Century-old barge stuck in Niagara River moves for first time since 2019 as ice conditions change

A century-old wreck in the Niagara River suffered further damage and shifted position over the weekend following changes in ice conditions along the mighty upper rapids.

The iron barge has remained in place above the Canadian Horseshoe Falls since 1918, its last move in October 2019.

Jim Hill, senior heritage manager at Niagara Parks, said pieces of the barge began to come off over the weekend.

Hill told CBC Hamilton they noticed the barge moved “after a few storms and something called the ice boom, which keeps the ice in Lake Erie.”

“It’s really just a chain of floating metal beams in the upper Niagara River that keeps the ice out of the rest of the river, mostly to protect the hydroelectric plants,” he said.

“It was opened up, so a combination of weather, a lot of snowmelt, just the Great Lakes level being higher I think, and all that ice started crashing in on what’s left of the poor old barge .”

Jim Hill, senior heritage manager at Niagara Parks, says pieces of the barge began to come off over the weekend. (Niagara Parks)

According to Niagara Parks, despite considerable deterioration over the years, the barge — the site of a heroic rescue of two men stranded on board – has miraculously clung to its perch in the upper Niagara River since breaking free from its tugboat on August 6, 1918.

One hundred years later, on August 6, 2018, Niagara Parks celebrated the anniversary of the Iron Barge and officially recognized the heroism of William (Red) Hill Sr., who saved the two men. Part of the anniversary celebration included the unveiling of a set of interpretive panels, to share the story of how the barge went aground and the harrowing rescue, Niagara Parks said in a news release. hurry.

“It’s just falling apart”

On Halloween night in 2019, the barge traveled about 50 meters downriver toward the falls, suggesting it would go over the edge.

Hill said he didn’t move far this time and there were no public safety concerns.

“What seems to be happening is that he just collapses in place,” Hill said.

“It’s significant portions of this thing, probably at one end I’d say 20% has been taken out and is sitting next to it now. And probably a third of that [that’s] facing the falls itself, it seems to have drifted off a bit too.

A 2018 photo of an iron scow at the top of Horseshoe Falls. The century-old wreck moved last weekend as ice conditions in the Niagara River changed. (Niagara Parks)

“In 1918 it looked like a boat, a big boat in the river. And now it’s just a collection of rusty bits of metal that lie about 200 yards from the Canadian shoreline,” Hill said.

“It’s kind of a landmark here”

The sinking is an important part of Niagara’s history, as is the story behind it, Hill said.

“Well, it’s kind of a landmark here, but it’s really the human story that surrounds it.

“There were two men on board this thing, and it broke away from its tug. It got stuck there, and for almost 24 hours they got stuck on it and there was a nice cooperation between Canadians and Americans to eventually save these Even dramatic feats that helped unravel the lifelines and prevent these two men from over the falls or being stuck there.

“That’s the kind of story I think we’re hanging on to. The poor old barge got stuck there, but everyone involved walked away from it, so that’s a good thing. Long after the barge is gone, the story of the rescue, I think it will stay in Niagara Falls and people will still be talking about the time the guys were rescued from the sinkhole, basically,” Hill said.

On its website, Niagara Parks said Hill bravely swung toward the wreckage in the upper Niagara River, clinging to a leg-tangled breeches buoy while straightening lines for passengers blocked can disembark.

Prior to this heroic act, Hill had served in World War I and had recently returned home after being wounded and gassed in France. Hill received a Carnegie Life Saving Medal for his role in the harrowing rescue of the iron barge.

Near disaster and spectacular rescue

The sinking is a reminder of the past, said Janice Thomson, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism.

“It’s a reminder of a very near disaster that almost happened there and a spectacular rescue as well,” Thomson told CBC Hamilton.

“People who live here, they see it all the time and it’s something they’re aware of because it’s changed over the years. It’s certainly a curiosity for people when they see it.”

As the barge goes down, Thomson said, people will miss it when it’s gone, but they know the time is right.

“He’s definitely been there, he’s always been there and it would be a loss, I think, for us just to see him go. But it’s a matter of time. He’s been there for over 104 years now.”