Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Niagara Falls Then and Now: Prince of Wales' Royal streetcar tour of the Niagara River Rapids

Standing along River Rd. at Ferguson Ave., the winter view across the Niagara River Gorge at the American side reveals the right-of-way of the old Great Gorge Route streetcar line that once circled the lower Niagara River. The streetcar route ran north (downriver, along the top of the gorge, on the Canadian side) from the Horseshoe Falls down to Queenston, where it crossed at the old Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge into the U.S.; at that point, it was fairly low to the river, and so it began a gradual climb, winding south all the way upriver, through the Gorge, back to the Falls, where it crossed the Honeymoon (Fallsview) Bridge back into Canada.
click on photos to enlarge! above: Feb.24, 2009, by R. Bobak. The former streetcar right of way can be seen as the white trail in centre of photo. The Whirlpool is not too far away, downriver to the left (north). The Whirlpool Bridge is upriver towards the right. The famous Niagara Whirlpool whitewater Rapids, very fast and turbulent, run here, between the Whirlpool Bridge and the Whirlpool.
above: Feb.24, 2009 - moving upriver (south), the right-of-way trail can still be seen at the far left. But then continuing further towards the right, the streetcar right-of-way simply vanishes, due to years of rock slides. Note huge boulder along river at bottom right.
above: Feb.24, 2009 - continuing looking upriver; the boulder at the left is the same one from previous photo, showing how the streetcar track right-of-way along this point has virtually disappeared. Where tracks once were is seen by the slight white line of snow, seen more to the right, running along the rock face a bit above the river. The Whirlpool Bridge is not too far to the right (upriver) from this point.
above: closer view of fallen boulders near the river's edge. At the upper left of photo can clearly be seen a man-made stone wall, and part of the old rail right-of-way above it. What a breathtaking streetcar journey this must have been!
below: On Aug.7, 1927, Edward, the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VIII) and his Royal entourage toured the Niagara Rapids by streetcar on the Great Gorge Route, as this postcard view from the Niagara Falls Library shows.
I've often wondered where this photo was taken . . .
below . . . and it was taken here:
above: Mar.2010 - the ruins of this Great Gorge Route streetcar station and viewing area, where the future King of England Edward and his party once stood, can still be seen on the American side of the Niagara River.
The stone steps and the lower viewing area are the same as in the old photo. The railings along the left side of the station, which are seen in the old photo, have since fallen down from the track-level into the lower level. Before the tracks were built here, this had been the site of the Buttery Whirlpool Rapids Company, which had built two huge elevators to take tourists down to river level; later this same site became the "Whirlpool Rapids" stop for the Great Gorge streetcar route. By 1927, when the Prince had visited, the elevators were long gone, having been demolished by means of a controlled fire, in 1901.
This site is located on the American side of the Niagara River, almost opposite from today's Whitewater Rapids Boardwalk, which is on the Canadian side.above: Mar.2010 - this view looks a little to the right of the stairs - this is where the Royals' streetcar was seen standing in 1927. The railings are still partially there at the top of the stairs, and towards the right. Note all the stone-rubble walls built to support the track right of way. above: Mar.2010 - looking just a little further to the right from the previous shot, following along the station's railing, the track right of way suddenly is covered with tons of rock. This view of the old streetcar station can be seen (from the Canadian side) when standing on River Rd., about halfway between Elgin St. and Buttrey St.
(Click on photos to enlarge!)above: Mar.2010 - this wide view looks at the cross-section of the Gorge which rises above the same station - the old station's stone steps are seen at the lower centre-left. At the bottom right is a bit of the Niagara River.
above: Feb.24, 2009 - Looking towards the U.S., under the Whirlpool Bridge, the streetcar right-of-way can still be plainly seen, but it abruptly ends (as seen at the bottom left) again due to fallen rock. Towards the right, the rail bed can still be found in long stretches. Parts of it make an amazing hiking trail. (in this view, the Falls are still a way off to the right, upriver; the rapids and the old station ruins are to the left)
During his visit to Canada, Edward, the Prince of Wales, also helped to officially open the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie on Aug.7, 1927, which was on the same day which he visited Niagara Falls.
The day before, on Aug.6, 1927, the Prince of Wales officially opened Toronto's Union Station.
below: video showing the ruins of the Great Gorge Route streetcar station on the American shore of the Niagara River, as seen in Mar.2010

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