Niagara Falls stories: “Red” Hill and the runaway scow

Niagara River scow

Niagara River scow

From the Canadian side of the Niagara River, some distance above the Horseshoe Falls, you can see what looks like a rusty iron skip sitting in the middle of the rapids.

It’s actually a scow, a river barge intended to be towed by a powered vessel.  This one was being towed by a tug, the Hassayampa, when it came adrift on the afternoon of August 6th 1918, carrying two deckhands, Gustave Loftberg (51) and Frank Harris (53), helplessly towards the falls until it ran aground on the shallow rocks, where it remains to this day.

Crowds gathered to observe their predicament, but rescuing them by boat was impossible because of the current and the danger of the falls downstream.

It took until nightfall to secure a rope to rescue the men.  Searchlights were installed and a breeches buoy attached but became entangled.  At 3.00am William “Red” Hill Snr, a local Canadian daredevil with a formidable record of lifesaving around the Falls, traversed the rope hand over hand but was unable to disentangle the buoy until daylight.

It took until 10.00am on August 7th to bring Loftberg and Harris, shocked, hungry and suffering from exposure, back to the Canadian bank:

“Red” Hill was awarded the Carnegie Life Saving Medal for his rescue.

By the time of his death aged 54 in 1942, he was credited with saving 28 people, including Loftberg and Harris, in and around the Niagara River.

Update:  In December 2021, after a heavy storm, the scow flipped over and moved fifty metres nearer to the Falls:  101-year-old ship dislodged above Niagara Falls – BBC News.

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