Visitors to Niagara Falls have a new way to experience the iconic triple waterfall.
Travelers can now wander through a massive, century-old 2,200-foot-long tunnel located 180 feet beneath the historic hydroelectric plant that once converted the roaring waterfall’s powerful whitewater into electricity. The tunnel opens to a 65-foot, river-level viewing platform that offers a spectacular front-row seat to the gushing flow of Horseshoe Falls, the largest of Niagara's three flows.
The hydroelectric plant—called the Niagara Parks Power Station—operated between 1905 and 2006, providing power to homes and businesses in the surrounding region. Though it’s no longer in use, travelers can still wander through the power station and marvel at its inner workings. And, since July, visitors can also take a glass-paneled elevator down six levels to reach the tunnel, which once served as the exit point for the spent water flowing out of the plant.
Using shovels, dynamite and pickaxes, thousands of workers spent four years digging the subterranean tunnel, which measures 26-feet-tall and nearly 20-feet-wide. While in operation, the tunnel—made from four layers of brick and 18 inches of concrete, all surrounded by shale—could hold 71,000 gallons of water moving at speeds of up to 29-feet-per-second.
Originally run by the Canadian Niagara Power Company, the hydroelectric plant used cutting-edge technology for its era—11 cylindrical blue Westinghouse generators created the alternating currents originally patented by the inventor Nikola Tesla. Architects designed the plant with its limestone exterior and blue roof tiles to aesthetically mirror the nearby waterfalls.
Aside from the Niagara Parks Power Station, which is located on the Canadian side of the falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, eager entrepreneurs throughout history made several other attempts to harness the power of the pounding water. The Adams hydroelectric plant, for instance, operated on the U.S. side from 1895 to 1961, reports CNN’s Maureen Littlejohn. In Canada, the Ontario Power Company Generating Station functioned from 1905 to 1999 and the Toronto Power Generating Station ran from 1906 to 1974.
After the Niagara Parks Power Station stopped running in 2006, it sat untouched for several years until the Niagara Parks Commission decided to give it a second life as a tourist destination. The self-funded government agency, which oversees the Niagara Falls area, spent $19 million renovating the power station.
In July 2021, the plant's 65,000-square-foot main hall reopened, complete with interactive exhibits, artifacts, vintage photographs and educational materials. Travelers can opt for a self-guided experience or, for an extra fee, take a tour with an interpreter. A separate ticketed light and sound show, called "Currents: Niagara's Power Transformed," is held in the evenings.
Since the power station opened last year, roughly 200,000 people visited in the first year. Commission officials expect that number to balloon to 350,000 annual visitors with the addition of the tunnel.
“There are so many stories to tell, starting with those who are simply curious about what’s behind those beautiful stone walls,” says David Adames, the commission’s chief executive officer, to the Washington Post’s Laura Randall. “There’s the story of hydroelectric generation, the story of innovators at the turn of the century, the human story of the people who worked in the plant and the competition of the people building [power] plants on both sides of the border. It has all of it.”