Bobby Leach had a reputation in England as a circus stuntman. He had attracted attention to himself by announcing the intention of becoming the first person to complete the “triple challenge”.
This “triple challenge” included:
- Making a barrel trip through the rapids to the whirlpool
- Going over the Falls in a barrel
- Parachuting from the Upper Steel Arch Bridge into the river upstream of the rapids
On July 1st 1908, Leach jumped off the Upper Steel Arch Bridge using a parachute to become the 4th person to do so.
During the summer of 1910, Bobby Leach made his return to Niagara Falls. This return was to test his barrel through the Great Gorge Rapids to the Whirlpool. Leach had attached an anchor to his barrel, in order to maintain a steady path through the rapids. The problem occurred when it was cut loose by rocks. This directly led to Leach’s inability to control the barrel, which began bouncing from rock to rock through the rapids until it was stuck in the current of the Whirlpool. Leach was rescued by William “Red” Hill Sr. Hill risked his life by swimming out to Leach’s barrel (in the whirlpool) and dragging it onto shore. When Leach was removed from the barrel he was unconscious. Hill Sr. climbed into the barrel and rode it through the lower rapids to Queenston.
During that summer, Leach made 3 other successful barrel trips through the famous Whirlpool Rapids. In addition, Bobby Leach made two attempts to swim across the Niagara River down river from the American Falls. Although, during these two attempts, he aborted the trips.
On July 25th 1911, Bobby Leach climbed into a 2.4 metre long steel drum at Navy Island. At this location the current of the Niagara River veers towards the Canadian shore. The drum was released at 2:55 p.m. and took 18 minutes to reach the brink of the Horseshoe Falls before going over. 22 minutes after he went over the Falls, the drum was recovered. It was stuck in the river at the base of the falls before an Ontario Power Company employee, named Fred Bender, swam to where the barrel was with a rope tied around his waist. Bender tied the rope to the barrel and hauled to the Canadian shore. Once they reached the shore Leach was removed from the drum and then rushed to the hospital. He suffered from two broken knee caps and a broken jaw.
Twenty three weeks (almost 6 months) after the accident, Bobby Leach left the hospital and went on tour with his barrel throughout North America and Europe. Leach did return to Niagara Falls to parachute from an airplane.
On July 1st 1920, Bobby Leach jumped from an airplane using a parachute and repeated this feat again on October 10th 1925. In both cases Leach landed in corn fields on Canadian soil near the Niagara Gorge.