Niagra Falls

Through the Ages – Niagara Falls

“Although it was wonderful to see all that water tumbling down, it would be even more wonderful to see all that water tumbling up.” Mark Twain

One of the most spectacular and well-visited landmarks of the world, Niagara Falls is a breathtaking site whichever way the Falls fall!

The first people to see this magnificent site were the Clovis people, hunters that lived on the shore of Lake Erie, Canada in tiny huts. They made the most of the corn, bean and squash that could be found in the area as well as the deer, moose and fish. But it wasn’t until the European explorers came to the area that it began to cause a stir.

French explorers such as Jacques Cartier heard of the Falls in 1535 from Indians he met along the River Lawrence but never actually saw them. No record shows of the first European to see the falls but it is widely thought to have been Etienne Brule.

Etienne was certainly the first European to see the Great Lakes of Ontario, Huron and Superior in 1615 and it is very likely that he carried on to the magnificence of Niagara.

The name Niagara comes from the Iroquis name for the river Onguiaahra and although Etienne and other French explorers saw the falls the Indians kept white settlers out of the Niagara area until the American Revolution.

In December 1678 the Falls were seen by a priest, Louis Hennepin and he published the first engraving of Niagara nineteen years later after his travels were complete. The engravings caused quite an impression, particularly as it showed the falls to be 183 metres, which is more than three times their actual size! Guess that’s what you call artistic license.

Many more people began to come to the area and settled it and as they did so, news of the magnificence of the falls spread.

A staircase was built down the bank at Table Rock in the 1820’s and a ferry began to operate across the river. A paved road was built and the site became the location for a hotel called the Clifton.

The Welland Gorge was completed in 1829 and thirteen bridges were constructed across the Niagara River Gorge between 1849 and 1962. Only four of these bridges remain today.

Tourism began in the 1820’s and many people stayed in the grand hotels that dotted the area. Daredevils began to arrive at the Falls, keen to show that they were more powerful than the water itself and some went over in barrels, some walked over on tightropes. The area became well known for its beauty but also for the amazing stunts that took place.

The first person to attempt to cross the Niagara River was Sam Patch. Jumping from a flimsy 100-foot tower he travelled at more than 60 miles per hour. The stunt didn’t pull in as many crowds as Sam had hoped and he moved his operation to the Genessee River where he lost his life on his third jump.

Perhaps the most famous daredevil was the Great Blondin. Jean Francois Gravelet was a professional tightrope walker. He developed his skills under the direction of the Circus Master P.T. Barnum.

The Great Blondin’s announcement that he was going to cross the river was met with disbelief. But at exactly 5pm in the afternoon of June 30th he stepped on his tightrope and carrying a 40-foot balancing pole, made his way across the river.

Watchers stared in amazement as he deftly trotted along on the tightrope and at one stage he even lowered the rope to the Mad of the Mist boat below and pulled up a bottle to take a drink.
As if that wasn’t enough, nearing the end of the rope on the Canadian side of the Falls, the Great Blondin suddenly paused and did a back flip. Women fainted, men screamed and it was with much relief and adulation that the small French man was greeted as he stepped off his tightrope.

Blondin quickly became famous and when he performed for the Prince of Wales offered to carry the Prince over the river on his back. The Prince declined but Blondin did the stunt a number of times with less royal helpers!

A number of copycat daredevils appeared after Blondin made the Falls his own and although some were quite good, none grabbed the attention of the public in the same way as Blondin had. He quit his shows at the Falls and moved to London where he died peacefully at the age of 73 after thrilling audiences for many years.

Another well-known daredevil is Annie Taylor. She was the first person ever to go over the Falls in a barrel. For some reason she told the press that she was 43 years of age when she performed her stunt but in actual fact she was 63 years old!

She was strapped into a wooden barrel, taken out into the river by boat and cut loose. The barrel careered through the rapids and plunged over the falls as watchers held their breath.
17 minutes after going over the Falls, the barrel was scooped in to land and Ann emerged from the barrel, alive and well if slightly dazed, confused, cold and wet.

Annie famously said, “No one ought ever to do that again”!

But others did follow suit and after many injuries and deaths, the Park Authority banned barrel stunts in 1947 and all other stunts in 1967.

Most people that visit the Falls are blown away by the sheer force of the water and the rapids. Most stand and take pictures, watch from afar or get a little closer to the action on boats like the Maid of the Mist. Some even walk behind the Falls and get a better idea of the force of the water.

But some people get even closer than they had anticipated and it was on July 9th 1960 that something amazing happened.

A boat carrying Jim Honeycutt, 17 year old Deanne Woodward and 7-year-old Roger Woodward developed engine trouble in Niagara River. It capsized and all three were plunged into the rapids. Jim went over the rapids and was killed. Roger went over the Canadian Falls and his sister Deanne was being swept towards the brink of the Falls.

Miraculously Deanne was able to grab the thumb of John R Hayes. He had climbed over the rail and Deanne claims his pleasing voice made her swim harder. Managing to grab John’s thumb just before she was about to go over the edge, Deanne was pulled to safety by John. He was helped by another man, John Quattrochi, who had heard shouts for help and had also climbed over the railing.

At the same time, Roger was plunging over the Horseshoe Falls… and was pulled out alive! He was spotted in the waters below the Falls by a crewmember on the Maid of the Mist boat. After two unsuccessful throws, a life preserver landed close enough to Roger so that he could grab it. He was pulled out of the raging water with slight concussion and a story to pass on to his grandchildren.

Thousands of tourists flock to Niagara Falls every year and it is as beautiful in the winter as in the summer, the night as in the day; truly a wonder of the world.


The Horseshoe Falls is on the Canadian side of the border.
The depth of the river at the base of the Falls is higher than the Falls itself.
Its depth is estimated at 184 ft (56 metres)
The Canadian Falls is 170 ft (52 metres) high
The flow of the water over the edge is estimated at more than 168,000 cubic metres
The crestline of the Falls is estimated to be 22000 ft (675 wide)

The American Falls
The height of the falls is 180 ft (56 metres)
The crestline is 1075 ft (328 metres)
It is estimated that 75,000 gallons of water flow over the falls every second

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