One of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world, Niagara Falls is a popular tourist destination that attracts millions of visitors from around the world every year. The majestic waterfalls located on the border of the United States and Canada is not only known for its breathtaking beauty but also its historical significance. Amongst this long, fascinating history is the account of the first recorded non-native visitor to Niagara Falls: Father Louis Hennepin, a Belgian priest, and missionary, who discovered the waterfalls in 1678.
Hennepin's discovery of Niagara Falls occurred during his second expedition to North America. After sailing up the Niagara River, he and his party were awe-struck when they happened upon the incredible cascades of water we now know as Niagara Falls. He was so impressed by the grandeur of the waterfalls that he immediately drew them in his notebook, and subsequently, in 1683, wrote about it in his book, A New Discovery.
In his book, Hennepin wrote, Four leagues from Lake Frontenac there is an incredible Cataract or Waterfall which has no equal. He also recorded measurements of the waterfall, describing it as, so high, wide and swift, that in the summer when the waters are high, the banks of the Niagara River about it are covered with the incredible cloud of mist which rise from its downfall. This passage provides us the earliest and one of the most descriptive accounts of the wonder that is Niagara Falls.
Though some historians have doubted the exact accuracy of Hennepin’s measurements – suggesting that he might have exaggerated the dimensions a bit – there’s no doubting his sense of awe at the falls. And his depiction, though somewhat exaggerated, provided a basis for further explorations and the start of the Niagara Falls' illustrious status as a popular tourist spot.
Despite the skepticism about his work, Father Hennepin’s contribution to bringing Niagara Falls to the world cannot be understated. He might have been the first recorded visitor to write about the Falls, but his written account has ensured that he is far from the last. Through his eyes, we've been able to trace back the long history of this incredible natural phenomenon and understand how it captivated people right from the start.
Ever since Hennepin's discovery, Niagara Falls has welcomed countless explorers, naturalists, artists, and tourists who came to witness and document its remarkable beauty. Whether viewed from a boat on the Niagara River, a tower in one of the nearby cities, or a plane high above, the sight of the majestic waterfalls has continued to captivate people throughout the centuries.
The story of the first recorded visitor to Niagara Falls serves as a reminder of the innate human spirit of exploration and adventure. So, the next time you find yourself mesmerized by the spectacle of Niagara Falls, remember that your awe mirrors the feelings of a 17th-century explorer. Indeed, our desire to experience and appreciate the wonder and beauty of the natural world remains undiminished through the lens of history.
See History of Niagara Falls: From Native Legends to Tourist Destination for timeline of inhabitants in Niagara Falls.