Tunnel Attraction Opens Under Niagara Falls
Once part of a hydroelectric plant, visitors on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls can now explore a 2,200-foot-long tunnel located underneath the waterfall. The one-of-a-kind attraction, which opened earlier this year, is part of the tours of the decommissioned Niagara Parks Power Station.
About the Power Station
The Niagara Parks Power Station began operations in 1905, diverting water from the river to run generators that powered the regional industry and contributed to the nearby Great Lakes port of Buffalo, also known as the City of Light.
It was originally operated by the Canadian Niagara Power Company, using Westinghouse generators to create alternating currents patented by inventor Nikola Tesla, which was considered “cutting-edge technology” at the time.
Station Tour Guide Elena Zoric explained that the plant was built at a time when “aesthetics ruled,” with its limestone exterior and blue roof tiles were an attempt by New York architect Algernon S. Bell to make the structure blend in with the falls.
Starting out with two generators, and later totaling 11—which can still be viewed today—were installed by 1924. Each generator has a “governor” to help regulate the waterflow to a turbine, with an airbrake helping to adjust flow. 250 rpm were reportedly needed to provide an output of 25 hertz.
A glass elevator takes visitors down 180 feet to a long tunnel built more than a century ago on the Canadian side, one of the many chambers and engineering marvels carved out to harness the powerful forces of nature thundering overhead. https://t.co/R1BRj6MpxF— AccuWeather (@accuweather) November 16, 2022
The water would then travel down to the tunnel, spinning the turbines blades. This was connected to a 41-meter-long shaft that went all the way back up to the main floor and spun the rotor in the alternator, generating the AC power.
Closed in 2006, the building sat untouched until the Niagara Parks Commission decided to spend $19 million to renovate the power station into a tourist destination in 2017.
“There are so many stories to tell, starting with those who are simply curious about what’s behind those beautiful stone walls,” David Adames, the Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, told the Washington Post. “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.”
The 65,000-square-foot main hall reportedly opened in July 2021, featuring interactive exhibits, artifacts, vintage photographs and educational materials. According to reports, since it opened last year, the power station has seen roughly 200,000 visitors.
Today, the Niagara Parks station is reportedly the world's only fully intact hydroelectric plant of its era.
Descending to the Tunnel
The one-of-a-kind tunnel experience opened in July this year, offering access to the underground infrastructure of the historic building and Niagara Falls. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held prior to its public opening, marking the completion of the adaptive reuse project.
“With the opening of the Tunnel, the incredible transformation that has taken place over the past two years to restore the power station and transform it into a one-of-a-kind visitor attraction is officially complete. This is truly a landmark achievement and one that has and will continue to draw the interest and adoration of a global audience while preserving this heritage building for future generations of Ontarians,” said Niagara Parks Chair April Jeffs at the event.
A glass-enclosed elevator takes visitors 180 feet below the generating floor to the tunnel. As they walk through the tunnel, they can view exhibits that explore the tunnel and station’s history, including how it was excavated in 1901 with only lanterns, rudimentary dynamite, pickaxes and shovels.
Overall, the tunnel measures 26-feet-tall and nearly 20-feet-wide, made up from four layers of brick and 18 inches of concrete surrounded by shale. It could hold 71,000 gallons of water moving at speeds of up to 29-feet-per-second.
“The tunnel served as an exit point for the water used in generating hydropower for over a century,” writes the Niagara Parks Commission. “Your journey in the tunnel will take you along the same path travelled by water and lead you to a viewing platform where the tunnel emptied into the Niagara River.”
Once at the end of the tunnel, visitors can access a newly constructed viewing platform offering views of the lower Niagara River, and both the Horseshoe and American Falls.
A visit to the power station and tunnel reportedly takes about two hours. Visitors can purchase regular admission or include a guided tour or the “Currents” night show for an additional cost.