The Tunnel: Niagara’s Historical Journey and Destination
05 Oct 2022
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If you thought Niagara Falls was all about the waterfalls, you’re in for a surprise. Niagara Parks Power Station is home to an all-new attraction, deep beneath the main generating floor. The Tunnel is a truly unique and fully accessible underground experience that allows you to walk the path that the water once flowed.
Niagara Parks Power Station
A tour of the historic Niagara Parks Power Station is the perfect way to see how the flow of the Niagara River can create power.
The Canadian Niagara Power Company Generating Station (as it was then known) would take in water from the upper Niagara River, and divert that water down a 180-foot penstock filled with massive turbines. As the water flowed through the shaft, the turbines would spin, creating hydroelectric power. The spent water then flowed from the bottom of the penstock at the power station through a massive tunnel to an opening near the base of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.
Due to an increase in power demand, new modern facilities were built further north up the Niagara River (Sir Adam Beck I Generating Station, Sir Adam Beck II Generating Station, Sir Adam Beck Pump Generating Station).
The aging Canadian Niagara Power Company Generating Station was decommissioned in 2006. Niagara Parks Commission purchased the dormant power station in 2009 with dreams of turning it into the next big attraction in Niagara Falls.
The power station remained closed over the next several years. In 2019, construction and modifications began to make the dream a reality. The renamed Niagara Parks Power Station opened as a tourist attraction in July of 2021, allowing visitors to take a guided or self-guided tour of the main generating floor, and experience interactive exhibits and restored artifacts. It would become one of the most popular attractions in Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Parks Power Station is a great way to learn about the history of hydroelectric power in Niagara Falls.
From the generator hall of the Niagara Parks Power Station, you can board a glass-walled elevator, and descend 180 feet to the tunnel wheelpit.
“We want the guests to experience all the different levels, all the infrastructure that’s required in the power generating process.” ~ Marcelo Gruosso, Senior Director of Engineering & Parks Operations
While traveling down to the historic tunnel on the elevator, you can see the many floors of the station, and imagine the water flowing down that shaft.
“You’re going down these elevators as if you are in the penstock and you land in the wheelpit which is where the water would drop and then start this journey out through the tunnel and out to the Niagara River. So you are basically the water, and you get that entire experience.” ~ Marcelo Gruosso, Senior Director of Engineering & Parks Operations
When the elevator doors open, you can see the path the power station’s spent waters once flowed. The 115+ year-old underground brick-lined tunnel is quite majestic, and quite a bit cooler than the main generator hall. The bricks are cool to the touch, and will probably be wet.
“The Tunnel is a marvel of engineering. Over 100 years ago between 1901 and 1904, they were able to start and finish that tunnel. Even before the plant itself was actually finished.” ~ Marcelo Gruosso, Senior Director of Engineering & Parks Operations
The tunnel’s newly-constructed concrete floor helps visitors wind their way from the Niagara Parks Power Station to the viewing platform at the lower Niagara River. The concrete floor is flat and slightly sloped with curbs, making this attraction fully accessible. The 2200-foot walk through the cool tunnel is long, but there are several benches along the way to stop and rest. At these rest spots, there are interpretive panels that will help you understand the construction and history of the tunnel, and how it played an integral role in generating hydropower.
“In the summer of 2021, we opened the generator hall floor and the spectacular evening sound and light show called Currents. Now with opening the Tunnel it really does complete that visitor experience telling a complete story of the Niagara Parks Power Station.” ~ David Adames, Niagara Parks CEO
It’s really tough to imagine that this massive tunnel was excavated in 1901 using nothing but rudimentary dynamite, pickaxes, shovels, and lanterns to light the way. Amazing how far infrastructure excavation has come in the past century.
