The Niagara Falls Illumination Board's
The Illumination of Niagara Falls
This page is dedicated to
Mr. Pete Gordon and Mr. Dick Mann
Peter and Dick are employed as Light Operators for the Niagara Falls Illumination Board with a combined 78 years of dedicated and loyal service.
Peter Gordon is 79 years old and in 2010 celebrates his 50th year of service.
Dick Mann is 77 years old and in 2010 celebrates his 28th year of service.
Both men are the unheralded individuals who on an alternating nightly basis of every day of every year, no matter the weather, have thrilled hundreds of millions of people from all over the world with their commitment and talents. They are the artists who paint the largest and most famous canvass in the world with the colours of the rainbow - the Falls of Niagara.
The nightly Illumination of Niagara Falls is arguably the most famous and influential attraction other than the Falls themselves. It is an attraction that has no admission and no borders.
A special thank you to Peter Gordon and Dick Mann for allowing a glimpse into their respective jobs and backgrounds. Each of these two men are remarkably knowledgeable, friendly and dedicated. They are passionate about their jobs. This passion translates each and every night in their ability to light up the Falls of Niagara in a kaleidoscope of colours to the delight of each and every visitor. Interestingly, they are for the most part the invisible and unrecognized part of a world renown attraction. It is an attraction that on a nightly basis is viewed in amazement by millions of people each year, yet is the most mysterious and intriguing of all Niagara Falls attractions. With limited exceptions, the public has no access to the Illumination Building nor have they had an opportunity to meet Peter and Dick.
Meet Pete Gordon and Dick Mann - the men behind the Lights of Niagara
(click above link)
The Summer of 1860, Mr. Blackwell of England proposed the Illumination of the Falls in honour of the upcoming visit of the Prince of Wales.
Using two hundred (200) Bengal Lights, he arranged sixty (60) in a row below the high bank on the Canadian shoreline aimed at the American Falls. Blackwell placed another sixty (60) lights under the Table Rock and the remaining eighty (80) lights behind the sheet of water at the Horseshoe Falls.
At 10 p.m. on September 14th 1860, the Falls of Niagara were illuminated for the first time in history in the presence of the Prince of Wales. Although successful, Blackwell's method of illumination wasn't utilized again.
In the late 1860's, calcium "torpedo" lights were utilized to illuminate portions of the Niagara gorge at night.
In 1879, Niagara Falls was again illuminated for the Royal visit of Princess Louise and her husband , the Marquis of Lorne - Governor General of Canada. It was the first time in history that the Falls of Niagara were illuminated by use of electricity.
The Brush Electric Company of Cleveland, Ohio used arc lights to illuminate the Falls. A water wheel was located in the rapids upstream of the American Falls. It was connected to a dynamo type generator capable of producing 36 horsepower of electricity to sixteen arc lights. Each light produced 2,000 candlepower for an overall total of 32,000 candlepower. Twelve (12) of the lights were utilized to light Prospect Park while the remaining four (4) lights were positioned at the base of the American Falls.
The Brush light system was only used for one season.
In 1892, Frank LaBlond, a co-owner of the Maid of the Mist Boat Company ordered a 4,000 candlepower search light to be focused upon the American Falls from the Maid of the Mist landing along the Canadian shore. He planned to use coloured gelatin plates to give the American Falls the effect of having different colours.
In 1901, during the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, the Falls were illuminated with spotlights to attract attention of visitors at the Exposition.
One of the searchlights was situated beside the Michigan Central Railway along the high bank at Falls View. Power for this particular light was provided from the International Railway Company in the park below.
In 1907, William D'Arcy Ryan of the General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York designed a new light system to illuminate the Falls. Thirty-six (36) new lights had a strength of 1,115,000,000 candlepower were mounted along the Ontario Power Company access road immediately north of the Ontario Power Generating Station near the base of the gorge. They were aimed at the American Falls. Coloured gelatin film was placed across the face of the light to project colours upon the American Falls. Men were paid 50¢ each to stand beside the lights and change the coloured gelatin films.
The Falls were not normally lighted on Sundays. There were several exceptions. On October 9th 1907, the Falls were illuminated during a visit by the Duke of Cornwall and again on October 18th 1919, during a visit of the Prince of Wales.
In 1920, lights were installed on the roof of the Ontario Power Generating Station located at the base of the Niagara Gorge just north of the Horseshoe Falls. Additional lights were mounted on the Table Rock House. This allowed for illumination of the Horseshoe Falls. The lights were strategically located to conceal their location.
During the early 1920's, a group of businessmen from Niagara Falls, New York formed a group that became known as the "generators". They were dedicated ensuring the continued illumination of Niagara Falls and to improve upon the lighting system. This group began lobbying officials of both American and Canadian Governments. For their efforts, this group received a commitment from both governments to maintain the illumination lights. The "generators" group had raised $58,000 for the purchase and installation of twenty-four new arc lights. Each light was thirty-six (36) inches in diameter.
