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On This Day: International Pact Preserves Niagara Falls

Last updated: March 1, 2023

January 02, 2011 06:00 AM

by findingDulcinea Staff

On Jan. 2, 1929, Canada and the United States agreed to divert the Niagara River to protect the world-famous falls.

Accord Saves the Falls

Niagara Falls was formed during the Wisconsin Glaciation, part of the last ice age over 10,000 years ago. Part of the Niagara River, it is made up of two separate waterfalls—the Horseshoe Falls in Canada and the Bridal Veil Falls in the United States—divided by Goat Island.

If left alone, erosion would cause the falls to recede. “Niagara Falls is unceasing, deafening, destructive motion—one of these centuries, in fact, it will destroy itself,” writes Newsweek. Niagara Falls was not left alone, however; in the 19th century, industrial developers began using the falls for hydroelectric power while tourists flocked to see its natural beauty.

In 1885, responding to concerns about industrial development on both sides of the falls, the Niagara Appropriations Bill was signed to protect the land from private developers. It created the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park in Ontario and the Niagara Reservation State Park in New York—the first state park in New York.

The U.S. and Canada would again work together in 1929 to help preserve the falls from erosion and to generate more hydroelectric power. Following the advice of the Special International Niagara Board, a joint investigative committee of the United States and Canada, Canadian Prime Minister William Mackenzie King and the American Minister to Canada William Phillips signed an agreement on Jan. 2 to authorize $2 million in construction work on the Niagara River.

According to the agreement, underwater weirs would redirect strong currents and excavations in some shallow areas would make the falls more attractive. The work was to be done by the Niagara Falls Power Company and the Hydroelectric Power Commission of Ontario.

Today, Niagara Falls remains a popular tourist destination due in large part to human intervention. Engineers can control the flow of water over the falls, even increasing the flow during tourist seasons.

“There’s this interesting contradiction because, on the one hand, it became popular because it was wild and huge and untamed,” said Ginger Strand, author of “Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies,” to The Globe and Mail. “And on the other hand, it became popular because it was starting to be tamed and made a little less wild.”

Niagara Falls Today

Sources in this Story

  • Newsweek: An Artifice For America
  • Library of Congress: The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920
  • The New York Times: Accord on Niagara signed with Canada
  • The Globe and Mail: ‘It’s an awesome piece of engineering
  • University of Montreal: LexUM: Treaty between Canada and the United States of America concerning the diversion of the Niagara River
  • Niagara Falls Thunder Alley: Niagara Falls: the Summer of ’69: the Dewatering of the American Falls
  • Niagara Falls State Park: Niagara Falls information
  • Niagara: The Story of the Falls—The Barrel Brigade

In 1950, Canada and the United States reached an agreement allowing a larger quantity of water to be diverted for hydroelectric power. Article IV of the 1950 treaty outlines that, for the purpose of retaining the scenic beauty of the falls for visitors, during the day, the amount of water going over the falls would be at least 100,000 cubic feet per second, and at night, that amount may be halved.

In 1969, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, in an attempt to counter the erosion of the American Channel of Niagara Falls, temporarily stopped the flow of water using a cofferdam. The American Falls had no water flow from mid-June until late November of 1969.

Harnessing the power of the falls has led to monumental breakthroughs. More than 75,000 gallons of water go over Niagara Falls each second and it can produce up to 4 million kilowatts of electricity.

Niagara Falls Webcam

A live Webcam mounted on the Sheraton on the Falls provides a streaming video feed of Horseshoe Falls.

Related Topic: Niagara Falls Daredevils

In 1859, French daredevil Charles Blondin walked 2,000 feet along a tightrope suspended above the rapids of Niagara Falls. A crowd of 25,000 watched in amazement as the “Great Blondin” finished with a back somersault.

Other daredevils have attempted to plunge over the falls. In 1901, Annie Edson Taylor, then 63, was the first person to make it over Horseshoe falls alive. Other notable survivors of the plunge include a 105-year-old turtle and Roger Woodward, a young boy who, in 1960, survived without any protective gear when he accidentally fell down the falls.

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