William “Red” Hill Jr.

William “Red” Hill Jr. had to fill the shoes of his father in order to carry on the dramatic multi-headlined legend that his very name demanded. Red Hill Jr. had helped out on most of his father’s 28 rescues, and had pulled an additional 28 dead bodies from the river on his own. He also helped his father in the recovery of 117 of 177 dead bodies recovered.

Red Hill Jr. twice made the strenuous and dangerous swim from the base of the American Falls to the Canadian shore. Both of those times he failed to equal his father’s outstanding time of eleven minutes. In order to match his father, Hill Jr. conquered the Great Gorge Rapids and Whirlpool in a barrel on two separate occasions.

Red Hill Jr. made his first trip on July 8th 1945. A crowd of 200,000 people lined the banks of the Niagara River to watch. In order to prevent the police from stopping the event, the exact time and location were not given in advance. Hill Jr. would be using a 183 cm long, 720 pound barrel made entirely of steel. The bright red barrel was lowered down into the gorge just upstream of the rapids early in the morning.

Shortly after 2:00 p.m., Red Hill Jr. climbed into the barrel and set out on his journey. He was immediately caught in the 68 km/h current and was drawn towards the rapids. Before reaching the rapids, the barrel was struck by a cross wave and tossed 6 metres into the air before landing back into flowing water. As the barrel entered Whirlpool, it was caught by its current. Red Hill’s brothers, Major and Norman, rowed out and brought the barrel to shore. Hill Jr. complained of dizziness, but, being highly motivated, he climbed back into his barrel to complete his journey to Queenston.

Upon arriving at Queenston after two and a half hours, Hill Jr. and his mother went to Fairview Cemetery to lay a wreath on his father’s grave.

Red Hill Jr. made his second trip through the rapids on September 6th 1948. This time Hill Jr. used a barrel weighing approximately 1000 pounds, so he would not be tossed by the rapids again. Within five minutes of the journey, the barrel passed through the rapids and was in the Whirlpool. When it entered this area it spun out of control for more than an hour. From time to time the current was strong enough that it pulled the massive barrel underwater. Again his brother had to venture in and save Hill Jr. He was badly bruised and stayed out of the water for another hour before he climbed back into the barrel to complete the trip. Hill Jr. arrived at the Queenston dock after his four and a half hour ordeal.

The dream of a memorial to Red Hill Sr. weighed heavily on the shoulders of Red Hill Jr. It was because of this unfulfilled desire that Hill Jr. began planning to ride over the Horseshoe Falls.

At age 38, Red Hill Jr. set his date with destiny for August 5th 1951. Due to the lack of funds and support, Hill Jr. had to build a very cheap barrel. Hill Jr. constructed “the Thing”. It was a contraption consisting of thirteen large heavy duty inner tubes lashed together by 8 cm wide canvass webbing. These were then encased in heavy gauge fish netting. Hill Jr. painted his contraption silver with the words “The Thing” inscribed around the tube.

The tube was launched at 1:30 p.m. from Ushers Creek, which is approximately 3.2 km upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. At 3:30 p.m. the tube with Red Hill Jr. inside rode through the upper rapids and over The Horseshoe Falls. The Thing was caught under the extreme pressure of the falling water and broke apart. It was two minutes before parts of the rubber tubes began to surface, but no sign of Red Hill Jr. The silence was shattered by Hill Junior’s mother frantic cry for him. Hill Junior’s wife and ten year old daughter joined his mother for the long vigils while his brothers: Major, Norman & Wesley searched for his body.

The next morning the battered body of William Red Hill Jr. drifted near the Maid of the Mist dock. The lower part of his body was badly mangled and his forehead had a large laceration. He was buried the following Thursday at Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Following the death of Red Hill Jr., there was a public outcry over his needless death. This resulted in then Ontario Premier, Leslie Frost, to issue a special order to the directors of the Niagara Parks Commission to arrest anyone who commits an act of stunting upon the properties of the Niagara Parks. Since that day, no permission has been granted to allow any stunting within the park.

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