Niagara Falls now has a massive tunnel open.

Niagara tunnel

Since at least two centuries ago, Niagara Falls has been a whitewater wonder visited by everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Mark Twain. However, until last year, a sizable tunnel tucked down well below the waterfall was off-limits to tourists.

There are numerous chambers carved out of the rocks beneath the massive triple waterfall that spans the border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. These chambers were created to harness the ferocious natural forces thundering overhead.

And now, a tunnel on the Canadian side that was completed more than a century ago and measures 670 metres (2,198 feet) long has been opened up to show off the enormous scale of these engineering wonders.

It has been a part of the decommissioned Niagara Parks Power Station tour since July 2022, which started a year earlier. Exploring it provides an interesting look at the early efforts that aided in bringing this region of North America into the modern era.

The power plant, which ran from 1905 to 2006, used water from the massive Niagara River to power enormous generators that lit up the local economy and helped Buffalo, a port on the Great Lakes, earn the nickname “City of Light.”

According to station tour guide Elena Zoric, the area near the waterfall was once a hive of activity for businesses looking to profit from harvesting hydropower.

The first facility to open was the Adams hydroelectric power station, which ran on the US side from 1895 to 1961. On the Canadian side, the Toronto Power Generating Station ran from 1906 to 1974 and the Ontario Power Company from 1905 to 1999.

Blended architecture

More than a century ago, the 670-meter tunnel was hacked out of the rock. Parks Niagara
The Niagara Parks station is currently the only hydroelectric facility of its era that is still entirely intact. Alternating currents, which were then-state-of-the-art technology, were produced using Westinghouse generators when the Canadian Niagara Power Company originally ran it.

According to tour guide Zoric, the factory was constructed at a time when aesthetics were paramount. She claims that New York architect Algernon S. Bell made an attempt to make the building blend in with the falls with its rustic limestone facade and blue roof tiles.

In the past, cyclical blue generators used water pressure to produce energy. The Niagara Parks Zoric demonstrates where the water entered, where it flowed via a tunnel to a discharge point at the base of Horseshoe Falls, the biggest of Niagara’s three cascades, and finally where it poured down a shaft to power the turbines.

Since the project’s inception in 2017, Marcelo Gruosso, senior director of engineering and operations for the Niagara Parks Commission, has been involved.

Niagara Falls now has a massive tunnel open.


He walks through the high-ceilinged building to show out a row of blue, cylindrical generators that fill the room. “The factory began off with two generators and, by 1924, all 11 were constructed, which you see here today,” he adds.

Niagara Falls now has a massive tunnel open.
Gain new insight into the subterranean

The shale beneath the main producing chamber had to be dug out over the course of four years by tens of thousands of labourers who used pickaxes, explosives, lamps, and shovels.

Gruosso explains that when the water descended, it spun the turbine blades. They were joined to a 41-meter-long shaft that extended all the way up to the main floor and turned the alternator’s rotor, producing the AC power.

He nods toward chalky white lines that extend nearly to the top of the arched brick walls as he moves along the tunnel’s arched corridor.

He remarks, “You can see how high the water got. “The water in the tunnel moved at a speed of nine metres per second and held 71,000 litres.”

The fortress-like, gradually sloping tunnel is enclosed by shale and is constructed of four layers of brick and 18 inches of concrete.

Gruosso observes, “It’s incredible what they accomplished without electricity.

“It’s in fairly fantastic form, but we completed a few minor brick repairs and placed rock anchors to the arch to assure structural strength. Since it was constructed, maintenance has only been performed twice, in the 1950s and the 1990s.

In order to observe Niagara Falls, visitors can now step out onto a platform. – Niagara Parks
The air starts to rumble as the tunnel draws to a close. The trail leads to a 20-meter, river-level viewing platform that is virtually at the base of Horseshoe Falls, where natural light floods in. In order to be heard above the constant pounding, Gruosso must shout.

“This is where the tunnel’s water discharged into the river. The location is ideal for viewing the falls.

Visitors can also use the platform as a vantage point to observe the tourist boats bobbing like corks at the base of the falls as they are loaded with tourists wearing rain ponchos.

The power station and tunnel may be visited in about two hours, but an overnight stay is advised if you want to see the nighttime performance. The lodging options range from luxurious Fallsview hotels like the Hilton to cost-effective lodging options like the Days Inn.

In terms of dining, Niagara Falls used to be purely a hotdog and fries town. Fast food is still a thing, but the restaurant has improved. Restaurants within Niagara Parks, such Table Rock House Restaurant, as well as independent eateries, like AG, which serves food from its own farm, offer chef-inspired, regionally sourced meals.

The Niagara Parkway, which follows the Niagara River and may be explored on foot or with a rented e-bike, is also noteworthy. Whirlpool Lookout Point and the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station, a massive building by the river that today contributes to southern Ontario’s electricity grid, are two stops along the route.

There are various ways that visiting Niagara Falls may energise you. It is a beautiful natural setting, but it may also cause you to reevaluate the natural forces that continue to influence our contemporary lives.

It's the lively one, with a mind of its own.

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