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Saving Niagara From Itself: Turning off the American Falls in 1969

Thu, April 11, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Union E


Daniel Macfarlane will explore the campaign to preserve and enhance the American Falls at Niagara, focusing on the 1969 dewatering. The United States and Canada investigated whether they should preserve and enhance the American Falls, one of the two main cataracts at Niagara Falls, by physically reengineering it. This campaign had its roots in local concerns, but tapped into wider sentiments and emotions about the famous waterfall, and came to involve multiple levels of government and the International Joint Commission. Engineers looked at whether it was feasible to remove all the rock at the base of the American Falls – the talus – which them to “turn off” the waterfall in 1969. Using a range of techniques, including public consultations, the transborder experts concluded that it was feasible to give the waterfall a facelift, and presented a range of engineered options. However, the International Joint Commission ultimately recommended that it would be best to refrain from an interventionist approach and mostly leave the American Falls alone. Employing envirotech and emotional history approaches, this paper argues that over the course of a decade the meaning of “preservation” in the context of Niagara Falls significantly shifted because of several factors: the emerging environmental movement, the cost of removing the talus and other alterations, evidence that the public wouldn’t sufficiently appreciate these changes, and worries about tourism impacts.