Niagara Falls is a set of massive waterfalls located on the Niagara River in eastern North America, on the border between the United States and Canada. Niagara Falls (French: les Chutes du Niagara) comprises three separate waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls (sometimes called the Canadian Falls), the American Falls, and the smaller, adjacent Bridal Veil Falls. While not exceptionally high, Niagara Falls is very wide. With more than 6 million cubic feet (168,000 m³) of water falling over the crestline every minute in high flow, and almost 4 million cubic feet (110,000 m³) on average, it is the most powerful waterfall in North America
Geographically, Niagara Falls is located about Twenty (20) minutes away from the U.S. city of Buffalo and about an hour and a half (90 Minutes) away from the Canadian city of Toronto.
Some sources erroneously quote that the Niagara River has an average flow of about 12 million cubic feet per minute (200,000 cu ft/s) or even slightly more. This figure is derived from the average rate of flow (202,000 cu ft/s) of the Niagara River. This volume would pass over the falls if there were no hydroelectric water diversion upstream from the falls; however, water is diverted continuously from Niagara and this figure is approximately three times the actual average flow volume over the falls.
Niagara Falls is renowned for its beauty, and is both a valuable source of hydroelectric power and a challenging project for environmental preservation. A popular tourist site for over a century, the natural wonder is shared between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York.
Submerged in the river in the lower valley, hidden from view, is the Queenston Formation (Upper Ordovician), which is composed of shales and fine sandstones. All three formations were laid down in an ancient sea, and their differences of character derive from changing conditions within that sea.
The original Niagara Falls were near the sites of present-day Lewiston, New York, and Queenston, Ontario, but erosion of their crest has caused the waterfalls to retreat several miles southward. Just upstream from the Falls' current location, Goat Island splits the course of the Niagara River, resulting in the separation of the Horseshoe Falls to the west from the American and Bridal Veil Falls to the east. Although erosion and recession have been slowed in this century by engineering, the falls will eventually recede far enough to drain most of Lake Erie, the bottom of which is higher than the bottom of the falls. Engineers are working to reduce the rate of erosion to retard this event as long as possible.
The Falls drop about 170 feet (52 m), although the American Falls have a clear drop of only 70 feet (21 m) before reaching a jumble of fallen rocks which were deposited by a massive rock slide in 1954. The larger Canadian Falls are about 2,600 feet (792 m) wide, while the American Falls are 1,060 feet (323 m) wide. The volume of water approaching the Falls during peak flow season is 202,000 cubic feet per second (5,720 m³/s). During the summer months, when maximum diversion of water for hydroelectric power occurs, 100,000 ft³/s (2,832 m³/s) of water actually traverses the Falls, some 90% of which goes over the Horseshoe Falls. This volume is further halved at night, when most of the diversion to hydroelectric facilities occurs.
The name "Niagara" is said to originate from an Iroquois word "Onguiaahra" meaning "The Strait." The region's original inhabitants were the Ongiara, an Iroquois tribe named the Neutrals by French settlers, who found them helpful in mediating disputes with other tribes.
Native American legend tells of Lelawala, a beautiful maid betrothed by her father to a brave she despised. Rather than marry, Lelawala chose to sacrifice herself to her true love He-No, the Thunder God, who dwelt in a cave behind the Horseshoe Falls. She paddled her canoe into the swift current of the Niagara River and was swept over the brink. He-No caught her as she plummeted, and together their spirits are said to live forever in the Thunder God's sanctuary behind the Falls.
Some controversy exists over which European first gave a written, eyewitness description of the Falls. The area was visited by Samuel de Champlain as early as 1604. Members of his party reported to him on the spectacular waterfalls, which he wrote of in his journals but may never have actually visited. Some credit Finnish-Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm with the original firsthand description, penned during an expedition to the area early in the 18th century. Most historians however agree that Father Louis Hennepin observed and described the Falls much earlier, in 1677, after traveling in the region with explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, thus bringing them to the world's attention. Hennepin also first described the Saint Anthony Falls in Minnesota. His subsequently discredited claim that he also traveled the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico cast some doubt on the validity of his writings and sketches of Niagara Falls. Hennepin County in Minnesota was named after Father Louis Hennepin.
During the 19th century tourism became popular, and it was the area's main industry by mid-century. Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Jérôme visited with his bride in the early 19th century. Demand for passage over the Niagara River led in 1848 to the building of a footbridge and then Charles Ellet's Niagara Suspension Bridge. This was supplanted by German-born John Augustus Roebling's Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge in 1855. After the American Civil War, the New York Central railroad publicized Niagara Falls as a focus of pleasure and honeymoon visits. With increased railroad traffic, in 1886 Leffert Buck replaced Roebling's wood and stone bridge with the predominantly steel bridge that still carries trains over the Niagara River today. The first steel archway bridge near the Falls was completed in 1897. Known today as the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, it carries vehicles, trains, and pedestrians between Canada and the U.S. just below the Falls. In 1941 the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission completed the third current crossing in the immediate area of Niagara Falls with the Rainbow Bridge, carrying both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Especially after World War One, tourism boomed again as automobiles made getting to the Falls much easier. The story of Niagara Falls in the 20th century is largely that of efforts to harness the energy of the Falls for hydroelectric power and to control the rampant development on both the American and Canadian sides which threatened the area's natural beauty.
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