Frances Dorothea Gardiner Bowen and William Guy “Red” Hill

When Dorothea Gardiner was born on April 27, 1914, her mother Hilda Gardiner (later Bowen) was 26. Oddly, although Hilda Gardiner appears on the 1921 Canadian Census with her siblings (7 years after Dorothea’s birth), the child is not living with her at the time and her whereabouts between her birth and the census are currently unknown.

Dorothea Gardiner Birth Certificate

Dorothea, who later takes the name Frances, takes the name of her stepfather (Bowen) after her mother marries in 1922.

Frances married William Guy “Red” Hill on June 12, 1935, in Tonawanda, New York.

When Red Hill was born in Welland, Ontario on September 8, 1913, his father, William Thomas “Red” Hill Sr. (1887-1942), was 25 and his mother, Beatrice Victoria (nee Clark) (1898-1975), was 15. He had four brothers and three sisters.

Ontario Birth Registration (image via Ancestry.com)

Less than two months after her marriage, Frances died suddenly on August 30, 1935, at the tender age of 21. She died six days after an operation to remove her ruptured appendix. The article related to her death suggests that she’d been living in Niagara Falls since 1924 (it also doesn’t mention her father or stepfather).

Ontario Death Registration (image via Ancestry.com)
Niagara Falls Evening Review, August 31, 1935
Niagara Falls Gazette, August 31, 1935

Frances’ death certificate indicates that she was living at 860 Valley Way, Niagara Falls, which (interestingly) is the same address listed on related to the death information for her cousin Leonard Joseph Gray, who died six years later. As described in the post for Leonard, 860 Valley Way is now 4860 Valley Way, and it appears there is no longer a home at that location.

Hilda eventually moved to London, Ontario, where she lived until her death at Chelsey Park Nursing Home at the age of 103. The location and nature of Frederick Bowen’s death is unknown.

Niagara Falls Gazette July 6, 1993

Hilda Bowen and Frances Hill are buried in Section R, Plot 0185 at Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls.

Headstone, Hilda Bowen and Frances Hill

William “Red” Hill Jr. may have remarried after his wife’s death to Alice Sills. The couple had a daughter, Sally. Red followed in the footsteps of his father – who was known as the “Riverman”. According to the Niagara Frontier website, Red’s father was legendary for challenging the Great Gorge Rapids and Whirlpool in a barrel.

The senior Hill had officially been credited with saving the lives of twenty-eight persons from drowning. He received more lifesaving awards from the Canadian Government than any man before or since.

Red Jr. was also fascinated by the Niagara River and Falls. He assisted his father in the recovery of 117 bodies from the Niagara River and Gorge and helped with more than 20 rescues.

Like his father, Red took on the lower Great Gorge Rapids and Whirlpool in a barrel not just once, but twice. Following those attempts, Red Jr. constructed another barrel, affectionately named “The Thing.” The barrel consisted of thirteen large heavy duty inner tubes lashed together by three-inch wide canvas webbing and encased in heavy gauge fishnet.

As shown in the YouTube video above, on August 5, 1951, three years after his last gorge trip, Red launched “The Thing” from Usher’s Creek approximately three miles from the Horseshoe Falls. According to a Niagara news report, Hill is said to have said prior to the trip, “There’ll be 300,000 people here Sunday and I don’t think that we’ll disappoint ’em.”

As his new wife, mother, and siblings watched, at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon, The Thing reached the brink of the falls and went over. The pressure of the falling water broke the contraption apart and it was several minutes before pieces of rubber started surfacing. The next morning, Red’s battered body was found near the Maid of the Mist dock. There was a large public outcry that resulted in the provincial government issuing an order requiring the arrest of anyone who tried a similar stunt from the Niagara Parks.

Like his deceased wife and mother and father, William “Red” Hill is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls. His obituary, below, doesn’t mention Frances.

Niagara Evening Review, August 7, 1951

Main image: Francis Dorothea Gardiner

About Author

AG Knapper

AG has been researching her family tree since 2004, and it now includes over 7,000 ancestors and their descendants. She aspires to permanently record the stories before they're lost to time. Do you want to read her latest research? Use this link to sign-up for a weekly newsletter so you never miss a story! Do you know this family? Comment below or use the contact form and help make these stories richer.

Comments

  1. Unknown says:

    William red Hill Jr. Is my grandfather.

    1. Interesting! Can you add any context to the story?

  2. Kip P Finn says:

    Email me at

    and we can set up a time to talk. I am more than happy to share any information I have with you
    1. AG Knapper says:

      This comment system prevents you from posting your email address so you don’t get hit with spam – but it also doesn’t let me see it. Use the “contact me” button to send me your email!

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