During the Niagara Falls Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights, the Falls are illuminated in the colours of the rainbow – don’t miss the unmatched beauty of Niagara Falls at night! Did you know that since 1925, illumination of the Falls has been financed and operated by the Niagara Falls Illumination Board? As always, illuminations are approximate and subject to change according to light conditions.
Lighting the Falls to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the mighty Niagara even at night, was first attempted more than 140 years ago. In 1860, a spectacular illumination of the Falls celebrated a visit by the Prince of Wales. About 200 coloured and white calcium, volcanic and torpedo lights were placed along the banks above and below the American Falls, on the road down the bank of the Canadian side of the gorge and behind the water of the Horseshoe Falls. The lights were called Bengal lights and were the kind used at sea to signal for help or give warning.
Illumination of the Falls using electricity first occurred in January 1879, during a visit by the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada and his wife Princess Louise. The lights had an illumination power of 32,000 candles, just a fraction of the intensity used today.
In 1907, W. D’Arcy Ryan of the General Electric Company designed lighting that provided far more power than ever before. Thirty-six projectors illuminated the Falls with a combined candlepower of 1,115,000,000. The display ran for several weeks.
For more than a decade after that, different attempts were made to raise financing to install permanent lighting. Some efforts were prevented by the First World War, but in 1925, a group of interested businessmen finally created the Niagara Falls Illumination Board, to finance, operate and maintain a new, permanent illumination system. Today’s contributing members are the City of Niagara Falls, NY; the City of Niagara Falls, ON; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Ontario Power Generation; and The Niagara Parks Commission.
The Board’s first installation in 1925 was twenty-four carbon searchlights each 26 inches in diameter, emitting a total of 1,320,000,000 candlepower. The Falls have been illuminated most nights since that time – except during World War II when the lights were turned off to conserve power and during subsequent years when generating facilities could not keep pace with electrical requirements of the construction boom. It was not until January 1950 that the Illumination Board was able to guarantee enough power to operate the lights on a regular basis.
In 1997 and 1998, new fixtures replaced the outdated lamps and fixtures at the Illumination Tower, doubling the intensity of the lights on the Falls without doubling the hydro bills. Currently a total of 21 xenon lights, each with a 76-cm (30 in) diameter, are used to illuminate the Falls. Eighteen are located at the Illumination Tower, beside Queen Victoria Place and three are located below street level in the gorge opposite the American Falls. Each of the xenon spotlights produces more than 390 million peak beams and has a brilliance of 250 million candlepower.