Niagara Falls History

Niagara Falls is a footprint of the last Ice Age located between the Canadian and the United States border. It is approximately 120 km or 75 miles south east of the city of Toronto in Canada and 17 km or 27 miles north west of Buffalo, New York, USA. About two million years ago the Niagara region started experiencing major climatic changes. Glaciers that started in the north slowly shifted to the south and later formed the Great Lakes region. However, it was not until about 12,000 years ago that a gigantic glacier tore through the area destroying everything that stood in its way.

Huge torrents of water flowed over the Niagara escarpment and began to slowly cut into the cliff over which it poured. This continued for thousands of years and resulted in major rock erosion which caused the Falls to move several miles upstream forming what looks like a canyon. Six thousand years later the water started flowing around a gorge it met at a sharp bend in the river and this later resulted in what is known today as the Whirlpool Rapids.

The first settlers to Niagara came from south western Ontario between 1300 and 1400 AD. One of the earliest tribes was a group of natives called Oniguiaahra from which the name Niagara originated. The first European to arrive in Niagara was Etienne Brule in 1626. He was followed by several others but it was Louis Hennepin who recorded his findings in a book and later became famous as one of the first Europeans to have discovered Niagara Falls.

The French also had a notable presence in the region. In 1615 Samuel De Champlain arrived in Ontario and later on led a war party of Huron and Algonquin Indians against the Iroquois tribe. The Iroquois tribe was triumphant and continued to resist French settlement in the area. However, after great difficulty the French was later able to form an alliance with the Seneca Indians after their earlier attempts had failed miserably.

In 1759 the British now already in the region attacked the French at Fort Niagara and after nineteen days of fighting, the French surrendered. The British presence was also marred by destruction. The Massacre at Devils Hole brought about the slaughter of a wagon train of British soldiers and several reinforcements that came to the rescue. The British survivors rallied on and were responsible for the development of the first tramway system in the region. It was an engineer John Montresor who built a fort where Lake Erie and the Niagara River met and it was this fort that later became known as Fort Erie.

Several wars in the region never stopped the development of the limited available resources. With water being the major resource, power generation was one of the first choices for earning revenue. The Canadian Niagara Power Company was incorporated in 1892 and was an American based company. Its leader was William Birch Rankine and he was responsible for building the first hydro generating plant close the Horseshoe Falls located on the Canadian side of the border. The plant started generating electricity on 01st January, 1905. Called the Rankine Power Station, it started operations with two 10,000 horsepower generators. There is currently one power generating plant on the US side and two on the Canadian side with a third scheduled to come on stream in 2009.