Niagara Falls—An Ageless Jewel of the Americas
By Awake! correspondent in Canada
“ONE of the most wondrous, beautiful, and stupendous scenes which the forces of nature have ever constructed!” exclaimed Lord Dufferin, governor-general of Canada, in a speech to the Ontario Society of Artists in Toronto. The year was 1878, and he was endorsing the formation of a public park to protect and preserve the “awe-inspiring characteristics” of Niagara Falls.
The majesty of this magnificent natural wonder is almost beyond description. What a delightful sight to behold! People from all parts of the world are drawn to view this ageless jewel of the Americas.
We learn from history that Europeans first learned of this “thunder of waters,” Niagara Falls, over three centuries ago. In 1644, Le Sieur Gendron, a French medical doctor, directly mentioned this spectacle in letters he sent to friends in France. Later, missionaries, traders, and explorers fueled the interest and imagination of others by their reports of a great thundering waterfall between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Niagara Falls actually consists of two waterfalls, situated on the border between Canada and the United States. The Horseshoe Falls is on the Canadian side, the American Falls on the U.S. side. To see this illustrious jewel of the Americas, the early travelers had to scramble through swampy gullies and along arduous Indian paths hewed out of the steep rocky canyon, which had been carved out by the river over millenniums of time.
Then came the entrepreneurs promoting a host of tourist attractions. The unchecked commercialism around such a spectacular natural wonder disturbed many. They wanted to take steps to preserve this ageless Niagara jewel. Landscape artist F. E. Church felt that commercialism was a distraction and thus unwelcome. One visitor in 1847 lamented: “Now the neighbourhood of the great wonder is overrun with every species of abominable fungus—the growth of rank bad taste.”
In the year 1832, E. T. Coke was moved to write: “Tis a pity that such ground was not reserved as sacred in perpetuum; that the forest trees were not allowed to luxuriate in all their wild and savage beauty about a spot where the works of man will ever appear paltry.” Perceptive men foresaw that commercialism could take root and destroy the delightful natural scenery that surrounded this wonder of Jehovah’s creation.
Today, because of the efforts of Lord Dufferin and other farsighted individuals, beautiful parks grace both sides of the Niagara River from the falls downriver to the Whirlpool Rapids below. The scenic beauty of this wonder of creation has been protected from unsightly commercialism. Thus, tourist attractions have been located back from the falls in the streets of the border cities. A more recent concern of environmentalists has been that this jewel of the Americas could be doomed to obscurity by relentless erosion.—See box on erosion.
Exploring the Ageless Jewel
We discovered that this spectacular wonder of the world can be explored and viewed from all possible angles without obstruction. For example, an exciting aerial view of the falls from one of the tall observation towers or from a helicopter hovering directly overhead is breathtaking. Or a pleasant walk or ride along the Niagara Parkway may be more appealing. The Whirlpool Rapids are only a short distance downriver from the falls and well worth a visit.
A trek down the cliffside and through tunnels will bring us “behind the scenes” under the falls. From here we peer out through the watery veil that makes the Horseshoe Falls so attractive and famous. The roar of the falls is deafening. For the hardy and adventuresome, the view from aboard one of the tour boats that regularly ply the turbulent waters near the base of the falls is unforgettable. As the thundering water plunges down to the river below, a mist ascends, producing a beautiful display of rainbows. With every new set of droplets, new rainbows are formed. From this vantage point, we can now taste the water and feel the mist as it descends over our protective clothing.
A Niagara Parks brochure stated: “To see the Falls of Niagara at Night is to be Wide Awake in the Land of Dreams.” Hence, we will not want to miss the illumination of the falls by various combinations of powerful colored lights at night. In the year 1860, when the Prince of Wales first saw the Falls illuminated, Nicholas A. Woods, a reporter for The Times of London, described the magnificence of this display as follows: “In an instant the whole mass of water, glowing vivid and as if incandescent in the intense light, seemed turned to molten silver. From behind the Falls, the light shone with such dazzling brilliancy that the waters immediately before it looked like a sheet of crystal glass, a cascade of diamonds, every bead and stream in which leapt and sparkled and spread a glare over the whole scene, like a river of phosphorous.”
A Winter Wonderland
The moisture we smell and feel in the summer air rises from the falls and contributes to the fresh and healthy appearance of flowers, shrubs, and trees that surround the falls. But in the winter, this same mist, carried by prevailing breezes, freezes and laminates with ice the trees and plants along the riverside. They glisten and sparkle in their transparent coat of ice. On a sunny day, they combine with the snow-covered landscape to frame the splendor of the falls in a dazzling, dancing display of reflective sunlight.
