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What is the Niagara Falls Scow?December 24, 2017

So you’ve driven through all that the Winter Festival of Lights has to offer and you stop at Table Rock, the complex located at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, just to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the view.

You’re standing at the rail overlooking the falls and you look upriver just a bit, and wonder … what the heck is that thing? It looks like a shipwreck. 

It is a shipwreck, basically. August 6, 2018, will mark exactly 100 years since the accident that left the barge stranded on rocks at the top of the falls. It was a near-catastrophe when it happened, and surely no one involved back then imagined it would turn into another piece of Niagara Falls lore people would be thinking about a century later.

It was a different world back then. In 1918, the National Hockey League was exactly one year old and income taxes had been introduced in Canada the previous year. Woodrow Wilson was the U.S. president and the Great War was winding to a close.

Mid-afternoon on August 6, 1918, in Niagara Falls, workers were using a barge to dredge the bottom of the Niagara River about a kilometre from the top of the Horseshoe Falls. The barge, or scow, was towed by the Hassayampa, a tugboat captained by John Wallace with two deckhands.

When the tugboat struck a sandbar, the rope that tethered it to the barge snapped. On board the barge, the two workers frantically tried to stop it from drifting ahead and over the falls.

Crowds on shore watched in horror the plight of the trapped men. Fortunately, the vessel became wedged on the shallow bottom of the river – but still, how to get the pair to safety?

The fire department tried to shoot a rope from shore to the desperate men but failed. A crew from the Life Saving Station in Youngstown, N.Y. arrived with its own gun and was able to shoot a line to the men. However, the line weighed so much it was being towed downriver and was threatening to dislodge the barge from its grounding. Finally, the situation was stabilized.

The next day, Red Hill Sr. – a member of the famed family known for its river rescues – made three trips to the stranded scow, pulling himself hand-over-hand on the rope to get there. 

Finally, nearly 36 hours after their ordeal started, the two men were pulled to safety by Hill, who was awarded the Carnegie Life Saving Medal for his efforts. One hundred years later, the remains of the barge sit stranded above the falls, to tell the tale of that day.

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