The water from the Niagara River seems to roar as it pours over the edge of the and crashes on the rocks below. For over a century Niagara Falls has been one of Canada’s top attractions. Visitors come from all over the world to admire and photograph the Falls, particularly the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

I’ve spent hours watching the Falls. Listening to the roar of the water, getting soaked by the mist and admiring the rainbows that appear on a clear sunny day. It’s what everyone does when they visit Niagara Falls. But watching the Falls isn’t the only attraction. There’s Maid of the Mist, Journey Behind the Falls, The Fury…And one other attraction that many people don’t know about.

Each night, after the sun has slipped behind the horizon, and the sky darkens, Niagara Falls is illuminated by blue, green, amber, purple, red or white lights. During the night the colours change, (I like to think that the Canadian side is always nicer, but that could be just me) depending on the mood of the illuminator. On most nights the illuminator is Richard (or another guy that I have never met), but on occasion the illuminator’s name could be…SpunkyGirl!

The illumination building (I have no clue what’s it’s actually called) is the one with the big spot lights across the road from the Falls. It’s made of fieldstone, and the only road going to the back of the building is a one way street leading out to the road (meaning I had to drive the wrong way on a one way to get back there). During the winter the Falls are illuminated from 5:00 p.m. to midnight (In the summer it’s usually 9:00 p.m. to midnight), and as it’s the slow season, the illuminating building is fairly quiet. Which is one of the reasons why I decided to pop in for a visit.

Niagara Falls -American Falls

American side of Niagara Falls (The Canadian side was too misty)

When Richard opened the steel door I put on a smile and asked if I could come in and take some photos of the Falls from the balcony. I was thrilled when he said yes. This wasn’t my first time inside the illumination building. I use to live and work in Niagara Falls in 2008 and managed to take 2 groups of backpackers to ‘Illuminate Niagara Falls’ (both visits were last minute, let’s see if they let us in kind of visits). Richard showed me inside and followed as I made my way to one of the balconies and struggled to set-up my tripod (I had borrowed one from a friend and didn’t know how to open the legs and make them stay). Photographing the Horseshoe Falls (Canadian side) turned out to be next to impossible due to all the mist, however photographing the American Falls was a lot easier. Richard watched and chatted as I snapped a few photos, then invited me to illuminate the Falls myself!

Inside the Illumination Station

Richard standing near the Illuminating boards

Richard was great. He explained how the lighting board worked (it’s not rocket science), then let me have a go at illuminating the Falls myself.

“Do you ever make the American side look ugly?” I asked, feeling slightly cheeky. Richard simply laughed and kept explaining the board. Within minutes I was given the power to illuminate the Falls myself. I loved it. It took a few minutes of playing around for me to figure out which spotlights were which and I’m pretty sure that if anyone was standing at the Falls trying to take a pretty photo, I may have screwed up their shot, but who cares! How many people do you know that can say they illuminated Niagara Falls?!

After playing with the lights for a few minutes and finally deciding on making the Horseshoe Falls red and white, I followed Richard back into the office where I had first come in. The room is small, about 7’x15′. The walls are covered with old newspaper clippings, business cards from around the world, random stuffed animals, and old mechanical parts. In many ways it looks like the inside of your Grandpa’s workshop. In many ways I could have stayed inside that room (it was nice and toasty warm in there) and hung out for another hour, talking to Richard about the Falls, and I’m sure he would have been happy for the company as it can be a lonely job -especially in winter.

Illuminating Niagara Falls is not an official attraction. Many people don’t know about it. Many locals have only heard rumours of it. Few visitors have walked up the driveway, knocked on the steel door and asked to see it for themselves.  Which is why I love to go there. Next time you’re in Niagara Falls, give it a shot. There is no guarantee that Richard (or the other guy) will let you in, but if their in a good mood and decide to show you around, you’ll walk away with a unique Niagara experience under your travel belt and a certificate saying you Illuminated the Falls.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

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5 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    That is very cool! I love that you asked if he ever makes the American Side look ugly. I noticed that he never answered;-) Lucky you being one of the few that have had the opportunity to do this! 

  2. Moe

    I have only been to Niagara Falls once, it was a blistering August — even the mist was not cooling for long. I would like to go back again perhaps during the fall when I can actually relax by the side and enjoy the view for a length of time.


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