Niagara Falls - Unique Places Around the World

Niagara Falls separates Canada and the United States.

Niagara Falls is a collection of three waterfalls crossing the border between Canada and the United States. The waterfalls are situated between the province Ontario (Canada) and the state of New York (US). The three waterfalls, listed from the largest to the smallest, are the Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. The falls have the highest flow rate in the world, with a vertical drop of over 160 feet. Of the three falls, Horseshoe Falls has the most powerful flow rate in North America. The falls is not only famed for its beauty, but also as an important source of hydroelectric power and recreational site.

Geology and Characteristics

Niagara Falls Waterfall

The feature that became Niagara Falls was formed about 10,000 years ago by Wisconsin glaciations. It was dug by the ice sheet that drove through the area. As the ice thawed, the waters of the Great Lakes were emptied into the Niagara River, which then flowed through the newly formed topography across the Niagara Escapement. The annual thawing and freezing of the Niagara River wore the rocks bed and slow erosion accompanied with periodic rockfalls slowly moved Niagara Falls further upstream. About 11,000 years ago, the falls were situated between Queenston and Lewiston, but continued erosion has caused the waterfalls to retreat about 6.9 miles towards the south. The Horseshoe Falls is about 2,600 feet wide and drops about 188 feet. The American Falls drops between 70 and 100 feet due to the presence of the boulders at the base. During peak flows, about 225,000 cubic feet of water approaches the falls per second, while the annual flow is about 85,000 cubic meters per second.


There are several theories on how the name of the falls came about. According to Bruce Trigger, the name “Niagara” was derived from a branch of natives described as “Niagagarega” people. However, George R Stewart suggested the name came from a town known as “Ongniaahra,” which means “point of land cut into two.” Niagara Falls was most likely first sighted by the local Americans who lived in the Niagara region. The first European to document the area was Father Louis Hennepin, a Belgian priest who marveled at the size and beauty of Niagara Falls. Louis' book titled A New Discovery brought the falls to the attention of the the rest of the world, inspiring further exploration of the region. The development of the rail system in the 19th and 20th centuries opened Niagara Falls to tourism, with the falls becoming a popular honeymoon destination in early the 1800s.

Niagara Falls from Helicopter view
Niagara Falls from a Helicopter view

Economic Impact

Niagara Falls is a major source of hydroelectric power. Efforts to harness power from the falls began as early as 1759, with the building of a small canal to power a sawmill. Today, several hydropower plants have been built along the Niagara River by both the US and Canadian authorities. Some of the hydropower stations along the river include the Sir Adam Beck and the Robert Moses Niagara Power Station. About 4.4 gigawatts of power is generated by the stations along the Niagara River. Niagara Falls is also an important route frequented by ships. The international bridges over the Niagara Falls connect several cities including those in Ontario and New York. The falls is also an important source of water for industries located within the Niagara Valley, such as steel and grain mills.


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