One of the most famous Canadian daredevils was William “Red” Hill, Sr. A Niagara Falls native, Hill made his famous five hour journey down the Niagara lower rapids on May 30, 1930. He would use a six foot long steel barrel to make his journey from the Maid of the Mist landing to Queenston. He had constructed the barrel himself and had fashioned a steel manhole cover which could be removed from inside the barrel if necessary.
Over 25,000 people would watch Hill conquer the mighty Niagara rapids that fateful day. He got to a slow start as the barrel bobbed and bucked in the river for an hour and forty minutes before it got to the lower rapids. In less then 90 seconds he had entered into the Whirlpool. The currents were extremely strong in the Whirlpool and he became trapped in them spinning around violently for over three hours. At one point he had opened the steel hatch and tried to paddle against the current to free himself, but to no avail. Several men, including his son Red Hill Jr., tried to free him, and after three hours in the Whirlpool he finally made the final leg of his journey below the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge and onto Queenston. Hill would emerge a triumphant man with only minor cuts and bruises.
He would make the journey down the Niagara River three more times before his death in 1942 at the age of 54. Hill was not only recognized for his trips down the lower rapids, but also for his love of the river. An avid “rivers man”, he allegedly pulled over 170 bodies from Niagara’s waters. He also participated in many rescue efforts of stranded individuals, saving the lives of 28 people who would have surely drowned if it had not been for his bravery.
Red Hill Sr. passed his love of the Niagara River onto his son William “Red” Hill Jr., who would make the trip down the lower rapids several times following in his fathers footsteps. Hill Jr., however, had a bigger purpose for his feats, to raise funds for a memorial fund to honour his brave father. His stunts, however, would not raise sufficient funds and so he decided to raise the stakes by performing a stunt even his father would not attempt, taking a barrel over the Horseshoe Falls.
Hill’s barrel was unlike any other, as it was constructed of 13 large inflated inner tubes that were held together by canvas webbing, encased by heavy-gauge fish netting. He had named his barrel “The Thing”, and on August 5, 1946 he set off at Chippawa, with thousands of curiosity seekers looking on. The trip started out as planned as the barrel rode the upper rapids towards the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. The barrel made it over the cataract, however, it would not take long for onlookers to realize that the stunt had gone terribly wrong. “The Thing”, which had dropped a 167 feet, had shattered and broken apart from the pressure of the water and the great fall. Red Hill Jr had not survived and his battered body was found the next morning at the Maid of the Mist landing.