would have headed for the nearest water".

The Toronto Star on Oct. 2, 2011 in an article "The man behind Marineland: 50 years of controversy" by  Liam Casey, recounted the story seemingly questioning its validity while also attributing the story to some of the park's early success:  "This adventure - Jeff's escape under the fence, his disappearance over Niagara Falls (presumably to his death), then his resurrection in the following days, frolicking, fishing and generally reveling in his freedom before a 12 year-old boy spotted him basking on a beach in Niagara-on-the-Lake - transformed the two-year-old sea lion into Holer's first star attraction."

A brochure (2017.023.3) in the collection of the Niagara Falls Museums advertises Jeff the Seal as a personality to come and visit at the park:

"Marine Wonderland & Animal Park. Unique underwater show. "Jeff", the only seal that went over the "The Falls". Jeff the seal is his usual chipper self after his miraculous plunge over the great Horseshoe Falls. A swim over and under the upper and lower rapids followed the escape from his Marine Wonderland home 'til his recapture ten miles away in the Niagara River. Shake hands with him during his performance. Shows daily from 9 a.m. until dusk. Rain or shine. Marine Wonderland, 3657 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Aside from a unique and breathtaking underwater show where lovely aquamaids perform with trained sea lions, and harbor seals among turtles and fish, you will enjoy an all inclusive visit to our animal park. Watch Sammy the bear as he pulls his food up a twenty-foot pole, and walk among the deer as they freely wander throughout our park amid many other animals from the far corners of the world. Bring your camera."

*Many stories in the history of Niagara Falls puts a spotlight on situations that readers or our staff may or may not agree with. The use of animals for entertainment is one such topic, however, the staff felt that this story does showcase the issue of animals in this field and is a reporting on the history of a very important part of our tourism history.

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