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The Niagara River flows north from Lake Eriemarker to Lake Ontariomarker. It forms part of the border between the Province of Ontariomarker in Canadamarker and New Yorkmarker State in the United Statesmarker. 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 about 35 mi (56 kilometres) long and includes Niagara Fallsmarker in its course. The falls have moved about 7 mi (11 kilometers) 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 electricity generation has significantly reduced the rate of erosion.

Power plants on the river are the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Power Stationsmarker, on the Canadian side, and the Robert Mosesmarker 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. Shipping on the Great Lakesmarker use the Welland Canalmarker, part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, on the Canadian side of the river, thus bypassing the Niagara River and Niagara Falls.

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.

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

The Niagara River and its tributaries, Tonawanda Creekmarker and the Welland River, formed part of the last section of the Erie Canal and Welland Canalmarker. After leaving Lockport, New Yorkmarker, the Erie Canal proceeds southwest until it enters Tonawanda Creekmarker. 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 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).

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 Yorkmarker.

Several battles occurred along the Niagara River, which was historically defended by Fort George (Canadian side) and Fort Niagaramarker (American side) at the mouth of the river and Fort Eriemarker (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 Heightsmarker 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.

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

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

Niagara Glen features many rapids downstream of Niagara Falls

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 Gorgemarker, such as landslides and icepacks.


The following parks are located along the Niagara River:
  • 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
  • A Niagara River Greenway Plan is in progress


  • American Falls
  • Bridal Veil Fall
  • Horseshoe Falls


  • Goat Island Channel
  • Niagara Gorge /
  • Devil's Hole Rapids /
  • Whirlpool Hole Rapids /
  • Niagara Whirlpool
  • Welland River
  • 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 Islandmarker - designated as a national historic park
  • Grand Islandmarker - 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 Reservation 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 marker - 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 Islandsmarker - 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 Islandmarker
  • 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 Islandsmarker


  1. Bruce Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic (McGill-Queen's University Press, Kingston and Montreal,1987, ISBN 0-7735-0626-8), pgs.95.
  2. Stewart, George R. (1967) Names on the Land. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; pg. 83.
  4. Hennepin, Louis. A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903. Accessed 8 December 2008.
  5. Electricity and its Development at Niagara Falls. University at Buffalo, June 2004. Accessed 8 December 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

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