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Niagara Falls History

It all began about 18,000 years ago when ice sheets covered southern Ontario. The glaciers, up to 2 miles thick, eventually receded, creating the Great Lakes. The upper lakes flowed into the lower lakes, and a great channel formed between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Niagara Falls began to tumble. Now, thousands of years later, the waterfalls straddle the Canadian-U.S. border, and attract some 12 million visitors annually. Thanks to a strange geological formation that occurred about 500 years ago, the river split into two channels, creating a small island in the middle now called Goat Island. From the American side three falls are visible: the American Falls, the Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. What became the city of Niagara Falls was first a trading outpost, an important military redoubt, and then, with the boom of the Industrial Age, a factory town. Incorporated in 1892, the city grew up alongside factories that harnessed the waterfalls’ immense hydro-electric power. Immigrants, mainly Polish and Italian, flooded the city in a similar pattern to neighboring Buffalo. By the mid-1900s, Niagara Falls was home to dozens of industrial plants, emitting pollution and dumping waste. Eventually the factories closed, but the waste remained. The city’s plight came to national attention in 1978, when then-President Jimmy Carter named its notorious Love Canal neighborhood, built over a longtime toxic waste site, a federal emergency. Residents had to be relocated, away from the contaminated landfill. Two years later, the Superfund Law was created to hold companies responsible for land they’d polluted in the course of business. Depressed, and without much industry, Niagara Falls was slow to capitalize on tourism. It wasn’t until neighboring Ontario, Canada, launched an aggressive campaign in the 1990s to turn its city into a “Las Vegas” of the north that Niagara Falls decided to follow suit. Now, with its first gambling casino in place, it hopes further growth is on the horizon.