By Colleen Thomas
From Tribune News Service
Niagara Falls–The grandeur of Niagara Falls keeps tourists seeking new and better views of the natural wonder—and it’s easy to find them. On both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the river, you can gaze from lookouts, boat tours, a bridge, towers with wide windows, helicopter rides and even a zipline.
But the newest view in town may also be the most fascinating. It’s found at a decommissioned hydropower station that for 100 years generated electricity for several Canadian cities. Now you can walk through the 2,200-foot tunnel that once carried water from the plant back into the Niagara River, bringing you to a viewing platform only 100 yards from the bottom of Horseshoe Falls. That puts you within mist range (no worries, rain ponchos are provided), with a stunning view that has never before been offered to tourists.
Visitors view Horseshoe Falls from the platform on the Niagara River’s edge outside of the renovated Niagara Parks Power Station. (Colleen Thomas/TNS)
There’s more to the Power Station than its magnificent view of the falls. The station, renovated in 2020 and opened to tourists in 2021, is a sight to behold itself. Upon entering the building you’ll see six massive generators painted bright blue lined up in a cavernous room. Tours are available, but visitors also can freely walk around the interactive exhibits and view power station relics such as the gizmos that controlled the generators and an old volt tester the size of an ice-cream cart that today would be a device that fits into an electrician’s pocket.
The power plant was constructed by the Canadian Niagara Power Agency over five years beginning in 1901. It was the world’s largest and most ambitious hydropower station of its time. Electricity was being introduced to homes and businesses, but many people were wary of it. Builders responded by creating a place that would make customers feel safe when they stopped by to pay their bill, according to Niagara Parks CEO David Adames. The station was designed in grand fashion, with touches like beautiful wrought-iron stairways, arched windows and patterned brickwork to give it vibes of a safe place to be.
Other power plants popped up along the Niagara River as demand for electricity grew and investors saw profits in capturing the energy of Horseshoe Falls.
But times changed and the plant, like others in the area, was surpassed by newer and more efficient technologies. The power station was designed to produce 25Hz power, but over time 60Hz power became the standard, and demand at the facility fell. Retrofitting the station would be too costly, so in 2006 it was decommissioned.
The plant’s transformation has resulted in an educational, entertaining and family-friendly destination. Hands down, its most compelling feature is the walkway through the long tunnel to the river’s edge. The tunnel is the last part of the path the water took through the station after it was used to create electricity.
The tunnel experience—made available to the public in 2022—is self-guided, starting with a 180-foot descent underground in a glass-enclosed elevator. As the car glides downward, you can see level after level of infrastructure and equipment go by.
Once at the bottom, you’ll start your one-third-mile walk through the tunnel with upgrades like a smooth concrete floor, good lighting and interesting exhibits along the way.
The tunnel opens up at river’s edge to a truly unique vista, so close to Horseshoe Falls that if the wind is right you’ll feel the mist on your face. The outdoor platform offers panoramic views of both the Canadian Horseshoe and American Falls.
The tunnel tour is included with regular admission to the power station, which is $28 for adults and $18.25 for children.
To really understand the magnitude of the power station’s capabilities, however, consider the one-hour guided tour through the generator hall. You’ll learn how the generators worked, how alternating current (AC) won the epic battle over direct current (DC), and about the contributions of Nikola Tesla, the brilliant electrical engineer, to the plant, among other tidbits of history. The guides are fitted with a mic and speaker so you don’t miss a syllable, and they are available for questions afterward.
Of course the traditional views of Niagara Falls from the overlooks on both sides of the river will always be awe-inspiring. But if you’re looking for an up-close experience where you can feel the power of the rushing water, you’ll find the Power Station’s view, well, electrifying.
If You Go
Niagara Parks Power Station
When: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 7005 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. The plant is just south of Horseshoe Falls.
Tickets: Admission is $28 for adults, $18.25 for children. Tours and the after-hours light show are additional. Daily parking is about $30, good at any Niagara Parks lot.
Info: (877) 642-7275, www.niagaraparks.com. The station is wheelchair accessible. You’ll need a U.S. passport to enter Canada.
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