Niagara River

Niagara River
Niagara River

Satellite image of the Niagara River. Flowing from Lake Erie in the south (bottom of image) to Lake Ontario in the north, the river passes around Grand Island before going over Niagara Falls, after which it narrows in the Niagara Gorge. Two hydropower reservoirs are visible just before the river widens after exiting the gorge. The Welland Canal is visible on the far left side of this image. (Source: NASA Visible Earth)
Origin Lake Erie
Mouth Lake Ontario
Basin countries United States & Canada
Length 58 kilometres (36 mi)[1]
Avg. discharge 5,796 m³/s (204,800 cfs)[2]
Basin area 684,000 square kilometres (264,000 sq mi)[1]

The Niagara River flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It forms part of the border between the Province of Ontario in Canada and New York State in the United States. There are differing theories as to the origin of the name of the river. According to Iroquoian scholar Bruce Trigger, "Niagara" is derived from the name given to a branch of the locally residing native Neutral Confederacy, who are described as being called the "Niagagarega" people on several late 17th century French maps of the area.[3] According to George R. Stewart, it comes from the name of an Iroquois town called "Ongniaahra", meaning "point of land cut in two".[4]

The river, which is occasionally described as a strait,[5] is about 56 kilometres (35 mi) long and includes Niagara Falls in its course. The falls have moved approximately 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) upstream from the Niagara Escarpment in the last 12,000 years, resulting in a gorge below the falls. Today, the diversion of the river for electrical generation has significantly reduced the rate of erosion.

Power plants on the river include the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Power Stations on the Canadian side, and the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant (built in 1961) on the American side. Together, they generate 4.4 gigawatts of electricity. The International Control Works, built in 1954, regulates the river flow. Ships on the Great Lakes use the Welland Canal, part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, on the Canadian side of the river, to bypass Niagara Falls.

The total drop in elevation along the river is 99 metres (325 ft). The Niagara Gorge extends downstream from the Falls and includes the Niagara Whirlpool and another section of rapids.

The Niagara River also features two large islands and numerous smaller islands. Grand Island and Navy Island, the two largest islands, are on the American and Canadian sides of the river, respectively. Goat Island and the tiny Luna Island split Niagara Falls into its three sections, the Horseshoe, Bridal Veil, and American Falls. Squaw Island lies further upstream, alongside the city of Buffalo.

The Niagara River and its tributaries, Tonawanda Creek and the Welland River, formed part of the last section of the Erie Canal and Welland Canal. After leaving Lockport, New York, the Erie Canal proceeds southwest until it enters Tonawanda Creek. After entering the Niagara River, watercraft then proceed southward to the final lock, where a short section of the canal allows boats to avoid the turbulent shoal water at the river intake and enter Lake Erie.

The Welland Canals used the Welland River as a connection to the Niagara River south of the falls, allowing water traffic to safely re-enter the Niagara River and proceed to Lake Erie.

The American Falls with Goat Island to its right.



Queenston, Ontario, then known as Queenstown, Upper Canada, in a c. 1805 watercolour by army surgeon Edward Walsh. The Niagara River is clearly visible.

The Niagara River and Falls have been known outside of North America since the late 17th century, when Father Louis Hennepin, a French explorer, first witnessed them. He wrote about his travels in A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America (1698). [6]

The Niagara River was the site of the earliest recorded railway in America. It was an inclined wooden tramway built by John Montresor (1736-1799), a British military engineer, in 1764. Called "The Cradles" and "The Old Lewiston Incline," it featured loaded carts pulled up wooden rails by rope. It facilitated the movement of goods over the Niagara Escarpment in present-day Lewiston, New York.[7]

Several battles occurred along the Niagara River, which was historically defended by Fort George (Canadian side) and Fort Niagara (American side) at the mouth of the river and Fort Erie (Canadian side) at the head of the river. These forts were important during the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. The Battle of Queenston Heights took place near the river in the War of 1812.

