While staying in the Toronto area, one of our first
outings was to run down to Niagara Falls to see one of the seven
natural wonders of North America. We figured that it being a
Thursday, we would have the Falls pretty much to ourselves.
Wrong! We forgot to take into account the fact that many of the
people were there for 4th of July and Canada Day (July 1). Ten
thousand people jammed the walkway along Niagara Falls Parkway,
cramming three and four deep against the retaining wall that ran
for over a mile along the edge of the escarpment on the Canadian
side. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and everybody was out and
about. It seemed that there was no place along the walkway, that
we could stand where we didn't hear some other language spoken,
besides English. There was also no place to park. We elected to use one of the distant
parking lots which aforded us an opportunity to ride one of the
famous "Red Rover" English style busses. The history of
the Falls is somewhat old, having started during the 4th glacial
ice age when the North American Great Lakes were gouged and
pressed by tons of ice forming and reforming. After the ice had
receded the last time, the gigantic holes left behind filled up
with water. Over time this water worked its way toward the
Atlantic Ocean in many ways, one of them being over the Niagara
Escarpment. This started some 20,000 years ago when the Falls
were believed to have been some 250 feet high. Year after year
the fast moving, ever pounding forces of the water carved away
the limestone and sedimentary rock causing the edge of the falls
to break away and crash down into the river below.
During the last 200 years, the Falls have been moving steadily upstream. The Horseshoe Falls has receded 865 feet since 1764. If this rate of recession were to continue, the American Falls would dry up in another century or so as the more rapidly moving Horseshoe captured all the water of the Niagara River. Man, however has changed the picture. Remedial works and dams have spread the flow of water more evenly over the two Falls. Power stations take up to 75% of the water. Recession is now less than one foot per year. It seams likely that these man-made changes, together with other projects to stabilize the American Falls will maintain the present appearance for many years to come. Indians have lived near the Falls ever since the ice has receded, though little is known about their daily lives. The first white man to write about this natural wonder was a Frenchman named Samuel de Champlain in 1064, who reported it as it was told to him by the local inhabitants. The first white man to actually see the falls is believed to be a Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollect priest from Spanish Netherlands who in 1683 recorded his observations of a waterfall that could be heard from miles away, and who's plume or mist could also be seen for miles.
The Falls have always been an attraction for mankind but after the War of 1812, the Falls really came into their own as a tourist attraction. By 1820 there were three hotels catering to the needs of the visitors. Very quickly, the Falls became synonymous with dare-devil stunts. The very first recorded one was in 1827 and was arranged by the hotel owners, who acquired the Lake Eire Schooner "Michigan" , filled it with a dozen or so wild animals and sent it over the falls before a crowd of some 10,000. The first person to actually go over the Falls was Sam Patch. He erected a flimsy 100-foot tower at the foot of Goat Island which runs between the American and Horseshoe falls and made two leaps from the tower into the Niagara River. He hit the water at 60 mph. Anything less than a perfect feet-first entry would have been fatal. He lived to try the stunt 2 times before moving on to other things. The first person to go over the Falls in a barrel was actually a woman. In 1901, a schoolteacher, Mrs. Annie Taylor, made the decision to try for fame and glory by going over the Falls in a barrel. Not sure of her success, she decided to send the barrel over the Falls first and see what happened. She added her cat as a last minute thought. The barrel made it, the cat didn't. Undaunted, on October 4th, her ample body was lowered into a airtight barrel which had been beefed up with addition straps and padding, screwed down the lid and added some air. Within seconds she was off bouncing off rocks as the rapids carried her up and over the Falls. She described the ride as the most awful jostle she had ever experienced and the fall just a blank as she lost consciousness upon hitting the water. For 17 minutes her limp body flopped around in the air tight barrel until it traversed the Canadian shore and was hauled in. Dazed but alive, Anne Taylor walked away to a cheering crowd, the first person every to go over the Falls and survive. Thus the stunts of dare-devils were started, to continue on over the years. Although new regulations provide for a maximum fine of $10,000 for stunting on the Niagara River, it hasn't deterred the really determined stunters. Some stunts were well thought out, others were not so well planned. The last dare-devil to tempt fate and the heights of the Falls was Robert Overacker, a social reformer from California who, desiring to draw attention to the plight of the homeless, decided to shoot off the top of the Falls on a jet ski then descend on a rocket propelled parachute to a safe landing some 156 feet beyond the rocks. He also became the latest fatality when his chute failed to open. Not withstanding the fun and excitement of the entertainment that the Falls has created, the raw natural power exerted by such a mass of water all falling a tremendous distance to the river below is awe inspiring. It is worth the trip just to stand and feel the strength of this uncontrollable force. By all means, see it from the Canadian side. That way you are facing the falls, not standing beside them.
*** THE END ***