We can thank 17-year old Homan Walsh of Bellvue, N.Y. (now Niagara Falls, N.Y.) for helping engineers build the first bridge over the Niagara River above the escarpment at the Village of Elgin (now Niagara Falls, Ontario).
#1. Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge - 1848-1855
A group of engineers wanted to build a bridge in 1848 over the Niagara River, but wondered how they could get a cable across the river to start construction. The answer came to bridge engineer Charles Ellett Jr. in a dream. He would sponsor a kite flying contest and the first person to land a kite from one side of the river to the other would receive a prize of $5.00. Homan Walsh claimed that prize when he flew his kite from the U.S. side of the border to the Canadian side. The string of his kite was tied to a tree, a light cord attached to it, then a heavier cord and eventually a wire cable consisting of a number of strands of number ten wire. They were ready to start construction of a suspension bridge over the Niagara River.
The Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge was built at the narrowest point (800 feet) of the Niagara Gorge. On each side, wooden towers were erected and 1160 feet of cable were passed over them and securely anchored. The bridge was completed and officially opened on August 1, 1848. It had an oak plank roadway suspended from iron cables.
#2 The First Lewiston-Queenston Suspension Bridge - 1850-1854
This bridge was built 11 kilometres from the Falls to accommodate the many families who settled here after the War of 1812. The Bridge was destroyed by a gale on February 3, 1854.
#3 The Railway Suspension Bridge - 1855-1877
Seven years later, this bridge was dismantled and a new suspension bridge was built which held two levels for carriage and railway traffic. It was the first suspension bridge to hold the weight of a train.
The concept and development of this new railway suspension bridge was to be John Roebling’s work. In 1869 Roebling built the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, which still stands today.
#4 The New Suspension Bridge (or rather, redesigned second suspension bridge) - 1877 -1896
It was decided in 1877 to re-build the second suspension bridge. The reason: heavier trains were putting greater stress on the bridge creating safety concerns. A newer slicker designed bridge was capable of carrying an increased 300 to 350 tons. About all that remained of the second bridge were the anchorages and the cables which had both been completely over-hauled. In 1895, there was a call for a new steel arch type of bridge.
#5 Whirlpool Rapids Bridge (Lower Bridge) - 1897-present
This new bridge was built out from the gorge wall in cantilever form with two single-braced arches. There were two levels to this bridge: the lower bridge handled foot and vehicular traffic, and the second level handled rail traffic.
Today, the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is exclusively for Nexus users. The rail bridge carries Conrad and Via Rail train.
#6 The Cantilever Bridge - 1868-1889
This bridge was only ten feet wide, and traffic could pass only one way at a time. In 1887, the work of widening the bridge was commenced and on June 13, 1888 it was completed.
On the night of January 10, 1889, Niagara Falls experienced one of the most destructive storms to ever hit the area. When daylight came not a single inch of the bridge remained and the entire mass of the bridge lay bottom up in the gorge.
#7 The New Cantilever Bridge - 1889-1899
With surprising speed, the rebuilding of this bridge began almost immediately. This bridge had a road width of 17 feet. In less than 10 years this bridge became obsolete when it could not handle new electrically power street cars. In 1897, a new more modern Upper Steel Bridge opened and the New Cantilever bridge was demolished in 1899.
#8 The Second Lewiston Queenston Bridge - 1899-1962
I can remember this bridge located below thee Niagara Escarpment at Queenston. It was a commuter bridge connecting Queenston with Lewiston, N.Y. The more modern Lewiston-Queenston Bridge replaced this bridge years later.
#9 Upper Steel Arch Bridge (Honeymoon Bridge) - 1897-1938
This was the largest steel arch bridge in the world spanning 840 feet and featured a double track for trolley cars and room for horse carriages and passengers. It was a marvel of engineering for its time.
However, there was one fatal flaw. The abutments were extremely close to the river and on January 23, 1938, a huge windstorm blew chunks of ice down the river over the abutments. The bridge was closed and a few hours later the bridge collapsed into the river. There was no loss of life.
On November 1938, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission announced a new bridge was to be built and scheduled to open in 1941.
#10 Michigan Central Railway Steel Arch Bridge - 1925-present
This bridge was built just upstream from the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge (Lower Bridge). This bridge has been closed since 1979 when train tracks were removed. There is currently a wall across the centre of the bridge topped with barbed wire to prevent climbing. Now owned by the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario, the bridge was supposed to be demolished in 2012, but still stands today.
#11 The Rainbow Bridge - 1941-Present
This new bridge spans 950 feet and serves as a physical connection between Canada and the United States. At the time of its construction, it was the longest hingeless arch bridge in the world. The span consists of two steel box girder arches or ribs spaced 56 feet apart.
During construction, both shores were continuously lined with spectators interested in the performance of the bridge workers as they carried out their hazardous work.
This bridge and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge are extremely busy during the summer tourist months.
#12 The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge - 1962-Present
This bridge was built to replace the second Lewiston-Queenston Bridge located below the escarpment. While it is formally known as the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, most Canadians refer to it as the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge.
Built at a cost of $16 million, the design is the same as the Rainbow Bridge. The deck of the bridge is 370 feet above the Niagara River. The bridge provides direct four lane connection with the New York State Thruway and the Queen Elizabeth Highway.