How to see Niagara Falls without the soaking or the crowds

For more than a century, the imposing Beaux-Arts-style building beside Horseshoe Falls harnessed the powerful flow of the Niagara River to power western New York and southern Ontario.

Now Canada’s first major hydroelectric power station is the newest major tourist attraction on the Canadian side of the falls. Amidst a sea of ​​commercialized activities that include zip lines, casinos and an air-conditioned SkyWheel, the Niagara Parks Power Station offers visitors a unique perspective on one of the world’s most famous natural wonders.

The power plant was shut down in 2006 and sat dormant for years until the Niagara Parks Commission, the self-funded government agency that oversees the area, took over and embarked on a plan to bring it back to life as a tourist attraction. After a nearly $19 million renovation, the 65,000-square-foot main concourse opened to the public in July 2021, followed a year later by a walk-in tunnel ending on a grand platform with unparalleled views of the entire Niagara Gorge.

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The viewing platform at the end of the tunnel was the final touch of the restoration and is an important step in understanding the hydroelectric process from start to finish. Visitors descend in a glass elevator to the wheel pit, where they follow the same path that the spent water once took on its way back to the lower Niagara River. Here, close-up views of Horseshoe Falls highlight the power of the water and how it was used to generate electricity in the 1900s.

The plant, which began operating in 1905 using patents owned by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, is one of the few early 20th-century power plants to close with equipment intact. said Marcelo Gruosso, senior director of engineering and parks operations at the Niagara Parks Commission.

The people who worked at Canada’s Niagara Power Co. “took exceptional care and pride in it,” he said. “Everything you can think of was still there when it closed. They even left the drawing board.”

Gruosso and his team had access to 1,500 archival photos dating back to 1901, documenting “every step of the construction,” he said. This included the construction of a huge makeshift cofferdam to divert the roaring water from the site. More than a century later, workers used modern technology and tools to build a similar watertight enclosure to hold back the flow so they could reinforce the walls.

Then there’s the marvel of the Tailrace Tunnel (the channel that channeled the underwater back into the river), built in the early 1900s with little more than pickaxes, shovels, and rudimentary dynamite.

Engineers weren’t sure what they would find when they first explored the idea of ​​opening the tunnel to visitors. They built a revolving stage, a scaffolding platform similar to those used in high-rise window cleaning, that gave them access to the cavernous space beneath the power plant to assess the condition of the tunnel.

“When we saw how incredibly good the condition of the tunnel was after 100 years of use, we said, ‘Okay, we definitely have a winner here,'” he said.

On a recent visit, about a dozen visitors stood on the platform enjoying the sunny August morning and unobstructed views of Niagara Gorge. The Horseshoe Falls felt amazingly close, its rushing waters a soundtrack that made you want to linger. The Maid of the Mist and Hornblower boat rides, long a staple of Niagara tourism, zipped by, ferrying poncho-clad passengers to and from the base of the falls.

“It offers a whole new perspective of the lower Niagara River,” said David Adames, the commission’s executive director.

The power station is an easy walk from the Table Rock Centre, a premier shopping and dining hub in Queen Victoria Park, but it feels a far cry from the busy selfie-people that dominate the area. A landscaped walkway leads past a key element of the hydroelectric facility known as the exciter unit (now a blue and white art installation) to the main entrance. It’s the first hint that the upcoming experience could go beyond a typical nuts and bolts technical tour.

Inside, the light-filled “Generator Hall” features 51 large arched windows, limestone and granite floors, and the original 14-foot-high red brass doors, each weighing 3,500 pounds. Interactive exhibits, vintage photographs and repurposed artifacts show how the water entered the building via a 575-foot forebay and then flowed through giant steel pipes known as penstocks to spin the blades in turbines that power the generators to produce electricity drives.

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Visitors can opt for a self-guided or guided tour of the power plant’s main hall, which intersperses historical exhibits with interactive displays and original equipment such as motorized oil switches, giant wrenches, and all 11 AC generators (painted with a distinctive robin egg in blue). Computer-controlled screens connected to an original control panel allow children to test their hydropower knowledge and solve simulated emergencies. There are also exhibits detailing Nikola Tesla’s groundbreaking inventions and his famous “DC vs. AC War” with Thomas Edison; a hymn to scientists and employees; and a scale model of the facility as it appeared during peak operations.

The gift shop is also a must-visit, not only for its eclectic selection (Tesla socks, upcycled beer glasses, three-speed wall clocks), but also for its location next to a 100-foot stretch of the original forebay where water from the Niagara River flowed first in the power station. Visitors can look over a glass screen to observe the inner promontory, which uses underwater arches to filter incoming water into the facility before it passes through the penstocks.

Tonight, the power plant hosts Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed, an elegant, highly immersive light and sound show that brings the machines to life through music, special laser effects, and 3D mapping and imagery.

According to the commission, around 200,000 people visited the power plant in its first year of operation. With the tunnel opening in July, officials expect the number to increase to between 300,000 and 350,000 annual visitors, thanks in part to the attraction’s ability to appeal to a wide range of prospects, CEO Adames said.

“There are so many stories to tell, starting with those who are just curious about what’s behind those beautiful stone walls,” he added. “There’s the history of hydroelectric power generation, the history of the innovators at the turn of the century, the human history of the people who worked at the plant, and the competition of popular construction [power] Plants on both sides of the border. It has everything.”

Randall is a Los Angeles-based writer. your site is Author

Niagara Parks Power Plant

7005 Niagara Pkwy., Niagara Falls, Ontario

The Niagara Parks Power Station was Canada’s first large hydroelectric power station; It’s now a tourist attraction with interactive exhibits and repurposed devices that show visitors how the power of the Niagara River was harnessed to generate electricity. Open daily from 10 a.m.; Closing times vary. See website for details. Regular admission about $20 per person ages 13 and up; about $14 for ages 6 to 12; and children under 5 years old are free. Tours and admission from approximately $28 per person ages 13 and up and approximately $19 per person ages 6 to 12. Night shows from around $22 per person ages 13 and up and around $15 per person ages 6-12.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.

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