Niagara Falls: Water, Wine, and Miracles

Did You Know That Niagara Falls Is Full Of  Water, Wine, and Miracles?

Niagara Falls: Water, Wine, and Miracles
Niagara Falls with the “Maid of the Mist” ship in the foreground

It’s often associated with being a popular wedding and honeymoon venue. Or with the shops, games, rides, exhibits, and parks that make it a tailor-made destination for family vacations and school field trips. And let’s not forget that as one of the most powerful and accessible waterfalls in the world, it’s simply magnificent to look at. But how much do you really know about this natural wonder beyond the obvious? We thought we’d gather a few interesting facts about the place that might inspire you to consider it for your next vacation. After all, we are offering Niagara Falls tours for every season (and it’s still not too late to make your reservation! Hint, hint.) Enjoy the water, the wine and the miracles at the Falls!

Fact #1: Think the force of that water is strong? You don’t know the half of it

Niagara Falls: Water, Wine, and Miracles
Niagara Falls, NY

It thunders. It pummels. It roars. The force of the water at Niagara is so strong, in fact, that until recently, it was eroding its own bedrock base away at the rate of 1 to 3 feet a year. But what many people don’t realize is that Niagara Falls is only running at partial capacity. That’s right: even during peak tourist season, you are only seeing half of its natural 1,500,000-gallons-a-second volume pouring over the Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil Falls. And at night and in non-peak months, that number is often reduced to as low as 25% of capacity. Why? The answer is simple: because for years, clever Canadian and American engineers have been harnessing its waters as a source of hydroelectric power, funneling some of the water away from the Falls to use in a great circuit of canals and tunnels to regulate power generation and to lower the Falls’ erosion rate. Drive a bit downstream of the Falls and you’ll see the massive plants on either side of the river. They are open to visitors, so you can get tours that will show you the massive turbines and machinery that are used in the process, which are wonders in themselves.

Fact #2: It’s the home of the original Boy Who Lived (long before Harry Potter!)

So when we’re talking about “The Boy Who Lived”, we’re not talking about Harry Potter. But who we are talking about is Roger Woodward, the little boy who at age 7 became the first person to plunge over the Falls with nothing but a life jacket, and live to tell the tale. And although he’s not a wizard, we think there must have been some bit of magic or miraculous serendipity involved in his survival story. In the summer of 1960, Woodward, who had just moved to Niagara Falls with his family, was on a boat trip with his older sister and a family friend upstream of the Falls. It was his first time on a boat. He didn’t know how to swim. Much to the group’s horror, the boat seized and capsized, throwing them all into the water. Caught in the fierce current, they were pulled quickly downstream towards the Falls. Woodward’s sister was rescued from the river’s edge before she fell; the family friend was lost; but young Richard managed to survive the harrowing event relatively unscathed, with just a few scratches and a concussion. Scientists have tried to explain his luck, but many people at the time called it a miracle. He became such an object of local attention and curiosity, in fact, that his family moved away so he could escape growing up as “The Boy Who Lived.” (And it worked: Woodward now lives a quiet, semi-retired life as a real estate agent in Huntsville, Alabama.)

Fact #3: Harriet Tubman Crossed Here or, Niagara Falls on the Underground Railroad

It’s become a much-debated fact of late whether or not Harriet Tubman, the “Moses of Her People,” led escaping slaves to their freedom across the railway suspension bridge (now the Whirlpool Rapids bridge) near the Falls in the mid-

19th Century. Some suggest she might have used a bridge further down the river, but one thing can’t be disputed: in recounting stories from her days as an active abolitionist, Tubman described at least one trip leading slaves across a railway suspension bridge somewhere in view of mighty Niagara Falls. And every successful trip to safety was a little bit miraculous. But regardless of Tubman’s specific involvement, Niagara was an undisputed hotspot for crossings and Underground Railroad operations until after America’s Civil War, and was certainly strengthened by the area’s abolitionist tendencies: its neighbor downstream, Niagara-on-the-Lake, was the first place in the world to enact anti-slavery legislation in 1793. Plans are currently underway to honor this important heritage with an Underground Railway Interpretive Center, which should be completed by Fall of 2017.

Fact #4: It produces some very good wine

Even in a climate like Canada’s, which can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to fickle perennials like the grape vine, it’s possible to produce some good wine. Just ask the vintners in the Niagara Wine Region in Ontario, an area that stretches from the Falls down the Niagara River and along Lake Ontario in the South, and along the base of Lake Erie to the North. The area is, in fact, a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by these waterways, making it a surprisingly great (and relatively mild) place to grow grapes. That’s what the original pioneers of Niagara winemaking found when they first opened up shop a little over 35 years ago. Now the region has become internationally recognized for the quality of its wines, particularly “ice wine”–a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. If you haven’t tasted ice wine yet, that alone is worth the trip.

Have we piqued your interest? Niagara Falls tours are still available for as early as this weekend, featuring activities like the Maid of the Mist and the Cave of the Winds that will get you right up close to the water. Experience this natural wonder for yourself!