Niagara Falls is rich with fascinating history, from battles, to daredevils, the history of Niagara Falls is interesting. Visitors are often surprised by Niagara’s fascinating history and rich cultural heritage. The War of 1812 was a turning point in Niagara Falls history, when the fledgling United States army fought British Loyalists for the new lands that would become Canada. Niagara historical sites, battlefields, museums and military re-creations are a memorable journey into the past.
From Fort Erie, south of Niagara Falls, to Niagara-on-the-Lake, north of Niagara Falls, you can visit the past, carefully restored and recreated. At Fort Erie, authentically dressed guides in 1812 period costume re-create life in this former British garrison. Fort Erie was also an entry point for freedom-seeking black slaves escaping persecution in the U.S. The point of entry into Canada from Buffalo, across the Niagara River, was known as “The Crossing” and the start of the Freedom Trail, part of the Underground Railroad.
There are innumerable stops for those interested in the history of the area including Brock’s Monument, a tribute to the British General who lost his life at the Battle of Queenston in 1812; Old Fort Niagara with fortifications from the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries; and Fort George, the British headquarters during the War of 1812.
OTHER INTERESTING FACTS FROM NIAGARA FALLS’ HISTORY
- Niagara Falls received its reputation as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World” when Aaron Burr’s daughter-Theodosia-chose a Niagara Falls honeymoon in 1801. She was followed up by Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, in 1804 and thus, a tradition was born. Now over 50,000 Niagara honeymoons are arranged each year.
- In 1848, Niagara Falls actually stopped flowing for 30 hours when ice fields from Lake Erie jammed at the source of the river.
- Marilyn Monroe visited the falls to film portions of the thriller Niagara Falls, released in 1953. Other notable visitors have included King George the V in 1939 and Princess Diana with her sons in 1991. Read about some of these visits on our blog.
- The first person to attempt to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was a 63-year-old woman. Seeking fame and fortune, schoolteacher Annie Taylor loaded herself – and her cat – up in a barrel and descended over the falls in 1901. She survived. A new Niagara Daredevil exhibit, with barrels and all, is available at the IMAX Niagara Theatre.
THE OLD SCOW
The dumping scow that can be seen marooned in the upper rapids just above the Falls and opposite the Floral Showhouse, has been there since August 6, 1918. It is an aging reminder of near tragedy and a spectacular rescue.
The steel barge was loaded with rock and had two men on board – Gustav Lofberg and James Harris. The scow was being towed to the upper river by a Hydro tug when its tow line broke and it set adrift. Fortunately, the men thought to open the dumping hatches in the bottom of the craft and the scow was grounded 767 m (838 yd) from the brink of the falls, where the men were surrounded by teacherous rapids.
Frantic efforts were made to rescue the men all that night and until late the next day. Finally a breeches-buoy was rigged from a powerhouse on shore to the rig. After several attempts were made to throw a line across to the rig the line became tangled, preventing the buoy from reaching the barge.
William “Red” Hill Sr., a famous Niagara River daredevil volunteered to swing himself out to the obstruction hand-over-hand above the raging water. The breeches-buoy finally reached the scow and the men aboard were rescued.
Today, the steel barge is now a part of the Niagara legend and a favourite resting spot for gulls.
Niagara Falls has attracted visitors from around the world for centuries – politicians, celebrities and world leaders have all been drawn here to see this natural wonder in person. Niagara Parks has welcomed not only VIPs but many motion picture stars and television productions as well, including Marilyn Monroe, Christopher Reeve and Drew Barrymore. Stories, poems and songs have also been written to describe the Niagara experience to the world. Here are just a few!
King George VI, 1939
Princess Margaret, 1958
Shirley Temple, 1944
Charles Dickens wrote
“It was a miserable day; chilly and raw; a damp mist falling; and the trees in that northern region quite bare and wintry. Whenever the train halted, I listened for the roar; and was constantly straining my eyes in the direction where I knew the Falls must be, from seeing the river rolling on towards them; every moment expecting to behold the spray. Within a few minutes of our stopping, not before, I saw two great white clouds rising up slowly and majestically from the depths of the earth. That was all. At length we alighted: and then for the first time, I heard the mighty rush of water, and felt the ground tremble underneath my feet.”
The bank is very steep, and was slippery with rain, and half-melted ice. I hardly know how I got down, but I was soon at the bottom, and climbing, with two English officers who were crossing and had joined me, over some broken rocks, deafened by the noise, half-blinded by the spray, and wet to the skin. We were at the foot of the American Fall. I could see an immense torrent of water tearing headlong down from some great height, but had no idea of shape, or situation, or anything but vague immensity.
When we were seated in the little ferry-boat, and were crossing the swollen river immediately before both cataracts, I began to feel what it was: but I was in a manner stunned, and unable to comprehend the vastness of the scene. It was not until I came on Table Rock, and looked — Great Heaven, on what a fall of bright-green water! — that it came upon me in its full might and majesty.” American Notes, 1842
Mark Twain wrote:
“NIAGARA FALLS is a most enjoyable place of resort. The hotels are excellent, and the prices not at all exorbitant. The opportunities for fishing are not surpassed in the country; in fact, they are not even equaled elsewhere. Because, in other localities, certain places in the streams are much better than others; but at Niagara one place is just as good as another, for the reason that the fish do not bite anywhere, and so there is no use in your walking five miles to fish, when you can depend on being just as unsuccessful nearer home. The advantages of this state of things have never heretofore been properly placed before the public.” Niagara by Mark Twain From “Sketches New and Old” 1903, Samuel Clemens
Nikola Tesla designed the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, New York which started producing electrical power in 1895. This was the beginning of the electrification of the United States and the rest of the world. Today, Tesla’s AC electricity is lighting and powering the globe. Nikola Tesla is the genius who lit the world.
Now, the inventor of alternating current has a permanent tribute overlooking the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls, Canadian side.
As a boy, Tesla saw a picture of Niagara Falls and told his uncle in Lika, Croatia, that he wanted to put a wheel under the falls to harness the power of the moving water.
This great monument of Nikola Tesla at Niagara Falls, Canadian side, is one of greatest recognition of Nikola Tesla’s work. Tesla designed the first hydro-electric power plant at Niagara Falls and with George Westinghouse started the electrification of the world. This monument is built in one of the most beautiful and most important place in the world.
This great achievement was possible through the wisdom and efforts of:
Tesla Committee, “St. George” Serbian Orthodox Church at Niagara Falls,
Canadian Government, the Government of the Republic of Serbia,
Niagara Falls Park Commission, Ted Salci the Mayor of the City of Niagara Falls, the Serbian Community in Niagara Falls, Canada, Sculptor Les Drysdale, the Canadian Media, Radio-Television Serbia (who broadcasted this great event live), and many more individuals and organizations who helped make this monument possible.