Spiderman… on a wall near you

Ivan Kristoff is as comfortable dangling from a towering edifice as he is sitting in his living room. This young Bulgarian immigrant daredevil has big plans for hanging around Toronto.
By Steve Payne, The Saturday Sun, Pages 16 & 17, July 22, 1995 

IVAN KRISTOFF: Toronto’s own Spider-man
Pages 16-17

Listening to Ivan Kristoff can take you to the same dizzy heights as his job…

For this is no ordinary window cleaner. The unique perspective he gains of Toronto by dangling off highrise buildings is nothing compared to his personal climb to the top.

Kristoff, 27, son of a former communist government official, was in the Bulgarian army who changed his name to reach Canada and entered a marriage of convenience to stay here.

He even tried to join the Metro Police, but his English was not good enough, unlike the five other languages he speaks. And now, having finally become a landed immigrant, this Jack Of All Heights is on a government committee examining the health and safety regulations surrounding the window cleaning industry.

As provincial government official Norman Richardson understated it: “Ivan’s quite a character.” Kristoff- skier, caver, para-glider, mountaineer and photographer – runs a business called Eiger Rope Access Work Inc., named after a peak in the Swiss alps.

It has earned him the nickname: “The Eiger Man.”

Kristoff’s particular expertise is rope work. He boasts he can safely hang any building and his ambition is to flop over the CN Tower. He once roped himself to a Don Valley railway bridge to practice his art and was nabbed by a railway cop. It cost the intrepid Spiderman a $50 trespass ticket.

Kristoff was born in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, where his parents and sister still live. His father was a member of the Bulgarian diplomatic service during the country’s previous communist regime and is now an advisor to the foreign affairs department.

Kristoff wanted out of Bulgaria as a teen, and set his heart on joining relatives in Canada.

“My father did not understand me, but I had to escape,” said Kristoff, seated in the safety of an armchair in his low-rise Toronto apartment.

At 18, Kristoff was conscripted into the Bulgarian army and responded by being “rebellious.”

Four months were added to his two years service after he confronted a superior with an iron bar.

It was the right word from dad that kept him from jail, he said, but not from a remote forest outpost.

In 1990, the Bulgarian communist government toppled and Kristoff decided to leave.

Claiming he  was still under the watchful eye of the Bulgarian authorities, he said he used a network of privileged  friends to get a passport. He then bluffed his way aboard a plane leaving for Cuba, via Moscow and Ireland. Kristoff’s gamble was that the aircraft would make a refueling stop in Gander, Nfld.

It did and he left the plane and sought refugee asylum. His luggage went to Cuba.

Unable to speak English, he spent a month in Newfoundland before moving in with Toronto relatives and going to school to learn the language.

But two years and several hearings later, immigration told him he was being booted back to the Balkans.

He tried to convince the authorities his life was in danger, but with his dad a member of the revamped Bulgarian government, it did not wash.

He tried other tactics.

“I had opened my company by then, had six Canadian employees, $20,000 in contracts and was about to attend the University of Toronto,” he said.

Immigration was not impressed. Kristoff decided to wed a Canadian. Three offers of marriage later, he chose a close friend.

Once married, he pleaded with immigration again to stay.

Forget it, he was told. Go back to Bulgaria and be officially sponsored to Canada by the spouse.

He got on a plane while she spent time in Sofia.

The official obligations met, he returned to Canada in 1993 and began again.

The marriage? They live together, but as “best friends,” he said. Kristoff kicked off his company again, but lately he has been sub-contracting some of his obligations.

He has bigger plans. He wants to branch into building inspection, perhaps even stunt work in the movies.

He’s also turned his eye to his roots, having leased a resort hotel near Sofia with friends. If successful, the plan is to buy it next year.

Kristoff, who said he is on good terms with his parents and visits them, said he may also try and join the police again, when his rapidly improving English is as good as his Serbian, Croatian, Russian, Macedonian and native Bulgarian.

Meanwhile, he meets regularly with the window cleaning forum that’s reviewing the industry’s safety regulations. Richardson, the ministry of labor inspector who heads the review, said Kristoffs input is significant.

It seems this “little puppy” in a foreign land, as Kristoff likes to call himself, is now a dog with a bite.

He wants to branch into building inspection, perhaps even stunt work in the movies.

Photos: WALK THAT WALK … Ivan Kristoff scales down a Richmond St. Building.

CLIMBING THE WALLS… Ivan Kristoff does some restoration work along with his window-cleaning business. Below, he cleans a sculpted lion’s head on the face of a Richmond St. Building and later videotapes his work. The video is later shown to the building’s owner or superintendent for their inspection.

Find out more about the Canadian Spiderman in the upcoming book for The Real Life Spiderman

Spiderman... on a wall near you, Real Life Spiderman, Book