The river was an important route to liberation before the American Civil War, when many African-Americans escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad crossed it to find freedom in Canada. The Freedom Crossing Monument stands on the bank of the river in Lewiston, to commemorate the courage of the escaping slaves and the local volunteers who assisted them in secretly crossing the river.

In the 1880s, the Niagara River became the first waterway in North America to be harnessed for large-scale generation of hydroelectricity.[8]

On the Canadian side of the river the provincial agency Niagara Parks Commission maintains all of the shoreline property, except the sites of Fort George and Fort Erie (both National Historic Sites are maintained federally by Parks Canada), as a public greenspace and environmental heritage.

On the US side New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation maintains the state parks that line Falls and Niagara River.

Today, the river is the namesake of Niagara Herald Extraordinary at the Canadian Heraldic Authority.

Cities and settlements

Population centers along the Niagara River include:

Name Country
Buffalo  United States
Chippawa  Canada
Fort Erie  Canada
Lewiston  United States
Grand Island  United States
Niagara Falls  United States
Niagara Falls  Canada
Niagara-on-the-Lake  Canada
North Tonawanda  United States
Porter  United States
Queenston  Canada
Tonawanda (City)  United States
Tonawanda (Town)  United States
Wheatfield  United States
Youngstown  United States


The Niagara River is listed as a Great Lakes Areas of Concern in The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada.


The Niagara River has a long history of both road and rail bridges spanning the river, both upstream and downstream of the Falls. This history includes numerous bridges that have fallen victim to the harsh conditions of the Niagara Gorge, such as landslides and icepacks.


Niagara Glen features many rapids downstream of Niagara Falls

The following parks are located along the Niagara River:

Name Country
Beaver Island State Park  United States
Bowen Road Park  Canada
Broderick Park  United States
Browns Point Park  Canada
Buckhorn State Park  United States
Deveaux Woods State Park  United States
Dufferin Island Natural Area  Canada
Earl W. Brydes ArtPark  United States
Falkner Park  United States
Fisherman's Park  United States
Floral Clock Park  Canada
Fort Niagara State Park  United States
Gratwick Riverside Park  United States
Griffon Park  United States
Jayne Park  United States
Joseph Davis State Park  United States
King's Bridge Park  Canada
MacFarland Park  Canada
Niagara Falls State Park  United States
Niagara Glen Nature Reserve  Canada
Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens  Canada
Nike Base Park  United States
Queen's Parada Park & Memorial Park  Canada
Queenston Heights Park  Canada
Riverside Park  United States
Strawberry Island State Park  United States
Sugar Bowl Park  Canada
Veterans Memorial Park  United States
Victoria Park  Canada
Whirlpool State Park  United States

A Niagara River Greenway Plan is in progress in the United States.

Waterways & Falls

The Spanish Aero Car crossing the Niagara Whirlpool
Feature Country Notes
American Falls  United States Located entirely on the US side
Bridal Veil Falls  United States smallest of the three falls and entirely within the US
Chippawa Channel Shared Niagara River to west of Grand Island
Horseshoe Falls  Canada Border lies within the falls
Goat Island Channel  United States between Goat Island and Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Gorge Shared runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake ON/Lewiston NY to the Falls
Devil's Hole Rapids Shared located further downstream across from Devil's Hole State Park in the US and next to the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens in Canada
Whirlpool Hole Rapids Shared located upstream from Whirlpool along the Niagara Gorge
Niagara Whirlpool  Canada located next to Whirlpools Golf Course and across from Whirlpool State Park
Tonawanda Channel  United States Niagara River to east of Grand Island
Welland River  Canada Flows from Hamilton, Ontario to the Niagara River near Niagara Falls, Ontario


Several islands are located on the upper river upriver from the falls:

