The falls have eroded the soft shales and limestones of the escarpment at an average rate of 1.2 m per year and now stand 11 km from their place of origin at present-day QUEENSTON. Their recession rate has been variable though, as the volume of water flowing from the upper Great Lakes controls it. Because of changing land and lake levels in northern Ontario, the flow through the Niagara River was reduced to 10% of its present volume for a period of 5000 years. During this time the falls were almost stationary.
The awesome spectacle was first described by Louis HENNEPIN, who saw the falls in 1678, calling them "a vast and prodigious Cadence of Water." Among those who tried to describe their effect was Charles Dickens, who wrote, "I seemed to be lifted from the earth and to be looking into Heaven." With tourism, which began in the 1800s, came daredevils who defied the falls in barrels, boats and rubber balls. The most celebrated was The Great Blondin, who performed on a tightrope over the gorge (1859). Stunting was outlawed in 1912.
To save the area from hucksters and speculators, Ontario created Queen Victoria Park in 1885 - Canada's first provincial PARK. That same year a similar public park was created on the American bank. Millions of tourists visit the area every year, viewing the falls from several towers, a tunnel beneath Horseshoe Falls, for helicopter rides, a cable aerocar over the whirlpool, a jet boat through the lower rapids and the Maid of the Mist, a boat that carries sightseers to the foot of the falls.
International agreements control the diversion of water for HYDROELECTRIC power, which was first generated on the Canadian side of the river in 1893. The Niagara Diversion Treaty (1950) stipulated that a minimum flow of 50% be reserved for the falls during daylight hours in the summer and that the rest, up to 75% overnight and during the winter, be divided equally between Canada and the US. In Canada water is diverted from the Niagara River above the falls and fed into the turbines of Sir Adam Beck Generating Stations No 1 and No 2 by canals and tunnels, after which the water is returned to the river.
Author JAMES MARSH Rev: KEITH TINKLER
Pierre Berton, Niagara: A History of the Falls(1992); A Picture Book of Niagara Falls (1994); Margaret Dunn, Niagara Falls: A Pictorial Journey (1998); Cheryl MacDonald Niagara Daredevils: Thrills and Spills over Niagara Falls (2003); Linda L. Revie, The Niagara Companion: Explorers, Artists, and Writers at the Falls from Discovery Through to the Twentieth Century (2003); G. Siebel, ed, Niagara Falls, Canada (1967).
Links to Other Sites
Check out the website for the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario.
View one of the first photographs of Niagara Falls, an 1840 daguerreotype by H.L. Pattinson. From the Newcastle University Library in the UK.
Top 10 Things Canadians Should Know About Canada
Click on the 101things.ca link to discover the top 10 things people should know about Canada, a list developed from a national survey of what Canadians felt were the 101 people, places, symbols, events and innovations that most define our nation. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Check out the seasonal attractions and events offered throughout the Niagara River corridor from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake. From the Niagara Parks Commission.
The Underground Railroad
Follow the flight to freedom along the Underground Railroad to Canada. This Canada’s Digital Collections web site focuses on St. Catharines and other locations in the Niagara Region. Also profiles noteworthy individuals such as Harriet Tubman. Wind your way through mazes and other fun games.
A Century of Sail and Steam on the Niagara River
Explore 400 years of sailing history in the Niagara River and Lake Ontario region. Peruse original illustrations and rare photographs and the full text of this 1913 publication. From the “Maritime History of the Great Lakes” website.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
James Pattison Cockburn
See an online image gallery of paintings by artist James Pattison Cockburn. Click on the images for a larger view. From the McCord Museum.
Seven Wonders of Canada
See highlights of the CBC's "Seven Wonders of Canada."