“With the opening of the Tunnel, the incredible transformation that has taken place over the past two years to restore the power station and transform it into a one-of-a-kind visitor attraction is officially complete. This is truly a landmark achievement and one that has and will continue to draw the interest and adoration of a global audience while preserving this heritage building for future generations of Ontarians.” ~ April Jeffs, Niagara Parks Chair
The journey was awesome, but what lies at the end of the tunnel is the destination. When you approach the exit portal of the Tunnel, you will see a beautiful view of the American and Bridal Veil Falls framed perfectly in the tunnel opening. You can walk right out onto the newly constructed viewing platform that extends 65 feet out into the lower Niagara River. Front here, you will experience a panoramic view of the lower Niagara Gorge and the mighty Horseshoe Falls.
“The end of the Tunnel provides a spectacular guest experience.” ~ David Adames, Niagara Parks CEO
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This is where the water once flowed out of the tunnel back into the Niagara River. You can see how large the opening to the tunnel is, and can imagine how much water flowed through on any given day. This is what the journey is all about!
“You can feel it. You can smell it. You can basically touch it. That’s how you feel when you’re on this platform.” ~ Marcelo Gruosso, Senior Director of Engineering & Parks Operations
While there are many ways to see the Falls, this is my new favourite. You are a couple of feet above river level, a bit further back than the Journey Behind The Falls platforms, so you’ll get a better vantage point for photos and video without getting as wet. You will still feel the mist, but it won’t be as much as if you were closer or on the Voyage to the Falls Boat Tour. If you are there on a hot day, the mist will be quite refreshing. If it is a cooler day, I recommend wearing a sweater and using the provided poncho.
Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed
If you are going to be in Niagara Falls in the evening as well, make sure you come back to the Niagara Parks Power Station and check out “Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed“. This fantastic kid-friendly sight and sound show features interactive media and a captivating musical score.
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You’ll hear how engineers and inventors harnessed the power of the world’s most powerful waterfall to create electricity in this historic building. The show is pretty awesome and is sure to be a hit with kids of all ages.
Make sure you wear comfortable and appropriate footwear. The journey will go from dry (in the power plant) to various degrees of wet (in the tunnel and on the platform). The tunnel is significantly cooler than the power station, so a sweater is recommended. As well, ensure you grab a complimentary poncho before boarding the elevator if you don’t want to get wet.
The Tunnel experience is included in your admission to the Niagara Parks Power Station. If you are interested in experiencing the Currents sound and light show, I recommend purchasing a Power Pass, which gives you access to all three attractions for one low price.
If you are there for a couple of days, consider the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass Plus. This jam-packed bundle gives you access to five awesome attractions: Niagara Parks Power Station Self-Guided Admission, Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara’s Fury, White Water Walk, and the Whirlpool Aero Car. It also gives you access to the WEGO bus system and unlimited access to the Falls Incline Railway for two consecutive days. It’s a great value!
Location & Parking
The Niagara Parks Power Station is located at 7005 Niagara Pkwy in Niagara Falls. Paid parking is available on site.
Pro Tip: If you plan on heading to any of the Niagara Parks locations more than once in a calendar year, consider purchasing the Niagara Parks Parking Pass. This purchase activates up to two vehicles in the same household, and gives you unlimited parking at any of the Niagara Parks lots, from Niagara-On-The-Lake to Fort Erie. This is super handy if you want to visit several locations around Niagara Falls, and not have to pay each time to park.
Experience The Tunnel
There’s an entire underground world to explore at the Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls. The Tunnel is an amazing experience that allows you to walk the path the water once flowed. Be prepared for a cool walk through the tunnel, and to get a little wet when you get out to the viewing platform. The panoramic view is amazing, and should not be “mist”.
“This is truly a remarkable one-of-a-kind travel experience.” ~ Chris Giles, Niagara Parks Communications Manager
Oh, and if you are looking for some great places to eat while in Niagara Falls, we’ve got you covered.
Craig is a husband, a father, team leader, travel and food writer, senior youth group coordinator, designer, brander, community builder, volunteer, and social media strategist. Craig likes to travel, go camping, go on road trips, watch movies, build stuff, operate the grill, and sing with his band. Craig is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada. In June 2017, PR firm Cision identified Craig as one of Canada’s top 10 most popular male bloggers in the parents and family space.