Beautiful Niagara Falls on the Niagara River are a true natural jewel of North America. They represent two massive sections of powerful waterfalls each located on either side of the border between Canada and U.S. and separated by Goat Island: American Falls with smaller Bridal Veil Falls in the U.S. state of New York, and Horseshoe Falls in the Canadian province of Ontario. Niagara Falls face towards the Canadian side, while the Americans enjoy the scenery from behind.
Although not too high, Niagara falls are the most powerful on the continent and exceptionately wide: every minute they carry about four million cubic feet of water fall on average. Thanks to both their strength and beauty, Niagara Falls are famous all over the world and not only attract crowds of domestic and international tourists but also serve as a valuable source of electric power for the area. The formation of Niagara Falls is traced back to the end of the last Ice Age (the Wisconsin glaciation), when still young Great Lakes carved the Niagara River pass to the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, the flow of water in Falls, which usually peaks in the end of spring, has been closely connected with the water level and activities of Lake Erie.
The name of Niagara Falls is believed to either originate from the name of the Ongiara Indian tribe, the first inhabitants of the region, or from the Iroquois word "Onguiaahra" ("The Strait") . In the beginning of the 17th century, spectacular Niagara Falls were discovered, documented and described for the first time by European explorer Samuel de Champlain and later by Finnish naturalist Pehr Kalm. The waterfalls quickly became so famous for their outstanding beauty that by mid-18th century tourism became the primary industry in the area. After the Civil War in America, when Niagara Falls were advertised as the best place for honeymoon and pleasure trips, the railroad traffic to the famous place increased considerably and tourism boomed to a great degree. The modern history of Niagara Falls is mainly that of efforts to preserve the natural beauty of the area and to harness the power of the Falls for hydroelectric needs.
The first attempts to use the powerful energy of Niagara Falls were undertaken in the mid-18th century, and by the end of the 19th century Falls were able to generate enough electricity to illuminate both themselves and a village located nearby (the future city of Niagara Falls). Currently, more than a half of the Niagara River's flow is used for creating over 4.4 GW of hydroelectric power. The biggest stations converting the waterfall into electricity on both sides of the river are the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, the Lewiston Pump Generating Plant, and Sir Adam Beck 1 and 2.
The cities located near Falls, Ontario in Canada and same-named Niagara Falls in the U.S., are connected by means of the Welland Canal that was created for the ships' bypass and by three bridges: the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, the Rainbow Bridge and the newest Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.
For already several centuries Niagara Falls have been both a place of extensive commercial and industrial exploitation and a source of inspiration for numerous travelers, explorers, artists and writers, with the commercials interests, as always, prevailing. Sadly, recent building of many tall constructions and extensive modernization, urbanization, and development of the areas adjacent to Niagara falls, especially on the Canadian side, have grossly altered previously pristine landscape. Industrial pollution and car exhaust have added a thick layer of mist. Yet, about 28 million of tourists still arrive here every year to marvel at the remaining beauty of a sparkling jewel of North America - famous Niagara Falls.