Did you know Niagara Falls has its very own shipwreck?
What would you do if the boat you were on broke free from it’s lifeline and you were sent careening down towards the edge of Niagara Falls?
If you’ve ever walked beyond where Niagara Falls plunges over the edge and have seen an old shipwreck laying a few hundred metres from the brink of Horseshoe Falls, you’ve probably wondered what that is. It’s unofficial name is the Niagara Scow, the Old Scow, or the Iron Scow.
This boat sitting above Niagara Falls has been here since 1918! Surprisingly, it hasn’t moved a whole lot in its 100+ years of sitting along the Niagara River (until recently), but it certainly has an interesting history with a daring rescue story.
This post contains affiliate links which means I earn compensation when you book or purchase through my links at absolutely no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!
What is the Niagara Scow?
The Niagara Scow is a flat-bottomed dumping barge that belonged to the Great Lakes Dredge and Docks Company. Being flat-bottomed gave the scow an advantage of navigating the shallow waters of the Niagara River.
Scows were common in the 1800s and the early 1900s in the Great Lakes and were predominantly used to carry cargo.
In this case, the Old Scow was used to dredge up sand banks along the Niagara River at the entrance of the Niagara Falls Power Co. hydraulic canal.
What happened to the Niagara Scow?
Way back on August 6, 1918, around 3:00 pm, the Old Scow was being towed by a tugboat which hit a sandbar and ran aground.
The rope towing the dumping scow broke loose roughly 1.6 km from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls with two men on board – can you imagine the panic, not only from the perspective of being on board, but as a bystander!?
Moments after breaking free, the iron scow drifted down the Niagara River and was headed straight for the falls.
Gustav F. Lofberg and James H. Harris released their anchors which held for a short time, but they thankfully thought quickly to open their dumping doors at the bottom of their scow to flood the compartment. This slowed the scow down until the hull flooded and became grounded on rocks in the shallow rapids of the river, just 600 metres from the edge of the falls.
But now what?
These men were stuck in the upper rapids – 600 metres from the brink of the falls and 200 metres from the shoreline.
The Iron Scow Rescue
The location of the scow made it difficult for rescue operations. No boat would be able to venture out to save it.
How were they rescued, then?
A line was shot out with a grappling gun from the roof of the Toronto Power Generating Station to create a breeches buoy, which is essentially a canvas sling suspended from a pulley.
By the time the first line was shot out at 3:00 am, the breeches buoy became tangled part way out and suddenly stopped.
It was the valiant effort of William “Red” Hill Sr – a recently returned WW1 veteran – who offered to go out and untangle the lines, not once, but twice. With spotlights shining his path, a wrong move would’ve meant certain catastrophe.
Red Hill Sr climbed out over the line and clung to the lines by his legs in an attempt to untangle it. His first attempt was unsuccessful and called off until the light of day. He went out again at 8:30 am and was able to untangle the ropes.
If it weren’t for his willingness to rectify the situation, it may not have been such a happy ending.
He’s since become a recognized hero of Niagara Falls and continued to perform a series of rescues along the Niagara River for the rest of his life, and saved a total of 28 lives and recovered 177 bodies just below Niagara Falls.
Both men were pulled to safety by 10 am.
Thankfully, with the joint efforts of the Niagara Parks Police, Niagara Falls Fire and Police Departments, hydroelectric workers, Red Hill Sr, and U.S. Coast Guards, Gustav and James were successfully rescued – but it took almost 19 hours.
That is one boat ride I would pass on. 😨
Where is the Niagara Scow?
Since salvaging the Scow was out of the question, the location of the Niagara Scow has more or less been the same for 100 years. It’s been stuck in the shallows of the Niagara River, just 200 meters from shore, and close to the edge of the Horseshoe Falls.
How big is the Niagara Scow?
The Iron Scow is 80 feet long and 30 feet wide (it’s about the length of two full-size school busses). Not exactly a size I would be comfortable on while teetering on the Niagara River!
Is the Niagara Scow moving?
For over 100 years, the Niagara Scow, while deteriorating, had been in the same location. However, on Halloween night in 2019, a storm came through which created strong winds that caused water levels to reach record highs.
This resulted in high water flow into the Niagara River that shifted the Iron Scow off its rocky perch.
Thankfully, we have some awesome drone shots of the Old Scow before and after the storm, for comparison.
Update April 2022: The scow has recently broken into several pieces. It is still clinging to the rocks, for now!
How far did the Iron Scow move?
The storm caused the barge to flip on its side and spin around, while drifting 50 meters down the river, edging closer to the Horseshoe Falls.
If you compare the Niagara Scow before and after it’s shift, it’s surprising it was able to stay in one piece.
This video from Niagara Parks shows the difference of the Scow before and after the storm.
Will the Niagara Scow go over the falls?
The Scow has deteriorated severely in recent years. It is expected, at some point, that the Niagara Scow will break free from its rocky perch and descend over the falls (imagine the sight that’ll be!), or break apart into the river.
The future of the Scow remains unknown. What do you think will happen? Will it stay there for another 100 years?
Where is the best view of the Niagara Scow?
The best view of the Iron Scow is from the Canadian side, although you can also see it from the American side of Niagara Falls, on Goat Island and the Three Sisters Island.
On the Canadian side, the best views are along the Niagara Parkway, on either side of the former Toronto Power Generating Station, but the closest you’ll get is on the east side of the building for unobstructed views of the shipwreck.
After the centenary of the Niagara Scow rescue, signs were placed near the lookout points on the east side of the building for those wanting to learn more about that harrowing event.
The best part is – it’s free to view!
Where do you park to see the Iron Scow?
Depending on the weather and what you feel like doing while visiting Niagara Falls, you can easily walk to the best viewing points of the Old Scow.
On our most recent trip, we parked at the Floral Showhouse for $5/hour, which for Niagara Falls is reasonable. We avoid parking at the Table Rock Center because parking averages $30/day – far too much in my opinion.
On warmer days and if you want to get a full view of Niagara Falls, I would recommend starting from Clifton Hill and walking the length of the Niagara Parkway to see the Niagara Scow. It’s about a 30 minute walk one-way, but there is lots to see along the way and will make you appreciate the beauty of Niagara Falls.
If you start here, park a block or two back from Clifton Hill. There are various parking lots for a flat daily fee of just $5.
Other free things to do in Niagara Falls
If you’re looking for other things to do in Niagara Falls, you may be surprised to learn there is plenty to do for free!
From viewing a shipwreck in the Niagara River to strolling through beautiful gardens and visiting a Buddhist Temple, visiting Niagara Falls on a budget doesn’t have to be hard.
Be sure to make at stop at Queenston Heights, just 10 minutes from Niagara Falls, for scenic views and interesting pieces of history!
- Scenic Walking Trails in Lincoln You May Not Know About
- Hidden Gems in Ontario You May Have Overlooked!
- How to Spend a Day at Scenic Caves Nature Adventures
- 9+ Frozen Waterfalls in Niagara and Where to Find Them!
- Stunning Ontario Hikes to Take in the Fall
- Ball’s Falls Conservation Area Historic Tours
- Visiting Historic Westfield Heritage Village
- The Most Beautiful Winter Hiking Trails in Niagara
- Exploring Elora: Ontario’s Charming Town That Will Surprise You
- Free Things to do in Niagara Falls
- Things to see at Queenston Heights
- Things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake (that aren’t wineries!)
- Magical Dollhouses of Historic Grimsby Beach
- Things to see and do in Port Colborne