Thursday 15 August 2013

Behind the Sheet

"It would be harder for man to stand nearer to God than he does here."  (Charles Dickens)

Today I stood under 739,682 gallons of water, its thunder pounding in my ears, its mist soaking my feet.  I am one of over 8 million tourists who visit Table Rock each year to experience the rush of Niagara Falls. While I have been to the Falls many times, I have never "journeyed under the Falls".  Today, I took the plunge.

Niagara Falls courtesy

People have been visiting Niagara Falls for centuries.  In their Sunday best, they would climb over huge boulders and up the steep bank, then perch themselves on Terrapin Point.

In 1818, only six years after General Brock had perished at the Battle of Queenston Heights down the river, a set of enclosed stairs was built from the brink of Niagara Falls down to the gorge.  By 1827, businessman Thomas Barnett offered a tour beneath the Falls called "Sheet of Falling Water" or "Behind the Sheet".  In 1832, a spiral staircase replaced the original one.  The mid-1800's saw the building of Table Rock House where tourists would flock to view the Falls.  By 1887, a hydraulic lift was installed which could carry 10 passengers.  

(Thumbnail) Horse Drawn Carriage in front of Table Rock House and entrance to Scenic Tunnels (image/jpeg)

Table Rock House circa 1928 courtesy

The first tunnel was carved out of the rock in 1889.  Lantern-carrying guides would escort tourists through the tunnel.  It was the same year that a rock fall at Horseshoe Falls forced the "Behind the Sheet" tour to close.  In 1902, the Ontario Power Company built a new tunnel, 244 kilometres in length.  The Table Rock House was closed to the public during World War I to be used as a military headquarters.

(Thumbnail) Coat & Boot Change Room of the Table Rock Scenic Tunnels (image/jpeg)

A new Table Rock House was built in 1925 to replace the old one.  It was here that tourists would don heavy rubber rain coast and boots before venturing under the Falls.  With the advent of the Second World War, the scenic tunnels were closed to the public as well as Queen Victoria Park.  However, after D-Day, within the end of the war in sight, a new tunnel was built and opened to the public in 1944, 18 metres behind the original one (due to the recession of the rock).  This tunnel had electricity eliminating the need for lanterns.  In 1951, an observation plaza was built at the base of the Falls.  

Two years later, actress Marilyn Monroe filmed the movie Niagara in town, bringing even more tourists to the border town.  In 1960, another soon to be famous American visited Niagara Falls, Senator John F. Kennedy.  And an unknown local boy, Roger Woodward, fell over the brink of the Falls wearing nothing but a life jacket and swim trunks.  Miraculously, he survived and was picked up by the Maid of the Mist, as people watched from the lookout under the Falls.  Famous people continued to flock to the Falls and tour its tunnels including Princess Diana and her two boys in 1991.

Today, tourists don bright yellow rain ponchos to tour the tunnels.  Plaques line the walls of the tunnels with information on the Falls and the tunnels.  But the best part of the tour is the stop at the observation deck, where tourists are doused by some of the 700,000 plus gallons of water.  It's worth the journey!

Journey Behind the Falls Observation Platform (image/jpeg)

Observation Deck courtesy

For more information, read my post "Frozen Falls" at or "Roger's Ride" at or "Blondin's Bravery, Wallenda's Will" at

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