Historical Accounts from 1604 – 1753

Samuel de Champlain

In 1604, Samuel de Champlain, was the first of the European explorers to navigate Lake St. Louis (Lake Ontario). He was the first to write about Niagara Falls.
Samuel de Champlain wrote:
“…That there was a fall about a league wide and a large mass of water falls into said lake: that when this fall is passed one sees no more land on either side but only a sea so large that they have never seen the end of it, nor heard that anyone has…”
Although Champlain had never seen Niagara Falls himself, he wrote reports about the Falls based upon those made to him by Indians.
In 1632, Samuel de Champlain became the first  to draw and publish a map of  Niagara. In this map a very clear and marked outline of the river is given.

Rene Brehan de Galinée

“…This outlet contains, at a distance of  ten or twelve leagues, from its mouth in Lake Ontario, one of the finest cataracts or water-falls in the world: for all the Indians to whom I have spoken about it said the river fell in that place from a rock higher than the tallest pine trees, that is, about two hundred feet. In fact, we heard it from where we were. But this fall gives such impulse to the water that, although we were ten or twelve leagues away, the water is so rapid that one can with great difficulty row up against it…”
“…With a roar that is heard not only from the place where we were ten to twelve leagues distant but actually the other side of Lake Ontario, opposite this mouth from which M. Trouvé told me he heard it…”

Father Louis Hennepin

“…four leagues from Lake Frontenac there is an incredible Cataract of water-fall which has no equal …”
“….Betwixt the Lake Ontario and Erie`, there is a vast and prodigious Cadence of Water which falls down after a surprizing and astonishing manner, insomuch that the Universe does not afford it’s parallel. Tis true, Italy and Suedland boast some such Things; but we may well say they are but soory Patterns, when compar’d to this of which we now speak. At the foot of this horrible Precipice, we meet with the River Niagara, which is not above a quarter of a League broad, but is wonderfully deep in some places. It is so rapid above this Descent, that it violently hurries down the wild Beasts while endeavouring to pass it to feed on the other side, they not being able to withstand the force of its Current, which inevitably casts them above Six hundred foot high….”
“….’This wonderful Downfal, is compounded of two great Cross-streams of Water, and two Falls, with an Isle sloping along the middle of it. the Waters which fall from this horrible Precipice, do foam and boyl after the most hideous manner imaginable, making an outrageous Noise, more terrible than that of Thunder; for when the Wind blows out of the South, their dismal roaring may be heard more than Fifteen Leagues off….”
“….’The River Niagara having thrown itself down this incredible Precipice, continues its impetuous course for two Leagues together, to the great Rock above-mention’d [Queenston Heights], with an inexpressible rapidity: But having past that, its impetuosity relents, gliding along more gently for two other Leagues, till it arrive at Lake Frontenac (Lake Ontario)….”

Henry de Tonty

“…It throws off vapor which may be seen at a distance of sixteen (16) leagues and it may be heard at the same distance when it is calm…”

Baron Louis Armand de Lom D’Arce La Hontan

“….As for the Waterfall of Niagara; tis seven or eight hundred foot high and half a League broad….”

Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix

“….found the baron de la Houtan had committed such a mistake with respect to its height and figure, as to give grounds to believe he had never seen it….for my own part, after having examined it on all sides, where it could be viewed to the greatest advantage, I am inclined to think we cannot allow it less than a hundred and forty, or fifty feet…”
“…This sheet of water falls upon a rock, and there are two reasons which induce me to believe, that it has either found or perhaps in time hollowed out a cavern of considerable depth. The first is, that the noise it makes is very hollow, resembling that of thunder at a distance. You can scarce hear it at  Monsieur de Joncairs, and what you hear in this place may possibly be only that of the whirlpools, caused by the rocks, which fill the bed of the river as far as this, and so much the rather as above the cataract, you do not hear it near so far…”

Paul Dudley

“…measured with a stone of  half a hundred weight and a large cod line – found it on a perpendicular no more than twenty-six fathoms (156 feet)…”
“…Particularly it has been said that the cataract makes such a prodigious noise, that people cannot hear each other speak at some miles distant: whereas he (Monsieur Borassaw) affirms that you may converse together close by it. What he observed further to me was, that the mist or shower which the falls make, is so extraordinary, as to be seen at five (5) leagues distance and rise as high as the common clouds…”

Joseph Pierre de Bonnecamps “…as having a vertical fall of one hundred and thirty-three (133) feet, half – ellipsed divided near the middle by a little island…”
“…width of fall perhaps 3/8 of a league…”

Peter Kalm

“….I doubt not but you have a desire to learn the exact height of this great fall. Father Hennepin, you know, calls it 600 feet perpendicular; but he has gain’d little credit in Canada; the name of honour they give him here, is un grand Menteur, or the great Liar; he writes of what he saw in places where he never was. ‘Tis true he saw this fall: But as it is the way of some travelers to magnify everything, so has he done with regard to the fall of  Niagara….Since Father Hennepin’s time, this fall, in all the accounts that have been given of it, has grown less and less; and those who have measur’d it with mathematical instruments find the perpendicular fall of the water to be exactly 137 feet…”
“…you may remember, to what great distance Hennepin says the noise of this fall may be heard. All the gentlemen who were with me agreed, that the farthest one can hear it, is 15 leagues, and that very seldom…Sometimes ’tis said, the fall makes much greater noise than at other times; and this is look’d on as a certain mark of approaching bad weather, or rain; the Indians here hold it always as a sure sign. When I was there, it did not make an extraordinary great noise: Just by the fall, we could easily hear what each other said, without speaking much louder than the common when conversing in other places. I do not know how others found so great a noise here; perhaps it was at certain times, as above mentioned.”
“…When the air is quite calm, you can hear it to Fort Niagara: but seldom at other times, because when the wind blows, the waves of  Lake Ontario make too much noise there against the shore – They informed me, that when that when they hear at the Fort the noise of the Fall, louder than ordinary, they are sure a north – east wind will follow, which never fails: this seems wonderful, as the fall is south – west from the Fort: and one would imagine it to be a rather sign of a contrary wind. Sometimes ’tis said, the Fall makes a much greater noise than at other times; and this look’d upon as a certain mark of approaching bad weather or rain: the indians here hold it always for a sure sign – When I was there…”

Monsieur de La Lande

In 1751, Monsieur de La Londe came to visit Niagara Falls and measured the south side of the Falls at one hundred and forty (140) feet high.

Monsieur M. Bonnefans

“…At a quarter of a league to the north of the last mountain is the famous fall of  Niagara, the noise of which may be heard nearly three (3) leagues…” “…It is impossible when near it to make speaking heard unless very near to the ears…” Bonnefans described Niagara Falls as 180 feet in height and one quarter of a league wide. The approaches to the falls were inaccessible – covered with bushes. Bonnefans described a cavern behind the falls as 6 toises long and twenty feet high and a depth scarcely more than fifteen (15) feet.

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