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The History of Niagara Falls: From Indigenous roots to a tourist haven

Niagara Falls, one of the world’s most breathtaking natural wonders, boasts a rich and captivating history. From the geological forces that shaped its formation to the cultural significance for Indigenous peoples and the development of tourism and hydroelectric power, the history of Niagara Falls is as dynamic and powerful as the falls themselves. Scroll through to learn about how the Falls were formed and their impact on the local community.

From Glaciers to waterfalls: The formation of Niagara Falls

If we have one natural formation to thank for the grandeur of Niagara Falls, it is the Wisconsin Glaciation. At the end of the last Ice Age, its glaciers began to recede, carving out the basins that would become the Great Lakes. Water melted from the glaciers, flowed into these newly formed lakes, and began to drain from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, creating the Niagara River.

The flow of water started to erode the steep slope of the Niagara Escarpment, creating a waterfall at Queenston-Lewiston. However, the bedrock's erosion caused by the Niagara River's powerful flow gradually receded Niagara Falls to its current location.

Important events throughout the years

19th Century

  • 1842: English novelist Charles Dickens visits Niagara Falls during a North American tour with his wife.
  • 1846: The first Maid of the Mist steamboat begins ferrying passengers near the falls.
  • 1848: An ice jam causes the Niagara River to stop flowing temporarily, resulting in an eerie silence that replaces the thundering of the Falls.
  • 1859: Charles Blondin, a French tightrope walker, crosses the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope.

20th Century

  • 1901: School teacher Annie Edson Taylor becomes the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
  • 1953: 26-year-old Marilyn Monroe stars in the film Niagara, boosting Niagara Falls’ popularity as a film location.
  • 1960: Roger Woodward survives a plunge over Niagara Falls after a boating accident.
  • 1974: The film The Great Niagara, about an old man’s obsession with conquering the Niagara River and Niagara Falls, is released.

21st Century

  • 2003: Kirk Raymond Jones survives an unprotected plunge over Horseshoe Falls. But he died when he tried to go over Niagara Falls again with a plastic ball in 2017.
  • 2012: Nik Wallenda becomes the first person to walk a tightrope stretched directly over Niagara Falls.
  • 2017: Renowned trapeze and aerial artist Erendira Wallenda hangs by her teeth from a helicopter over Niagara Falls.

The Indigenous history of Niagara Falls

How the Falls became a hydroelectric powerhouse

Niagara Falls today




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Frequently asked questions about Niagara Falls’ history

How were Niagara Falls formed?

Niagara Falls were formed around 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Retreating glaciers created the Great Lakes and carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment. Water from the lakes flowed through this path, creating the powerful waterfalls we see today.

Who were the first people at Niagara Falls?

The first people at Niagara Falls were the Indigenous peoples of the region, including the Neutral, Erie, and Iroquois tribes, who considered the falls a sacred place.

Who was Annie Edson Taylor, and why is she famous?

Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. At the age of 63, she completed this daring stunt on October 24, 1901.

What are some famous stunts performed at Niagara Falls?

Several daredevils have attempted stunts at Niagara Falls, including Charles Blondin, who crossed the falls on a tightrope in 1859, and Nik Wallenda, who did the same in 2012.

Are there any legends or folklore associated with Niagara Falls?

Several Indigenous legends and folklore are associated with Niagara Falls. One is about the Maid of the Mist, a woman who sacrificed herself to the falls to appease the thunder god Heno.

Have movies been filmed at Niagara Falls?

Yes! Niagara Falls has been featured in numerous movies, including the 1953 film Niagara starring Marilyn Monroe.

When did hydroelectric power generation start at Niagara Falls?

The first hydroelectric power plants at Niagara Falls were built in the 1890s, marking the beginning of harnessing the falls for electricity.

What is the Battle of Niagara?

The Battle of Lundy's Lane, also known as the Battle of Niagara, was a significant battle site during the War of 1812, which took place along the Niagara River between United States and British forces.

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