Niagara Falls Thunder Alley


a history & pictorial



Stern of the Great Eastern rock today

a current view of the Lockport Limestone cap rock of Wintergreen Flats
site of an ancient Water Falls - 7,000 years ago
at the Niagara Glen
(rock over-hang was scaled in 1959 for safety reasons)


The Stern of the Great Eastern Rock - Niagara Glen

the original "Stern of the Great Eastern" rock of Wintergreen Flats in 1937


The "Stern of the Great Eastern" was named after the stern of  the British iron steamship "Great Eastern". The ship was launched in 1858 under the name "Leviathan" which aptly described its size at a time when a ship of 1000 tonnes was considered large. This ship became a famous passenger liner until 1866 when the ship was renamed the "Great Eastern" and was used to successfully lay a Trans-Atlantic cable from England to North America. The Great Eastern at 22,374 tonnes was truly monstrous. It was to remain the largest ship in the world until the arrival of the Lusitania 48 years later. It was also steam powered when the vast majority of the world's merchant fleet still relied on sail power. The Great Eastern was a demonstration of Britain's domination of the waves and industrial pre-eminence. But the Great Eastern was plagued by misfortune and ended its short life, rather ignobly, as a floating amusement park. The "Great Eastern" was scrapped in 1888.

The Niagara Glen is today a favourite site for thousands of visitors each year. It is a beautiful picnic area located on the top of the Wintergreen Flats with well marked and plentiful nature trails to the river below.

The Lockport Limestone rock on which the top of the Wintergreen Flats rests was formed over 400 million years, beginning with an ancient salt water ocean which encompassed this region. This limestone rock layer is about 80 feet thick.

This Lockport Limestone rock layer was undercut by a softer layer of rock underneath by the water flow of a wild river 7,000 years earlier. One edge of this etched rock was shaped like the stern of an ancient ship. Hence the name "the Stern of the Great Eastern".



The Niagara Glen

the Niagara Glen Nature Area



A walk through the Niagara Glen is a walk through the hourglass of time. The layers of rock and fossils that are visible provide a geological snapshot of period dating back 350 - 430 million years ago - a geological masterpiece which today continues unabated.

The Niagara Glen is located approximately 2 kilometers north of the Whirlpool, along  the Niagara River in an area known as the "Lower Great Gorge" or "Devil's Hole Rapids".

Today, the speed of the water flowing through the Lower Great Gorge at the Niagara Glen is 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph).



Moss on rocks of the glen

Foster's Flats -where rocks, moss and trees are one




Cedar trees growing on rocks - Niagara Glen

Cedar trees grow from the rocks


This was the site of the Falls of Niagara 6,000 - 7,000 years ago.

The waters of ancient Lake Iroquois (Lake Ontario) were approximately 137 feet higher than the current water levels of Lake Ontario. Water falling into a deep water basin lessened the erosion rate. As the Falls of the Niagara Glen eroded to the south end of the present Niagara Glen area, the water flow from the inland lakes increased seven fold. During this period of time, the waters of ancient Lake Iroquois (Lake Ontario) began draining through the Mohawk River Valley resulting in the lake level dropping approximately 100 feet (30 meters). The water fall increased substantially to 37 meters (120 feet) in height to the plunge pool below.




Boulders the size of a house

Massive boulders which once fell from the crest
of the Wintergreen Flats waterfall, rest on the ground of Foster's Flats



Here also existed an ancient island similar in size to the present Goat Island. Water flowed around both sides of this island before falling over the edge of the Wintergreen Flats to the water below resulting in two separate water falls. The dual falls continued until the main gorge to the east eroded back far enough past the beginning of the island effectively cutting off the secondary flow to the west of the island. The Falls of Niagara became a single Falls once again.

Just to the south of the Niagara Glen, the water flow of the Falls increased immensely  when the waters from the upper great lakes began flowing into Lake Erie and this increase in water flow was channelled along the Niagara River.



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boulders are pitted showing evidence of having been subjected to an ancient waterfall
Rocks which were once under a tremendous amount of water
are now high and dry on Foster's Flats


Today the remnants of the ancient island lay below the Wintergreen Flats in two identifiable terraces.


They are:

1) Wilson Terrace:


Wilson Terrace - Niagara Glen

Wilson Terrace in the Spring Season



is the first level just below the Wintergreen Flats. This portion is the steepest and most demanding physically. This terrace was named after James Wilson, the first Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Parks - superintendent. It was Mr. Wilson's desire to preserve the glen as a nature area.

This ancient waterfalls caused the rocks of this layer and those layers underneath to erode and break away. The falling rocks; some larger than a house fell down to the river bottom. It is these rocks which restricted the water flow of the Niagara River which has resulted in the rapids that are today known as the "Great Gorge Rapids" or "Devils Hole Rapids".

The rocks that underlie this terrace are Clinton Limestone and Thorold Sandstone.



A walkway along a rock ledge on Wilson Terrace

a rock path along the Wilson Terrace portion of the Niagara Glen


2) Fosters Flats:


This portion of the Niagara Glen closest to the river. It is located approximately 35 feet (11m) above the river surface. Many of the famous caves and potholes are found on this level.

Foster's Flats are the remnants of the old river bottom underlain by Medina Sandstone and Queenston Red Shale.

Foster's Flats was named after a hermit named Mr. Foster.

Mr. Foster lived at the Niagara Glen during the 1850's. Here, Mr. Foster after obtaining government approval, built a saw mill on these flats at the edge of the river. For many years, Mr. Foster made his meager living by cutting wood in the glen and using the Niagara River to float the wood downstream to Queenston for sale.

The Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Parks Commission acquired the Niagara Glen property in 1894.  



Pebbly Beach at the northern end of Foster's Flats

a north view along the river edge at an area known as Pebble Beach
the Robert Moses Power Plant can be seen in distance



Early Niagara Glen Postcard

Early postcard of two women walking on the pathway under a ledge of Medina (Whirlpool) sandstone. Areas of this ledge collapsed on this pathway during the 1950's effectively cutting off any access  to the spring


The word "glen" is a Scottish word for a steep sided narrow valley.


In 1900, the first shelter at was built at the Niagara Glen. It was an arbour of cedar and bark.

In 1907, three rustic shelters were built on Foster's Flats near the water at points of special interest.

Between 1906 and 1907, two small dining pavilions were erected at picnic grounds located near the waters edge.

In 1928, a large dining pavilion was built on the top of Wintergreen Flats at the Niagara Glen. This pavilion was of similar construction to those pavilions erected in Queen Victoria Park.

In 1908, the main stairway leading down into the Niagara Glen was reconstructed.

In 1923, the Niagara Glen Restaurant was built.




A stairway into the Niagara Glen

a stairway leads from Wintergreen Flats to the glen below




The rocks of the Niagara Glen include:

1) Wintergreen Flats - Lockport Limestone

2) Wilson Terrace - Clinton rocks

3) Fosters Flats - Medina Sandstone



Walk amongst the rocks and trees on Foster's Flats

Foster's Flats - a walk through an enchanted forest




To learn more about the Geography and Geology of Niagara Falls visit the
Origins of Niagara Falls















Date last updated: April 25, 2015





The following 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 think of Niagara Falls when planning your next vacation. If you have current or historical questions about the Niagara Falls area feel free to e-mail Rick at