Niagara Falls | History of the Falls and Escarpment

Majestic and spectacular, the Niagara Falls existed long before daredevils challenged them and tourists flocked here.

In fact, it is believed that the falls are approximately 12,000 years old, and there was a time when the the falls weren’t so grand.

Over the centuries, the natural wonder has transformed from a single waterfall at the edge of the Niagara Escarpment near Lewiston/Queenston about seven miles downstream to its current location. At the time, the falls was an estimated 40 feet tall and the flow was around a quarter of what it is today.

Visitors can see the birthplace of the falls from Queenston Heights Park, Ontario or the Earl Brydges Artpark State Park in New York.

At the entrance to Queenston Heights Park, guests are greeted by carpet bedding displays that the Brock and Laura Secord monuments. Queenston Heights Park is also home to Canada’s longest footpath, the Bruce Trail.

An important battle took place here during the War of 1812 when American and British troops fought for control of Canada. In the park area, on October 13, 1812, Major General Sir Issac Brock led his British troops to a victory against invading American soldiers. Brock was killed in the battle, and a monument was erected in the park to commemorate his life and role in protecting Canada from American domination.

The Earl Brydges Artpark State Park located in the Village of Lewiston and was created on the site of a former industrial waste dump. Lewiston Mound, an archaeological site on the National Register of Historic Places, is located on the park’s property.

When visitors see the birthplace of the falls, they can envision the long process of making it what it is today.

Around 4,200 years ago, the falls uncovered massive a pre-glacial gorge, which was essentially an ancient river valley gouged 300 feet into the bedrock. The gorge was buried with silt, sand, and stone by the glacial activity.

The falls reached a junction where the Niagara River crossed Saint David’s Buried Gorge and started to dramatically tear through the loosely packed filler. It is believed that the falls was just composed of muddy rapids at that time.

Within a few hundred years, it is thought that the falls carved out the Whirlpool Rapids. A fast recession left the gorge narrow and created ideal conditions for turbulence. A wider gorge and deeper pools were formed as the falls turned south.

Niagara Falls was still only a single waterfall when the first Europeans arrived in the United States. Around 600 years ago, the erosion reached Goat Island, which split the crest line into the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. As tourism became more popular in the early 1800s, the falls were noticeably receding, as much as two feet a year.

Today, erosion has slowed to rates that are barely measurable since most of the water flow is diverted for generating electricity. It is estimated that the falls just recede a few inches every 10 years.

Before exploring the Niagara Falls, visitors can experience the stories of the many daredevils who have challenged the falls and the gorge and see relics from their adventures are showcased, at the new Daredevil Gallery at Niagara IMAX Theatre. The daredevil exhibit features the world’s largest collection of Niagara Falls history, including actual barrels and artifacts along with the engaging stories of Niagara’s heritage and tales of the daredevils.

The natural splendor of Niagara Falls and the dramatic adventures of daredevils of the past are vividly presented in the IMAX movie, “Legends and Daredevils.” The exhilarating film details the remarkable vistas of the raging waters of Niagara Falls and tells the story of when Native peoples Native peoples worshipped the thunder spirits, and when the first European encountered the region. The movie also introduces viewers to daredevils like the Great Blondin, who completed a death-defying tightrope walk over the river in 1860, and Annie Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher who became the first person to plunge over the falls in a barrel.

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