Tonawanda News — LEWISTON — A person’s truly made it when there’s a song written about their life. For Richard Côté, of Vermont, the honor came about 12 years ago. His friends finally heard it performed Saturday.
His family stood in front of the gathered folks at the 50th anniversary reunion of the Niagara Hard Hats, those friends of his, and sang a song honoring his experiences on the crew that built the Niagara Power Project at the New York Power Authority all those years ago.
“My son was in school and they asked him for a story about his family,” Irene Côté-Wurzler, his daughter, said. “He said his grandfather almost fell into Niagara Falls. It caught the attention of songwriter Pete Sutherland and he gave him the history. He came to me to make sure it was correct and it was. It really, really happened.”
Côté’s story may be different, but it’s one shared by plenty of participants at the reunion. Many of them faced certain peril – with 20 who did lose their lives – but lived to produce the marvel that harnessed the force of Niagara Falls.
The celebration was actually the third in a planned trilogy among the workers who made it all possible, according to event planner Ken Glannon, a construction worker on the project himself who has taken it upon himself to make sure the stories of these people are properly told.
“This is the last of a trilogy of reunions,” He said. “We had one for 50 years of the first blast. In 2011, it was 50 years since first power. And now, it’s 50 years since construction was completed.”
Glennon, who compiled the tales into a 46-chapter, 301-page book titled “Hard Hats of Niagara,” said he felt the stories of the people involved in the project needed to be told to keep the legacy and memory of his colleagues alive.
So he got to work on a book in 2004, looking for surviving members of the Hard Hats. He had a rough journey ahead of him, one he said still isn’t complete, because everywhere he looked, there were hardly any records of anyone involved.
He knew he needed to find some way of getting in touch with people quickly.
“I realized there was no history of the men who worked here,” he said. “I inquired with NYPA but they had no records. And most of the companies involved were gone so there were no records there. So in 2004, I put an ad in the paper and we met in the Sportsman’s Club. There were four men. And through networking, it grew to what it is now.”
But there are still more people coming out of the woodwork each year they get together, with more stories to tell and more families to introduce. Their new contributions, he said, could make it possible to create a second edition of his book.
As for the Power Authority, they also understand the importance of the sacrifices and struggles of those that built the place. Spokesman Lou Paonessa said the project wouldn’t be where it is had the guys from the Hard Hats not done what they did all those years ago.
“What these guys did will never be done again,” he said.