Celebrating a Dramatic Moment in Our Region’s History along the Niagara Parkway

Key Players in 100-Year-Old Rescue Near Brink of Horseshoe Falls Honoured by Ontario’s Niagara Parks

One hundred years later, the rusted remains of the iron scow or barge remains locked on jagged rocks, where it was scuttled by its two-man crew in the roaring rapids above the Horseshoe Falls. Both men were rescued from the barge in the harrowing hours that followed. Photo courtesy of Niagara Parks

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted August 8th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

We don’t do it nearly enough in Niagara, Ontario…. celebrate our history.

Sadly, we often neglect or even destroy it. … something that seems to happen far less often on the American side of the Niagara River where places where momentous events occurred are, not always but more often, preserved and showcased for generations to come.

Niagara Parks Commission chair Janice Thomson, with the scow in the upper Niagara River behind her and Niagara Parks historian Sherman Zavitz standing off to her right, speaks to a gathering this August 6th, in commemoration of a dramatic rescue that took place there, 100 years ago. Photo by Doug Draper

There are too mamy examples in Niagara, Ontario of places where key people in our region’s history lived, or fields where battles that changed the course of our history were fought, or buildings that played host to people or events that played an important part in defining where we are today, have been paved over, knocked down or neglected to the point of falling down, or all too mysteriously, in more than a few cases, burned down.

With the exception of a few communities like Thorold and Niagara-on-the-Lake, we have not even seen many of our towns and cities in Niagara make an effort to have buildings and districts within their boundaries registered with provincial or federal heritage designations that would at least afford them some protection.

So the celebration of a harrowing and heroic moment in Niagara, Ontario’s history that took place above the Horseshoe Falls on the grounds of the Niagara Parkway this August 6th was something we should see far more of in our region, and the province’s Niagara Parks Commission and its Chair, Janice Thomson, deserve credit for hosting it.

The scow, resting near a small island in the upper Niagara River Rapids at the right end of this photo, with the mist of the Falls, just a short distance away, to the left. That’s how close the two men aboard came to perishing over the brink.

Somewhere between 100 and 200 people gathered on the Parkway lawns along the rapids of the upper Niagara River to remember a drama that unfolded in that same place on August 6th, 1918 and into the early hours of the following day when two Americans – Gustov F. Lofberg and James J. Harris – were rescued from a garbage scow that broke loose from a tug boat upstream and that they, in desperation, managed to scuttle on the rocks about the brink of the Falls.

The rescuers included by members of the Niagara Parks Police, Niagara Falls Fire Department, U.S. Coast Guard and William “Red” Hill Sr., a Niagara Falls, Ontario resident who recently returned from fighting on the First World War battlefields of Europe, and who was still recovering from battle injuries, including a gas attack.

A photo of one of the two American crew members from the scuttled scow being rescued, using cables and pulleys dangling above the rapids 100 years ago

Responding to the call in the days before the advent of the rescue helicopters, as Niagara Parks historian Sherman Zavitz explained to the gathering, the rescuers managed to mount a cannon on top a hydro building along the Ontario shores of the river and fire cables to the scow and bring the men to shore using pulleys

The cables were tangled at first and Hill, who continued to gain fame for years to come as Niagara’s “river man” for a series of rescues and daring acts, managed to go out on the cables, above the white-capped waters, and free the cables enough to let the pulleys do their work.

As each man was brought to shore, cheers erupted from crowds that had gathering on both sides of the Niagara River.

First responders in Niagara demonstrate to the gathering how the same rescue can be accomplished in minutes today, using a helicopter. Two individuals – the rescuer and the rescued – hang from a cable below the chopper. Photo by Doug Draper

“Considered one of the first major rescue efforts at Niagara Falls, the scow (which remains locked to the same rocks above the Falls today) stands as a testament to the cooperation and success of our emergency service personnel – who stand ready to assist – whenever they are called upon, regardless of the situation or personal danger involved,” said Niagara Parks Chair Janice Thomson before the gathering, which included Hill’s grandson, great grandson and other members of his family, was treated to a live demonstration of today’s emergency responders performing a rescue with a helicopter.

Suffice to say, that the two men on the scow would not have nearly as much time before being brought to shore if helicopters were around in 1918, which makes the success that was achieved, with the relatively crude tools the rescuers had to work with at the time, all the more amazing.

“One of the ways we have chosen to highlight those actions (of 100 years ago) is through the special nightly illumination of the scow, which began last Friday (August 3rd) and will continue until Sunday, August 19th, providing a glimpse into what the dramatic night-time rescue might have been like,” said Thomson.

“This evening,” she added, “we are pleased to be unveiling a new Niagara Parks plaque, which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the grounding of the scow, but more importantly, the rescue efforts of all involved.”

The plaque will soon be erected on the same grounds of the Parkway, in eyesight of the scow.

A mock-up of the plaque that will be erected permanently on Parkway grounds where the rescue took place

If you don’t mind me  getting  a little personal about this for a moment, I can say  that I, like a number of others who joined the gathering this July 6th, came to this event  as someone who grew up in Niagara and remembered our parents or others first telling us the story of this extraordinary event as we gazed out at that scow that seems to have been perched on those rocks below the mist of the Falls forever.

If my father was still alive, I am sure he would have joined us.

In this Niagara region, we need more celebrations of our history like this.

They are great for bringing communities of people together to give us a glimpse at past events that help us understand a little bit more about where we are and what we are today.

Just as importantly, they are a welcome escape from some of the ugly nonsense we are facing in regional politics today, and a reminder that there have been and still are some great and heroic people out there, doing things that make our Niagara better.

Sorry if some of this sounded like a sermon – Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

For more on the scow rescue, click on – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niagara_Scow .

For more on the life and adventures of William “Red” Hill Sr., click onhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_%22Red%22_Hill_Sr .

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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

One response to “Celebrating a Dramatic Moment in Our Region’s History along the Niagara Parkway

  1. Linda McKellar

    Other examples of ignoring and even destroying our history are rampant in the peninsula. One major example is the impending destruction of Waverly Woods in Fort Erie, the site of the most battle deaths on Canadian soil in our history, surpassing Lundy’s Lane, Chippewa and Queenston, and the major military action on Canada’s behalf until WW1. Many dead it is believed still lie buried in these woods and many have been found and even paved over in the past as subdivisions gobble up the town. Currently a lakeside condo, totally out of character for the town, is proposed. I ask, would a developer be allowed to build a condo on Vimy Ridge? This would never be allowed in the US. When American bodies were found there in 1987, the US government sent people from the military and Smithsonian saying “They always bring their boys home”. We need to treasure our history, not bury it.


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