NIAGARA FALLS - Niagara Falls during the daytime is powerful, as you watch the force of the rushing waters, but at night it becomes magical as lights illuminate the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls.
The falls will seem even more magical soon as new LED lights are being installed to replace 20-year-old bulbs that shine on them.
The Niagara Falls Illumination Board, a bi-national organization, has begun a $3.1 million project to replace the existing 21 Xenon lights, a type of halogen bulb, with the latest in LED technology which will provide twice the lighting levels, programmable features, and a broader and more robust color spectrum. The new lighting will eliminate dark gaps while also providing greater energy efficiencies and reduced maintenance costs, according to the Niagara Parks Commission.
The brighter, more vibrant illumination is three times more powerful with all the colors of the spectrum, according to the Niagara Falls Illumination Board.
Nightly illumination will continue through the lighting replacement process, which began in September, according to the Niagara Parks Commision. An official ceremony to celebrate the new lighting is planned for Dec. 1.
The new lights are being installed at locations already in use on the Canadian side of the gorge.
The energy usage for the existing lights is about 126 kilowatts, which costs $33,000 a year to operate. The new system would only use 52 kilowatts, a 59 percent reduction in energy use, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster told the City Council several months ago.
Enhanced lighting has already proved to have "tremendous potential" for visitors experiences at high profile events such as the Nik Wallenda high-wire walk and Red Bull Crashed Ice, according to the Niagara Parks Commission.
Mark Thomas, New York States Parks Western District director, is also chairman of the Niagara Falls Illumination Board. He has called lighting the falls a vital part of the visitor experience and said that the improvements will encourage visitation.
Dyster agreed and told the Common Council in May, "There are some that say this would be more of a direct benefit to the Canadians because they front the falls, but this is a benefit to us as a tourism destination to have a view of the falls at nighttime that goes along with the experience during the day."
Lighting the falls is something people have yearned for throughout history, according to the Niagara Parks Commission .
- It was first attempted 150 years ago when in 1860 the Falls celebrated a visit by the Prince of Wales. About 200 colored and white calcium torpedo lights were placed along the banks above and below the American Falls. The lights were called "Bengal Lights" and were the type used at sea to signal for help.
- The first illumination of the falls using electricity occurred in January 1879, during a visit by the Marquis of Lorne, governor-general of Canada. The lights had an illumination power of 32,000 candles, just a fraction of the intensity used today. The lights were only used for one season.
- In 1892, Frank LeBlond, one of the owners of the Maid of the Mist purchased a 4,000 candlepower light and placed it on the Canadian dock of the Maid of the Mist to light the American Falls. He placed gelatin plates in front of the lights to provide a variety of colors.
- In 1895, Capt. John Brinker built the Great Gorge Railroad and announced he would provide night excursions three times a week during the summer season, complete with lights to illuminate the Whirlpool. Forty arc lamps of 2,000 candlepower each were placed in the gorge to "make the gorge as light as day," according to the newspaper of the day.
- In 1901, large crowds were drawn to the falls for a special lighting that was set up as part of the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo.
- 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 1.11 billion. The display ran for several weeks.
- The Niagara Falls Illumination Board was established by businessmen in 1925. The board's first installation in 1925 was 24 carbon searchlights emitting a total of 1.32 billion candlepower. The falls have been illuminated ever since that time - except during World War II and when the generating plant could not provide enough power.
- New fixtures and new lights were installed in 1997 and 1998, doubling the intensity of the outdated lamps. There are now 21 Xenon lights used to illuminate the falls in a rainbow of colors. Eighteen are located in the illumination tower beside Queen Victoria Park and three are located below street level in the Niagara Gorge to light the American Falls. Each Xenon spotlight has a brilliance of 250 million candlepower.
The project costs $3.1 million in U.S. currency, or $4 million in Canadian. Both countries agreed to split the total cost. On the American side most of the costs are being picked up by New York State and New York Power Authority Greenway funds. The City of Niagara Falls' share is $35,850, an amount that has already been approved the City Council.
Following a request for proposals, a consortium of Canadian firms were chosen for the enhanced illumination project: ECCO Electric Ltd., Salex, Inc., Mulvey and Banani Lighting Inc., Sceneworks and Stanley Electric.