Niagara River

The Niagara River, 55 km long, issues from Lake Erie and flows north over Niagara Falls to Lake Ontario.

Aerocar, Niagara Falls
Aerocar over the famous whirlpool in the Niagara River, near Niagara Falls (courtesy The Niagara Parks Commission).
Horseshoe Falls
The spectacular waterfall in the Niagara River is the world's greatest waterfall by volume (photo by John deVisser).\n
Niagara Suspension Bridge
Finished in 1854, this bridge over the Niagara River in Ontario was a major engineering feat. It linked the Great Western to a great section of the United States (courtesy CN).

The Niagara River, 55 km long, issues from Lake Erie and flows north over Niagara Falls to Lake Ontario. The name is of Aboriginal origin and describes either the river, "on or at the neck," where it is the neck between Lakes Erie and Ontario, or the falls, "thunder of the waters."

The upper section is navigable for small pleasure craft to a series of rapids above the falls, and in fact the first ship built on the Great Lakes, La Salle's Griffon, was built here. The lower section of the river is navigable for all craft as far upstream as Queenston and Lewiston. Below the falls the river flows through a spectacular gorge and is extremely deep, apart from two vigorous rapids. Its average flow at Queenston is 5750 m3/s - greater than the Fraser, Columbia or Nelson rivers. Its steady high flow is its unique characteristic.

The Niagara River is crossed by several bridges, notably the Peace (1927) at Fort Erie and the Rainbow (1941), which connects the cities of Niagara Falls, Ont, and Niagara Falls, NY, and the Queenston (1962) at the north end of the gorge.

Niagara Historic Frontier
The importance of the river for the fur trade and as a route into the interior was recognized by the French who built Fort Niagara at its mouth in 1678. The British gained control in 1759 and the fort was a major supply depot during the America Revolution. Two consequences of the Revolutionary War were that in 1783 the river became part of the boundary between British and American territory, and Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie were settled by fleeing Loyalists. The river was crossed by forces on both sides during the War of 1812. Today, the Niagara historic frontier has numerous historic sites.


Further Reading

  • John N. Jackson, The Mighty Niagara: One River, Two Frontiers (2003).