St. David’s Buried Gorge

The Whirlpool Gorge, also known as St. David’s Buried Gorge, was a channel for an ancient river which existed before the advancement of the third Wisconsin Glacier. Many believe that this gorge was buried in glacial silt during the retreat approximately 12,000 years ago and never reopened.

When the Niagara Falls eroded the gorge back to where lies present day Thompson Point (where the Spanish Aero Car and the Whirlpool is located), the river found erosion of the rock much easier.

The Niagara River broke through a rock barrier which held back glacial debris. Later on it was discovered that this had been previously filled into what was the ancient gorge of the St. David’s River. The waters of the Niagara River quickly flushed this area of all the glacial debris, what is presently the Whirlpool, and changed direction to follow the ancient gorge a short distance in a southward direction.

It is believed that the Whirlpool Rapids Gorge which extends southward, to the present Michigan Central Railroad Bridge, had also been carved from the rock from the ancient St. David’s River. This is also responsible for the carving out of the now filled St. David’s buried gorge.

The ancient Whirlpool Rapids gorge was 38 meters (125 feet) wide. During the advance of the late Wisconsin Glacier the ancient Whirlpool gorge and the St. David’s gorge were filled with glacial debris.

At a previous moment in time, the ancient river did not make a dogleg (very sharp) turn at the Whirlpool. Rather it followed a relative straight line from the St. David’s Gorge, through the present Village of St. David’s, to the shore of Lake Iroquois (Lake Ontario).

The St. David’s buried gorge existed 22,800 years ago. It was a small portion of an ancient drainage system which extended the width of the Niagara Peninsula from Low Banks at Lake Warren (Lake Erie) to St. Catharine’s at Lake Iroquois (Lake Ontario).

The St. David’s Buried Gorge was discovered to be roughly 1219 meters (4000 feet) long, 305 meters (1000 feet) wide, and 91 meters (300 feet) deep at the Whirlpool. Previously the gorge was 200 feet (60 meters) deeper than the depth of Lake Ontario. The gorge extends into Lake Ontario 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) west of the present Niagara River.

When Ontario Hydro was building the intake water tunnels to feed the Sir Adam Beck Hydro-Electric Power Plant, it was forced to bring the tunnels to the surface while crossing the St. David’s Buried Gorge. This was necessary because they could not drill into the glacial debris. Instead they had to build concrete flumes on each side of this crossing to prevent water from being siphoned away through the buried gorge.

In 1998, the Niagara Parks Commission remodeled a portion of the Niagara Parks Golf Course nearest Whirlpool Road. This project consisted of the removal of the second hole and the installation of a large pond. This area of the golf course was built on top of an area of the St. David’s Buried Gorge known as Bowman’s Ravine. The ravine had previously been used by the Canadian Niagara Power Company as a dumping area for rock debris taken from a previous excavation.

When the unlined pond which when filled with water, the water immediately leached away into the glacial debris of the buried gorge. This pond needed to be fitted with a liner to hold the water within the confines of the pond.

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