Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is three waterfalls that straddle the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge.

Located on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America that has a vertical drop of more than 50 metres (160 ft). During peak daytime tourist hours, more than 168,000 m3 (six million cubic feet) of water goes over the crest of the falls every minute. Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by flow rate.

The features that became Niagara Falls were created by the Wisconsin glaciation about 10,000 years ago. The same forces also created the North American Great Lakes and the Niagara River. All were dug by a continental ice sheet that drove through the area, deepening some river channels to form lakes, and damming others with debris. Scientists argue there is an old valley, St David's Buried Gorge, buried by glacial drift, at the approximate location of the present Welland Canal.

Many figures have been suggested as first circulating a European eyewitness description of Niagara Falls. The Frenchman Samuel de Champlain visited the area as early as 1604 during his exploration of Canada, and members of his party reported to him the spectacular waterfalls, which he described in his journals. The Finnish-Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm explored the area in the early 18th century and is credited with the first scientific description of the falls. The consensus honoree for the first description is the Belgian missionary Louis Hennepin, who observed and described the falls in 1677, earlier than Kalm, after traveling with the explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, thus bringing the falls to the attention of Europeans. Further complicating matters, there is credible evidence the French Jesuit missionary Paul Ragueneau visited the falls some 35 years before Hennepin's visit while working among the Huron First Nation in Canada. Jean de Brebeuf also may have visited the falls, while spending time with the Neutral Nation.

Later that year, demand for passage over the Niagara River led to the building of a footbridge and then Charles Ellet's Niagara Suspension Bridge. This was supplanted by German-born John Augustus Roebling's Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge in 1855. After the American Civil War, the New York Central Railroad publicized Niagara Falls as a focus of pleasure and honeymoon visits. With increased railroad traffic, in 1886, Leffert Buck replaced Roebling's wood and stone bridge with the predominantly steel bridge that still carries trains over the Niagara River today. The first steel archway bridge near the falls was completed in 1897. Known today as the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, it carries passenger vehicles and trains between Canada (through Canadian Customs Border Control) and the U.S.A. just downstream of the falls.

A team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created a dam on the American Falls in June 1969 to clear rock from the base of the falls. Rock slides caused a significant buildup of rock at the bottom of the American side of the falls, and the engineers were to clean up the rock and repair some faults to prevent eventual erosion of the American side of the waterfall. A temporary dam was built to divert the flow of water to the Canadian side; the dam measured 600 ft (180 m) across and was made of nearly 30,000 tons of rock. The engineers cleared the rock debris and tested for safety, finishing the project in November of that year. Water flow was restored on November 25, 1969.

By 1896, financing from moguls including J.P. Morgan, John Jacob Astor IV, and the Vanderbilts had fueled the construction of giant underground conduits leading to turbines generating upwards of 100,000 horsepower (75 MW), sent as far as Buffalo, 20 miles (32 km) away. Some of the original designs for the power transmission plants were created by the Swiss firm Faesch & Piccard, which also constructed the original 5,000 hp waterwheels.

In August 2005 Ontario Power Generation, which is responsible for the Sir Adam Beck stations, started a major civil engineering project, called the Niagara Tunnel Project, to increase power production by building a new 12.7-metre (42 ft) diameter, 10.2-kilometre-long (6.3 mi) water diversion tunnel. It was officially placed into service in March 2013, helping to increase the generating complex's nameplate capacity by 150 megawatts. It did so by tapping water from farther up the Niagara River than was possible with the preexisting arrangement. The tunnel provided new hydroelectricity for approximately 160,000 homes.

Erosion control efforts have always been of extreme importance. Underwater weirs redirect the most damaging currents, and the top of the falls has also been strengthened. In June 1969, the Niagara River was completely diverted from the American Falls for several months through construction of a temporary rock and earth dam (clearly visible in the photo at right). During this time, two bodies were removed from under the falls, including a man who had been seen jumping over the falls, and the body of a woman, which was discovered once the falls dried.

On September 28, 1989, Niagara natives Peter DeBernardi (age 42) and Jeffery James Petkovich (age 25) became the first "team" to make it over the falls in a two-person barrel. The stunt was conceived by DeBenardi, who wanted to discourage youth from following in his path of addictive drug use. The pair emerged shortly after going over with minor injuries and were charged with performing an illegal stunt under the Niagara Parks Act.

Composer Ferde Grofe was commissioned by the Niagara Falls Power Generation project in 1960 to compose the Niagara Falls Suite in honor of the completion of the first stage of hydroelectric work at the falls. Each movement is dedicated to the falls, or to the history of the greater Buffalo region. In 1997, composer Michael Daugherty composed Niagara Falls, a piece for concert band inspired by the falls.

 

 


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