Winter also brings large ice floes into the narrow gorge of the Niagara River. In years gone by, the gorge would clog up with ice floes from Lake Erie. The ice would break up on the lake and flow down the Niagara River and over the falls in spectacular fashion and eventually pile up in the narrow gorge. This accumulation of ice floes created mountains of ice and snow until ice bridges were formed that completely spanned the river. In recent years a boom of steel cables and timbers has been installed across the entrance of the Niagara River at Lake Erie to prevent severe ice jams.
The Niagara Peninsula
Complementing the falls is the fertile Niagara Peninsula, a narrow piece of land between Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the Niagara escarpment. The combination of sheltering landscape and lakes creates a microclimate unique to the peninsula.
Air currents circulate between the escarpment and the lakes, moderating the climate in both winter and summer. Orchards of delicious apples, cherries, pears, plums, and peaches and vineyards of various types of grapes flourish in this protected, picturesque peninsula. Wineries and grape-juice plants, situated in charming little towns, process the fruitage of the vine and add to the distinctiveness of this region in Ontario. All of this makes for a pleasant tour through the countryside, especially during spring-blossom and fall-harvest seasons.
A Jewel in Every Season
This famous jewel of the Americas is a magnificent gift from God. (Compare Psalm 115:16.) It delights all who feast their eyes upon it.
Visitors can come at any season of the year and marvel at the variety of artistic handiwork in this creation of Jehovah. They can smell the refreshing aroma of the spring blossoms of the orchards, taste the variety of mouth-watering fruit, and see the delicate touch of our Creator in the rich, vibrant colors of a host of summer flowers, well watered by the mighty falls. Or they can see the brilliant autumn colors of the red maple tree among the golds and oranges of the many other trees native to southern Ontario.
Others will enjoy the splendor of Niagara Falls in the winter, when mountains of ice and snow accumulate at the base of the falls, and trees and shrubs are adorned with clean, white snow or coated with ice, glistening like fine crystal in the winter sunlight.
The Niagara Peninsula and the spectacular falls bring out the very best of the four seasons of the year and deepen our gratitude to Jehovah, who promised millenniums ago: “All the days the earth continues, seed sowing and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, will never cease.”—Genesis 8:22.
[Box on page 16]
Erosion of Falls How Controlled?
With the passage of time, erosion dooms waterfalls to nonexistence. In recent years erosion has been minimized to a rate of three inches [8 cm] a year for the Horseshoe Falls, and a mere one inch [2.5 cm] a year for the American Falls. This has been accomplished in two major ways: (1) by deepening the bed of the river and controlling the direction of the water flow away from the central channel and (2) by diverting large quantities of water through hydroelectric generators, thus decreasing the volume of water that spills over the falls. This is controlled by a dam upstream consisting of 18 sluice gates. Now only during the peak tourist months is there a full flow of water over the falls.
It is calculated that the Horseshoe Falls is about 173 feet [53 m] high and 2,600 feet [792 m] wide. The American Falls across the river is 182 feet [55 m] high and 1,000 feet [305 m] wide. The total unregulated volume of water going over both falls is estimated at about two million gallons [7.6 million l] per second.
[Box/Picture on page 18]
Funambulists and Stuntmen
The two most famous funambulists, or tightrope walkers, who crossed the Niagara River gorge numerous times were Blondin and Farini.
Blondin’s most spectacular stunt involved a sheet-iron cook stove that he carried out on the rope, set it down, lit a fire, and cooked an omelet. He cut the omelet into small pieces, which he lowered to passengers on the deck of the Maid of the Mist tourist boat, waiting far below.
Farini, not to be eclipsed, carried a washing machine out on the rope, set it down, drew water in a bucket from the river, and washed several ladies’ handkerchiefs. The laundry done, he hung it out to dry on the uprights and crossbars of the machine and returned with the handkerchiefs flapping in the breeze.
Stuntmen challenged the Horseshoe Falls by encasing themselves in barrels, balls, and other containers to ride over the falls. While some survived with injuries, many died from suffocation, drowning, or from dashing against the boulders at the base of the falls. These stunts are no longer permitted.
H. Armstrong Roberts
[Pictures on pages 16, 17]
The thunderous display of Horseshoe Falls, when experienced from a tour boat (in foreground), is unforgettable
The American Falls (bottom) and the Horseshoe Falls (top) in all their breathtaking beauty
A sparkling glaze of ice and snow surrounds the falls in winter
Niagara Parks Commission
An 1857 painting by Frederic Church [male] captured a rainbow
Frederic Edwin Church: NIAGARA/Corcoran Gallery of Art, Museum Purchase, 76.15