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Niagara Falls
Friday, February 3, 2023
Writer’s Cirlce: A fall of power


It was Thursday, June 7th, 1956, and like any boy at the age of eight I was playing, carefree with my friends in the field adjacent to our home. I often climbed up an old pear tree that sat in the middle and I would pretend it was a fort.

I lived on Ontario Avenue, about a half a block up from the Niagara Gorge and River Road in Niagara Falls. I would often wander with my friends down to look at the river, after being immersed in our world of make believe, pretending to be cowboys in the old west.

Oh how I wish I could still recreate those magic moments that came so spontaneously as a young boy.

On that day, I knew I would soon be getting the call for supper, though it was always hard to pry myself away from that old tree. It was overcast as I continued to play but, all of a sudden things changed.

I felt a sudden tremor as the earth shook beneath me and my ears resonated with what sounded like three overpowering explosions, like bombs.

The sound reverberated from the direction of the river. Standing there as if frozen, I looked at each of my friends in silence. They mirrored my concern, and I’m sure the same fear I was feeling at the time.

Some of the neighbors came out on their porches and others hurried down towards River Road. Without a word I started in the same direction, as I saw my friends follow to see what had happened.

It was only a few minutes before we descended the hill reaching River Road. In the distance white smoke rose from the depths below.

I crossed the street with my buddies and headed down to the stairway leading to the overlook along the gorge.

Looking down, I could now see clearly the source of what had been heard. Across the gorge on the American side, the whole wall of the Schoellkopf Power Plant had come crashing down, crushing the power plant building below and leaving it a bed of twisted metal and rock.

The Niagara River, churned below the wreckage and I could see people scrambling through the debris along the lower gorge seeking shelter.

The scene was unbelievable. I had never experienced anything like this and the apprehension I saw in the eyes around me emphasized just how unnerving this event was.

Standing there motionless and uncomfortably quiet, I watched as sirens loomed in the distance. The thought crossed my mind that workers were in that plant and I wondered were they all able to escape? There was a sick feeling that hit the pit of my stomach at the thought. I felt my eyes start to well up and sadness filled my body viewing the tragedy below.

As I stood there I looked around me, left then right to witness many of my neighbors that had silently joined this impromptu vigil to view the destruction below. I kept thinking please let everyone be OK. Sixty-two years later I still pass that spot along the gorge.

On one occasion I pulled up one of the side streets and parked my car. I walked down and crossed to where I had viewed that tragedy. The entrance to the overlook was now blocked in. I stood, stared and saw that visible scar along the opposite side once again reliving that tragic event in my mind.

What impressed me as I stood there deep in thought, was the transition that day from the innocent joy of imagination, to the harsh devastation of the real world.

It really was a miracle, only one worker lost his life in that tragedy.

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