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 like a giant bulldozer, deepening some river channels to make lakes, and damming others with debris. When the ice melted, the upper Great Lakes emptied into the Niagara River, which followed the re-arranged topography across the Niagara Escarpment. In time, the river cut a gorge through the north facing cliff, or cuesta. Because of the interactions of three major rock formations, the rocky bed did not erode evenly. The top rock formation was composed of erosion-resistant limestone and Lockport dolostone. That hard layer of stone eroded more slowly than the underlying materials. Immediately below the hard-rock formation, comprising about two thirds of the cliff, lay the weaker, softer, sloping Rochester Formation (Lower Silurian). This formation was composed mainly of shale, though it has some thin limestone layers. It also contains ancient fossils. In time, the river eroded the soft layer that supported the hard layers, undercutting the hard cap-rock, which gave way in great chunks. This process repeated itself countless times, eventually carving out the Falls. The original Niagara Falls were near the sites of present-day Queenston, Ontario and Lewiston, New York, but erosion of their crest has caused the waterfalls to retreat several miles southward. At the Falls' current location, Goat Island splits the course of the Niagara River, resulting in the separation of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls to the west from the American and Bridal Veil Falls to the east. Although engineering techniques has slowed erosion and recession in this century, the Falls will eventually recede far enough to drain most of Lake Erie, the bottom of which is higher than the bottom of the Falls. Engineers are working to reduce the rate of erosion to postpone this event as long as possible
There are differing theories as to the origin of the name of the Falls. According to Iroquoian scholar Bruce Trigger, "Niagara" is derived from the name given to a branch of the locally residing native neutral Confederacy, who are described as being called the "Niagagarega" people on several late 17th century French maps of the area. A number of figures have been suggested as first circulating an eyewitness description of Niagara Falls. 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. Finnish-Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm explored the area in the early 1700s and wrote of the experience. The consensus honoree is Belgian Father Louis Hennepin, who observed and described the Falls in 1677, earlier than Kalm, after traveling with explorer Rene Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, thus bringing the Falls to the attention of Europeans. Further complicating matters, there is credible evidence that French Jesuit Reverend 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. During the 18th century tourism became popular, and by mid-century, it was the area's main industry. Demand for passage over the Niagara River led in 1848 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 vehicles, trains, and pedestrians between Canada and the U.S.A. just below the Falls. In 1941 the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission completed the third current crossing in the immediate area of Niagara Falls with the Rainbow Bridge, carrying both pedestrian and vehicular traffic between the two countries. After the First World War, tourism boomed again as automobiles made getting to the Falls much easier. The story of Niagara Falls in the 20th century is largely that of efforts to harness the energy of the Falls for hydro electric power, and to control the development on both sides that threaten the area's natural beauty.
Niagara Falls is divided into the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls. The Horseshoe Falls drops 173 feet (53 m), the height of the American Fallsvaries between 70-100 feet (21 m) because of the presence of giant boulders at its base. The larger Horseshoe Falls are about 2,600 feet (792 m) wide, while the American Fallsare 1,060 feet (323 m) wide. The volume of water approaching the falls during peak flow season is 202,000 cubic feet per second (5,720 m³/s). Since the flow is a direct function of the Lake Erie water elevation, it typically peaks in late spring or early summer. During the summer months, 100,000 cubic feet per second (2,832 m³/s) of water actually traverses the Falls, some 90% of which goes over the Horseshoe Falls, while the balance is diverted to hydroelectric facilities. This is accomplished by employing a weir with movable gates upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. The Falls flow is further halved at night, and during the low tourist season in the winter, water diversion is regulated by the 1950 Niagara Treaty. The falls face directly toward the Canadian shore. Thus, the most complete views of Niagara Falls are available from the Canadian shoreline.
FOR MORE THINGS TO DO WHILE VISITING NIAGARA FALLS,
visit these webpages for information about:
Niagara Falls Fireworks and Falls Illuminations
Niagara Falls Attractions
Niagara Falls Family Fun
Niagara Falls Shopping
Niagara Falls Casinos
Niagara Falls Wineries
Niagara Falls Nite-Life
Niagara Falls Golf Courses
Niagara Falls Weather
Niagara Falls Transportation