This is the roadside memorial for Chris Rolfsen in Niagara Falls, Ontario
Chris Rolfsen drowned on August 9th, 2009 at the age of 27 while swimming in the Chippawa Creek in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Chris drowned in an area where I, as a kid swam many many times, jumping off of the Chippawa Bridge. Chris was swimming at the Chippawa Public docks and was just about 20 feet away from shore when he drowned.
Not far from where Chris was swimming is an area of the Niagara River called the “Break Wall”, where the fast moving water of the upper Niagara River moves to the right towards the mighty Niagara Falls, or to the left where the water breaks off into the Chippawa River which eventually feeds a canal that sends water to the Sir Adam Beck Power Plant 15 km’s down river.
The fun thing to do in the area has always been to jump off of the pedestrian bridge over the breakwall into the fast moving waters and swim off to the left, climb out and do it again. Same with the main bridge between Niagara Falls and Chippawa, jumping from that bridge is a rite of passage that carries with kids even to this day.
The danger in this comes from the very fast current and the undertows which are entirely unpredictable. Growing up in Niagara Falls you were always advised against swimming in the creek, especially jumping from the breakwall or the chippawa bridge…..but Niagara kids never listened!
This memorial for Chris was set up just days after his passing by his mother Trish Fischer and it has been there for ten years. Years ago Ms Fischer planted roses next to the cross, which has been placed in the dirt at the base of a tree, the roses come back every year. Also at the site, solar powered lights, more flowers and the odd trinket left behind by a visiting friend.
As the 10th anniversary of her son’s death approaches, Fischer was planning to replace the cross with a new one made by her son’s friend.
Those plans are now on hold, however, after she recently met with officials from Niagara Parks Commission and Ontario Power Generation and was told the tree — which was in place before she created the shrine — and her son’s memorial must be removed.
“I was devastated,” she said. “It makes absolutely no sense to me.”
Niagara Parks Police Chief Paul Forcier said homemade memorials are not permitted on Niagara Parks property.
“Having full regard and respect for the families who have suffered a loss due to tragic circumstances, it is important that the NPC remains consistent with the management of lands under its care,” he said.
The provincial agency does offer a memorial tree and bench program through which people can purchase either in honour of a loved one.
Costs range from $3,250 for a bench along the Niagara River corridor to $5,000 for a bench at the botanical gardens. Memorial trees are $600.
The Niagara Parks Commission and Ontario Power Generation said that the memorial may stay until the 10th anniversary of his death on August 9th, 2019 and then the tree will have to be removed.
The removal, they say is because it is at risk of disease and was identified as posing a public safety risk due to its proximity to a safety fence along the water line.
Chris’s mother says:
“The memorial has been there for 10 years. It has not bothered anybody,” she said.
“It has actually done a lot of good things, with people stopping to talk to me and kids stopping to talk to me and thinking twice about going into that water.”
In a comment about her son, Ms Fischer says: “Chris was funny, pushed his luck sometimes and he had a heart of gold especially when it came to children. He loved music, animals, fast cars and race cars.”
A New Place for the Chris Rolfsen Roadside Memorial
Since the memorial will be removed as of August 9th, I have decided to make a place where it can live on and where friends and family of Chris Rolfsen can come to remember this place