On February 24th 1925, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board was formed. It had ten original representatives. Niagara Falls, New York had six members, Niagara Falls, Ontario had two members and the Niagara Falls Queen Victoria Park Commission had two members. The board had an initial budget of $28,000 to ensure the management, operation and maintenance of the illumination lights.
The power to supply the illumination lights was being provided for free by the Ontario Power Company (OPC).
In 1938, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board was increased to include two members of the hydro company.
New lights are mounted in a battery (or row) on the Ontario Power Company water surge tank which is located next to the Refractory (Victoria Park) Restaurant just north of the Horseshoe Falls. This allowed lighting of both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls from the same location. Each light used 4,500 watts and were originally built to search the sky for enemy aircraft over Britain during World War II.
The Illumination Building Control Room
On May 25th 1925, the new lights mounted on the Ontario Power Company surge tank was lit for the first time. A Festival of Lights was planned to coincide with the official dedication of this light system.
The official ceremony took place on June 8th 1925. It included a light parade in Niagara Falls, New York followed by an International ceremony in the middle of the Upper Steel Arch Bridge before the lights were turned on to illuminate the Falls with many spectators looking on.
The twenty-four (24) spotlights were operated by a crew of three men. Colour gelatin films were manually slid into place in front of each light. Each light produced 55 million candlepower. The series of lights generated a total of 1,320,000,000 candlepower.
In 1951, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board negotiated a new cost sharing agreement to allow for the continued illumination of the Falls and lighting system upgrades. In this new agreements costs were allocated as follows:
Niagara Falls, New York pays 50%
Niagara Falls, Ontario pays 6.87%
Niagara Parks pays 25.55%
Ontario Hydro pays 17.58%
In 1953, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board was increased by two members. The new representatives were from the Niagara Frontier - New York State Parks Commission.
On June 20th 1958, twenty (20) new carbon arc lights were installed by the General Electric Company of Canada at a cost of $153,000. Ten lights were aimed at the Horseshoe Falls and five lights were focused on the American Falls. In addition, two lights were aimed at Goat Island and two lights were focused on the Upper Rapids. The new lights each emitted 4,200,000 candlepower generating a total of 84 million candlepower. The new system included white lights and a combination of fifteen possible colours.
Colors the Illumination lights use are white, red, amber, green, and blue.
In 1970, three (3) Xenon lights were installed on the lower river bank to illuminate the Bridal Veil Falls (Luna Falls).
In 1974, eighteen (18) Xenon gas spotlights were put into use. Each light is 30 inches (76cm) in diameter and each generate 250,000,000 candlepower.
In 1979, three Xenon lights were positioned just south of the Canadian Niagara Power intake and shine on the plume of mist from the Falls. Currently, these three lights are no longer utilized since area hotels complained of the lights shining into nearby hotel rooms.
A battery of three Xenon lights were built to shine directly on the American Falls from a location along the Ontario Power Company access road on the Canadian shore. Both satellite locations are operated by remote control.
By the mid 1990's, the Illumination Lights were in need of a modernization overhaul. Complaints had been received that the current lights were too weak and ineffective to properly illuminate the Falls.
In 1995 the Niagara Falls Illumination Board hired lighting expert and consultant, Linus MacDonald to redesign and improve the illumination of the Falls. MacDonald was the lighting engineer for CFTO Television in Toronto a part of the CTV Television Network. In this capacity, Linus was responsible for the special effects lighting for earlier television productions covering the New Year's Eve party in Queen Victoria Park broadcast on the CTV Network.
Linus MacDonald redesigned, retro-fitted the aluminum light projection shells and installed a new, efficient and modern lighting system that continues in service today.
MacDonald selected the OSRAM 4,000 watt lamp bulb because it was best suited to highlight the illumination of the Falls. Although OSRAM builds bulbs up to 10,000 watts which would turn the night time waterfalls into daylight, there wouldn't be the ambience and colours that goes along with the softer illumination. According to MacDonald there is a stark contrast between lighting the Falls and Illuminating the Falls. Lighting the Falls would be much brighter and harsher and much less photogenic and eye appealing. Interestingly, the current intensity of illumination was specifically chosen to be far superior than it's predecessors yet more photogenic and eye appealing. The current illumination configuration is best viewed from a distance rather than close-up in order to obtain the best possible visual impact.
The center of the Horseshoe Falls is not illuminated because of the waterborne mist that rising from the base of the falls, high into the air above. The water molecules of the rising mist form an impenetrable wall that reflects the light and does not allow the light to penetrate to the waterfalls behind it.
As part of a 1997 upgrade, work began in the Spring to replace old illumination lights with a new 21 light system that will allow 60 - 70 percent more illumination. At a cost of $150,000, the first ten lights were replaced during that year. The new lights use only 4,000 watts - low voltage illumination lights generate an enormous 8.2 billion candlepower. Each bulb is rated at 1,100 hours or one season and cost approximately $1,400 each to replace. The lamp bulbs are supplied by OSRAM GmbH of Germany, one of the world's leading lamp manufacturers. OSRAM produces state-of-the-art lighting solutions that light up people's lives all over the world. The new lamps produce twice as much light as the previous lighting installations and consume 10 per cent less power.
