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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.