Niagara River

Niagara River

[nahy-ag-ruh, -ag-er-uh]
The Niagara River flows to the north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It serves as 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. According to George R. Stewart, it comes from the name of an Iroquois town called "Ongniaahra", meaning "point of land cut in two".


The river, which is occasionally described as a strait, is approximately 56 kilometres (35 mi) long and includes Niagara Falls along its course. The falls have moved upstream from the Niagara Escarpment about 11 kilometers (7 mi) in the last 12,000 years, resulting in a gorge below the falls. Today, diversion of the river for electricity generation has significantly reduced the rate of erosion.

Power plants on the river are 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. The sites generate 4.4 gigawatts of electricity combined. The river flow is also regulated by the International Control Works built in 1954. Shipping on the Great Lakes bypasses the Niagara River and Niagara Falls using the Welland Canal, part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, located on the Canadian side.

The total drop in elevation along the river is 326 ft (99 m). The Niagara Gorge extends 7 mi (11 km) downstream from the Falls and includes the Niagara Whirlpool and another section of rapids. It also one of the few rivers in North America to flow northward, and empties 2/5ths of the fresh water in North America.

The Niagara River features two large islands, Grand Island and Goat Island, both in the United States. The western end of the Erie Canal is near Grand Island. Goat Island and the tiny Luna Island split Niagara Falls into its three sections, the Horseshoe, Bridal Veil, and American Falls. Navy Island, on the Canadian side, is near the north end of Grand Island, while Strawberry Island and Motor Island lie southeast of Grand Island. 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.


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.

On the Canadian side of the river the Niagara Parks Commission maintains all of the shoreline property, except the sites of Fort George and Fort Erie, as a public greenspace and environmental heritage.

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:


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.


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


  • American Falls
  • Bridal Veil Fall
  • Horseshoe Falls


  • Goat Island Channel
  • Niagara Gorge /
  • Devil's Hole Rapids /
  • Whirlpool Hole Rapids /
  • Niagara Whirlpool
  • Chippawa Creek
  • Tonawanda Channel - flow of Niagara on the east side of Grand Island
  • Chippawa Channel / - flow of Niagara on the west side of Grand Island


Several islands are located on the upper river before the falls:

  • Navy Island - designated as a national historic park
  • Grand Island - the largest island on the river; some parks, but mostly residential and industrial; originally called Ga-We-Not (Great Island) by the Seneca Indians
  • Green Island - originally called Bath Island, it was renamed in the early 1900s for Niagara Reserveation Commissioner Andrew H. Green
  • Strawberry Island - a small park
  • Motor Island - a small park
  • Squaw Island - located in the city of Buffalo, New York and home to Broderick Park and a waste treatment facility
  • Tonawanda Island - occupied by marina and some industries
  • Buckhorn Island - park located on the north end of Grand Island
  • Goat Island (New York) - 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)
  • Three Sisters Islands - 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
  • Deer Island
  • Little Brother Island
  • Robinson Island - named for daredevil Joel Robinson in 1860
  • Ship Island & Brig Island
  • Tower Island - man-made island created in 1942 by the US Army Corps of Engineers
  • Gull Island
  • Luna Island - park located next to Goat Island - originally called Prospect Island
  • Cayuga Island - located on the Tonawanda side of the river and mainly residential
  • Grass Island - filled in during the 1960s to create the Robert Moses Parkway at Point Day
  • Willow Island - man-made island created in 1759 by Daniel Joncairs and filled in during the 1960s to create the Robert Moses Parkway
  • Cedar Island - filled in by the creation of the William Birch Rankine Power Station by Canadian Niagara Power Company in 1905
  • Hogg Island - 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
  • Dufferin Islands



  • 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

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