The remaining eleven lights were replaced in 1998. The old lights were to be sold or used for spare parts.
In December 1997, five more lights were replaced with the much brighter and more economical new lights.
The illumination lights have operated continuously since their inception in the late 1800's till now. Throughout the years there have been only several interruptions. During periods of WWI & WWII the illumination lights were not turned on. The other interruption occurred in January 1938, when a major ice jam shut down the Ontario Power Company Generating Station at the base of the gorge. The lights remained off until the power station resumed operations.
Today illumination of the Falls of Niagara occurs every night throughout the year. This illumination project continues to be administered and funded by a five member International Board known as the Niagara Falls Illumination Board. Board members currently consist of representatives from the City of Niagara Falls Ontario, the City of Niagara Falls New York, the Niagara Frontier State Park Authority of New York, Ontario Power Generation (Ontario Hydro) and the Niagara Parks Commission.
The Osram Xenon Light Bulb
used to Illuminate the Falls
each bulb is 4,000 watts and project 500 million candlepower
Linus MacDonald continues to maintain all the lights that illuminate the Falls of Niagara each and every night.
Each of the Osram Xenon Light Bulbs used to Illuminate the Falls are replaced yearly and have lasted 1,300+ hours. Each 4,000 watt bulb must be handled with extreme caution and only by an expert. The internal pressure within each lamp when cold contains 7½ times the normal atmospheric pressure and when hot, the pressure within the lamp exceeds 14 times the normal atmospheric pressure. These internal pressures make the lamps extremely explosive and dangerous to handle. When handling the lamps, MacDonald using a factory felt like wrapping when carrying the lights. The wrapping is designed to limit the high velocity shards of glass if the lamp breaks while being handled or repaired. In addition, MacDonald wears a ballistic vest and full face protective shield while working with the lamps.
The Niagara Falls Illumination Board currently employ two operators on staff to conduct the nightly illumination of the Falls. The light show is controlled by a single operator, who by remote control changes colour of the lights by changing the combination of the coloured gelatins in front of each light. The standard colour of each light projector is white.
The entire operation is run from a small control panel in an elongated room overlooking the illumination lights with a vista of the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. The operator will change the lights every five to ten minutes.
The Old Control Panel and Rectifier
Until the autumn of 2009, the operator changed the light colours by manually turning a series of four colour coded (red, blue, green, yellow) round shaped toggle switches for each of the twenty-one lights. With each turn of any of these switches, a large coloured panel (or any combination of the four panels) housed in the section above the actual light drops down in front of the lights or rises as the case maybe in order to create the rainbows of colour shining upon the Falls.
In late 2009, the rectifier/control room was modernized. New modern and much smaller rectifiers were installed. These rectifiers are used to transform alternating current to direct current for the light projectors. The former light control panel was replaced with modern computerized "touch screen" activated screens. Touching the colours on the new computer screens automatically changes the gelatin colour panels in the light projectors.
The four primary gelatin colour panels (red, blue, purple, amber) are secured to 4 feet by four feet square metal panels within each projector light. It takes less than 30 seconds to change the colour of any light. The gelatin colour panels are replaced approximately four times a year and cost about $25 each.
The new computerized "Touch Screen" activated projection light control panels
There is no automated program that dictates the colour sequences that shine upon the Falls. The operator working creates the kaleidoscope of colours by calling upon their experience and artistic talents.
The operator also controls a battery of three Xenon lights by remote control, that were built to shine directly on the American Falls from a location along the former Ontario Power Company access road on the Canadian shore.
Power is supplied by the City of Niagara Falls (Ontario) Hydro Commission. It is estimated that the cost of illuminating the Falls including the services of an operator is approximately $85 per hour.
The Illumination Lights Battery
|January 1st - January 31st||5:00 p.m. - Midnight|
|February 1st - February 28th||6:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.|
|March 1st - March 9th||7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.|
|March 10th - March 31st||8:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.|
|April1st - April 30th||8:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.|
|May 1st - August 15th||9:00 p.m. - Midnight|
|August 16th - September 30th||8:30 p.m. - Midnight|
|October 1st - November 1st||7:00 p.m. - Midnight|
|November 2nd - December 30th||5:00 p.m. - Midnight|
|December 31st||5:00 p.m. - 1:00 a.m.|
|During the month of March and April the Illumination of the Falls is extended until Midnight every Friday, Saturday and Sunday|
|NIAGARA FALLS THUNDER ALLEY NAVIGATOR|
Date last updated:
January 26, 2013
The preceding locations and facts about them are but a few of many famous sites & attractions to be found in Niagara Falls. The best of it is FREE to see...so think of Niagara Falls when planning your next vacation. If you have questions of a current or historical nature about the Niagara Falls area or suggestions feel free to e-mail Rick at:
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