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Niagara River
Satellite image of the Niagara River. Flowing from Lake Erie in the south (bottom of image) to Lake Ontario in the north, the river passes around Grand Island before going over Niagara Falls, after which it narrows in the Niagara Gorge. Two hydropower reservoirs are visible just before the river widens after exiting the gorge. The Welland Canal is visible on the far left side of this image. (Source: NASA Visible Earth)
Origin Lake Erie
Mouth Lake Ontario
Basin countries United States & Canada
Length 36 mi (58 km)[1]
Avg. discharge 204,800 cfs (5,796 m³/s)[2]
Basin area 264,000 sq mi (684,000 km²)[1]

The Niagara River flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It forms 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.[3] According to George R. Stewart, it comes from the name of an Iroquois town called "Ongniaahra", meaning "point of land cut in two".[4]

The river, which is occasionally described as a strait,[5] is about 35 mi (56 kilometres) long and includes Niagara Falls 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 Stations, on the Canadian side, and the Robert Moses 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 Lakes use the Welland Canal, 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 Island and Navy Island, the two largest islands, are on the American and Canadian sides of the river. Goat Island and the tiny Luna Island split Niagara Falls into its three sections, the Horseshoe, Bridal Veil, and American Falls. 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.

The American Falls with Goat Island to its right.



Queenston, Ontario, then known as Queenstown, Upper Canada, in a c. 1805 watercolour by army surgeon Edward Walsh. The Niagara River is clearly visible.

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). [6]

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 York.[7]

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. The Freedom Crossing Monument stands on the bank of the river in Lewiston, to commemorate the courage of the escaping slaves and the local volunteers who assisted them in secretly crossing the river.

In the 1880s, the Niagara River became the first waterway in North America to be harnessed for large-scale generation of hydroelectricity.[8]

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.

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 Gorge, such as landslides and icepacks.


The following parks are located along the Niagara River:




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


  1. ^ a b "Facts & Figures - Niagara Parks, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada" (online). Retrieved 2007-05-30.  
  2. ^ Water Resources Data New York Water Year 2003, Volume 3: Western New York, USGS
  3. ^ Bruce Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic (McGill-Queen's University Press, Kingston and Montreal,1987, ISBN 0-7735-0626-8), pgs.95.
  4. ^ Stewart, George R. (1967) Names on the Land. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; pg. 83.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Hennepin, Louis. A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903. Accessed 8 December 2008.
  7. ^ Porter, Peter (1914). Landmarks of the Niagara Frontier. The Author.  
  8. ^ 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

External links

Coordinates: 43°04′41″N 79°04′37″W / 43.078°N 79.077°W / 43.078; -79.077



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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Proper noun

Niagara River

  1. A river in North America flowing to the north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and including the Niagara Falls.


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