Name Location Country Status Notes
Buckhorn Island Grand Island  United States park located on the north end of Grand Island
Cayuga Island Niagara Falls  United States residential at the mouth of Cayuga Creek, a residential neighborhood of the city
Cedar Island  Canada filled in filled in by the creation of the William Birch Rankine Power Station by Canadian Niagara Power Company in 1905
Deer Island  United States
Dufferin Islands  Canada man made islands
Goat Island  United States park located at the brink of the American Falls was named by John Stedman in the 1770s; briefly renamed to Iris Island by General Augustus Porter, a United States Commissioner (after the Greek Goddess of the Rainbow)
Grand Island  United States developed the largest island on the river; some parks, but mostly residential and industrial; originally called Ga-We-Not (Great Island) by the Seneca Indians
Grass Island  United States filled in filled in during the 1960s to create the Robert Moses Parkway at Point Day
Green Island  United States renamed originally called Bath Island, it was renamed in the early 1900s for Niagara Reservation Commissioner Andrew H. Green
Gull Island  Canada
Hogg Island  Canada filled in filled in by the creation of the Chippawa Queenston Power Canal in 1917 and finally by the Sir Adam Beck Dam # 2 in 1950 by the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario
Little Brother Island  United States
Luna Island Niagara Falls  United States park located next to Goat Island; originally called Prospect Island
Moss Islands  United States renamed Three Sisters Islands
Motor Island  United States park a small park
Navy Island  Canada park designated as a national historic park
Prospect Island  United States renamed renamed Luna Island
Robinson Island  United States named for daredevil Joel Robinson in 1860
Ship Island & Brig Island  United States
Squaw Island Buffalo  United States developed home to Broderick Park and a waste-water treatment facility
Strawberry Island  United States park a small park
Three Sisters Islands Niagara Falls  United States park park located next to Goat Island was originally called Moss Islands and later renamed for the three daughters of War of 1812 United States Army General Parkhurst Whitney (Asenath, Angeline and Celinda Eliza) in 1843
Tonawanda Island  United States developed occupied by marina and some industries
Tower Island  United States man-made man-made island created in 1942 by the US Army Corps of Engineers
Willow Island  United States man-made / filled in man-made island created in 1759 by Daniel Joncairs and filled in during the 1960s to create the Robert Moses Parkway

Military Posts along the Niagara River

United States Coast Guard Fort Niagara Station was once a United States Army post. There are no Canadian Coast Guard posts along the river. Fort Mississauga, Fort George and Fort Erie are former British and Canadian military forts (last used 1953, 1965 and 1923 respectively) and are now now parks.


On the Canadian side the Niagara Parkway travels along the River from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.

Robert Moses State Parkway on the state side only travels along the River from the Falls to Lake Ontario. The remaining river sections (with some interruptions) are covered by the LaSalle Expressway, New York State Route 384 and Interstate 190 (New York).


  1. ^ a b "Facts & Figures - Niagara Parks, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada" (online). Retrieved May 30, 2007. 
  2. ^ Water Resources Data New York Water Year 2003, Volume 3: Western New York, USGS
  3. ^ Bruce Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic (McGill-Queen's University Press, Kingston and Montreal,1987, ISBN 0-7735-0626-8), pgs.95.
  4. ^ Stewart, George R. (1967) Names on the Land. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; pg. 83.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Hennepin, Louis. A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903. Accessed December 8, 2008.
  7. ^ Porter, Peter (1914). Landmarks of the Niagara Frontier. The Author. 
  8. ^ Electricity and its Development at Niagara Falls. University at Buffalo, June 2004. Accessed December 8, 2008.


  • Tiplin, Albert H.; Seibel, George A. and Seibel, Olive M. (1988) Our romantic Niagara: a geological history of the river and the falls Niagara Falls Heritage Foundation, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, ISBN 0969045727

Further reading

See also

External links

Coordinates: 43°04′41″N 79°04′37″W / 43.078°N 79.077°W / 43.078; -79.077

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  • Niagara River — Niagara River …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Niagara River — noun a river flowing from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario; forms boundary between Ontario and New York • Syn: ↑Niagara • Instance Hypernyms: ↑river • Part Holonyms: ↑United States, ↑United States of America, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

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