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The History of White Water Walk

Experiencing the raging Whirlpool Rapids has been a popular tourist attraction since 1876, when a steam powered incline railway was built on wooden rails to take visitors down the gorge to the water’s edge.  By 1888, new owners improved the railway, replacing the wooden rails with iron and installing two cars that operated by water power. 

The cars had water ballast tanks behind the seats and when the passengers were seated, the tanks of the car at the top were filled with water from a nearby spring.  The brake was released and the loaded car went down the incline, drawing the second car up to the top.  The brake was reset, the passengers got off, the discharge pipe was opened and the lower car’s ballast tanks emptied.   Then the cycle was repeated.

The attraction had several owners over its years, with each company making its own improvements, including construction of a long boardwalk along the edge of the rushing water. 

In 1932, the Whirlpool Rapids Incline and the buildings on the upper bank became the property of The Niagara Parks Commission. On May 5, 1934, the Whirlpool Rapids Incline and attraction buildings were destroyed by fire.  In 1935, Niagara Parks leased the lands to a private company, Niagara Concessions, with the right to operate the Great Gorge attraction for a term of 30 years, when it would become the property of the Commission. 

The new owner constructed a 70 m (230 ft) elevator shaft and a 73 m (240 ft) tunnel to accommodate a high speed elevator to provide easier access to the lower gorge.  A building faced with cut stone was built at the top of the gorge to serve as a station and souvenir store.

High water and ice often caused problems for the owners.  The original paths and walkways were often damaged and washed away.  Ontario Hydro and the Power Authority of the State of New York power plants went into full operation in 1957 and 1961 and the water level in the gorge was lowered by the time both plants had diverted their allotted water for power generation. New boardwalks were built above the water level.  The old path can still be seen in some places, higher up along the bank, showing clearly that the present boardwalk would be underwater if the river levels were as high as in the 1940s.

When Niagara Parks' agreement expired with Niagara Concesssions in 1964, it was extended three years to compensate for the loss of business during the years of World War II.  On December 1, 1967, Niagara Parks officially took over ownership and control of the Great Gorge Trip and a new agreement was signed with Niagara Concessions, giving them the right to operate the Great Gorge Trip and the Scenic Boardwalk.  The souvenir sales store, to be called the Whirlpool Store, was operated by Niagara Parks, who now owned all of the assets in connection with the attraction.

In 1969, Ralph Grant, a former manager of this attraction, took over the remaining seven years of the Niagara Concessions lease and by a further agreement with the Commissioners operated the souvenir store as well.   Mr. Grant brought with him a collection of barrels and other contrivances used by stunters such as George Stathakis and William Red Hill which where placed in an area called the Daredevil Gallery.  The items in the collection where later moved and are now displayed at other museums.

In 1989, Niagara Parks assumed operation of the Great Gorge Trip and renamed it the Great Gorge Adventure - a Whitewater Boardwalk, which was shortened to simply White Water Walk in 2003.

Read about the history of Incline Railways.