top of page

9 Wet and Wild facts about Niagara Falls

Straddling the border between western New York state and southern Ontario, Canada, Niagara Falls is undoubtedly one of the most famous attractions in the world. The spot easily draws more than 20 million visitors a year, thanks to its relatively easy accessibility and a popularity piqued by screen appearances in films such as Superman 2 and TV shows such as The Office. Whether you intend to visit sometime in the near future or can only admire from afar, here are nine things to learn about these magnificent falls from the spray-free safety zone of your screen.

It’s comprised of 3 separate water falls

Niagara Falls consists of three separate cataracts. Horseshoe Falls, located mostly on the Canadian side and partitioned from the others by Goat Island, stands approximately 188 feet high, with a crestline of about 2,200 feet across. American Falls, with a crestline of around 1,000 feet, also rises to 188 feet above the Niagara River, although it stands just 70 to 110 feet above a rock pile, known as a talus. Bridal Veil Falls, separated from American Falls by tiny Luna Island, measures 181 feet above the river, with a crestline of 50 feet.

It was formed over 12,000 years ago

The falls are a remnant of the last ice age, a period that left southern Ontario blanketed in a frozen sheet that carved out the basins of the Great Lakes. When the region began to thaw about 12,500 years ago, torrents of meltwater merged to form the Niagara River, which produced the mighty falls at the Niagara Escarpment before emptying into Lake Ontario. The name "Niagara" stems in part from the name of the Onguiaahra Native Americans, who were among the earliest tribes to settle in the region, between 1300 and 1400 CE.

It is continuously moving

The falls are a remnant of the last ice age, a period that left southern Ontario blanketed in a frozen sheet that carved out the basins of the Great Lakes. When the region began to thaw about 12,500 years ago, torrents of meltwater merged to form the Niagara River, which produced the mighty falls at the Niagara Escarpment before emptying into Lake Ontario. The name "Niagara" stems in part from the name of the Onguiaahra Native Americans, who were among the earliest tribes to settle in the region, between 1300 and 1400 CE.

The Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat originally was a ferry service

Seeking to outdo the rowboats that carted passengers across the Niagara River in the early 19th century, the Maid of the Mist launched in 1846 as a plus-sized ferry service capable of carrying a stagecoach and horses. However, when a suspension bridge was completed in 1848, the steamboat's owners pivoted to a sightseeing business instead. The Maid of the Mist has since undergone several transformations, even surviving a treacherous Civil War-era ride (after the boat was sold to a Canadian company) through the nearby Whirlpool and Devil's Rapids. It’s now an iconic part of the Niagara Falls experience. While it no longer operates on the Canadian side, the service announced its intention to plow full-steam ahead with the launch of two fully electric boats in 2020.

The falls once completely froze over

Following a spell of warm weather that caused the ice of Lake Erie to break up in late winter 1848, the combination of strong winds and plummeting temperatures pushed the resolidifiying ice into a blockade at the mouth of the Niagara River. Locals subsequently woke up on the morning of March 29 that year to the "eerie silence" of a completely frozen Niagara Falls. The falls remained suspended until the ice dam gave way after 30 hours.

The area's chilly winter climate has often caused at least partial freezing of the falls, most noticeably in the years of 1902, 1906, 1911, 1932, 1936, 2014, and 2017, although the annual installation of the Lake Erie-Niagara River Ice Boom ensures that the blockage that slowed everything to a halt in 1848 won’t happen again.

American Falls once was “turned off”

With concerns lingering about the ever-expanding talus beneath American Falls, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1969 erected a 600-foot-long cofferdam from mainland New York to Goat Island to investigate the situation more closely. The result was the unusual sight of a dried rock face where the falls had been, the dewatered cataract yielding millions of coins and allegedly a few unidentified bodies as well. Engineers took advantage of the situation to install electronic rockslide sensors and fortify the base with bolts and cables, although it was ultimately decided that the 280,000-cubic-yard talus could remain in place.

The Falls have been a popular honeymoon destination since the 1800’s

Niagara Falls' reputation as the "Honeymoon Capital of the World" can be traced to Theodosia Burr — daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr — and wealthy South Carolinian Joseph Alston, who celebrated their 1801 nuptials with a trip to the falls. Three years later, Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother Jerome and his American wife, Elizabeth Patterson, became the next high-profile newlyweds to visit the region. By 1841, the ubiquity of honeymooners in the area was referenced in the popular song "Niagara Falls," and its reputation was still going strong when the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce issued its first "honeymoon certificates" in 1949. Although exotic locales like Bora Bora or St. Lucia may prove more popular post-wedding destinations these days, it's been estimated that more than 50,000 couples still get married or celebrate their honeymoons at the falls every year.

They have attracted plenty of thrill seekers

Along with dewy-eyed newlyweds, Niagara Falls has attracted a disproportionate share of daredevils. After Sam Patch twice leapt from heights of 85-plus feet into the Niagara River in 1829, the area emerged as a hot spot for tightrope walkers in the second half of the 19th century. Retired schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor then became the first person to ride over the falls in a barrel in 1901, paving the way for more than a dozen thrill-seekers to try to follow or top her efforts. Among the success stories, Peter De Bernardi and Jeffery James Petkovich were the first duo to make the plunge together, and John "Super Dave" Munday was the first to survive two attempts. Then there's 7-year-old Roger Woodward, who was swept over the falls following a boating accident in 1960, but somehow lived to tell the tale.

Most of the Niagara River Flow Is Diverted for Hydroelectric Power

While the 3,160 tons of water shooting over the falls every second seem like a lot, it's nowhere close to the amount that would gush forth without human intervention. Thanks to the terms of the 1950 Niagara Diversion Treaty, just 50% of the Niagara River reaches the falls during daylight hours of tourist season, and only 25% flows through during nighttime and the offseason. The rest of this precious water is routed to massive plants such as the Sir Adam Beck and Robert Moses generating stations, which leverage the gravity of the Niagara Escarpment. While some purists undoubtedly would like to see the falls at their full, unfettered strength, the locals who receive 25% of all power used in New York state and Ontario from these stations likely wouldn’t argue with the current arrangement.

55 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page