The History of Journey Behind the Falls

August 14, 2018

Niagara Parks

History of Journey Behind the Falls

For over 400 years, visitors have travelled from around the globe to experience the spectacle of Niagara, one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls. In early times, the only way to get up close to the falls was to climb down the steep bank, over huge boulders, or down crude “ladders” created from fallen trees.

People walking down a stairway next to a cliff

The first enclosed stairs were built in 1818, and a spiral staircase was constructed in 1832 for visitors to enter what was then called the “Sheet of Falling Water” attraction. The admission fee was $1, and for an additional dollar, certificates were presented to those who had completed the trip behind the Falls.

men with torch standing in dark tunnel

1885, The Niagara Parks Commission was created to maintain the area around the falls, and in 1887, the commissioners removed the staircase and installed a water hydraulic powered elevator. The lift held eight to ten visitors with their guides and took almost a minute to make the up or down trip. The first tunnels were built in 1889, and lantern-carrying guides brought visitors up close and personal with the massive cataract.

In 1902, the hydraulic lift was taken over by the Ontario Power Company when they began construction of the Ontario Power House. This plant is now decommissioned but still sits at the river’s edge below the Falls. In exchange for using the hydraulic elevator, the Ontario Power Company agreed to sink a shaft through the rock and construct an electric elevator and a new “scenic tunnel.”

stone tunnel with wood bracing

In 1925, work began on a new Table Rock House. In the new building, the elevator to the “Scenic Tunnels” attraction was duplicated, and dressing rooms were built for visitors to get ready with heavy rubber rain coats and boots.

people standing with raincoats in a hallway

As the brink of the Falls receded, tunnel extensions were made as required, until 1944 when a new tunnel was cut into the rock about 18 meters behind the original one. These concrete-lined, electricity-lit tunnels are still used today.

viewing platform next to large waterfall

In 1951, an observation plaza was added and in 1990, the raincoats and boots were discontinued, replaced by light, biodegradable rain ponchos which may be kept as a souvenir.

In 1994, the name of the Scenic Tunnels was changed to Journey Behind the Falls.

people in yellow raincoats standing on platform next to waterfall

Niagara Parks

Niagara Parks

The Niagara Parks Commission is committed to a vision of Ontario’s Niagara Parks as one that Preserves a rich heritage, Conserves natural wonders, and Inspires people world-wide. Founded in 1885, The Niagara Parks Commission is an Operational Enterprise Agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Its mission is to protect the natural and cultural heritage along the Niagara River for the enjoyment of visitors while maintaining financial self-sufficiency.