An old Niagara power plant has been given a new surge of life.
The Niagara Parks Commission unveiled its newest tourist attraction last week with the opening of the Niagara Parks Power Station on the Niagara Parkway not far from the Horseshoe Falls.
“We’re proud and excited today. It’s been a real team effort to get to this and everybody who's here today contributed in some way,” Niagara Parks chief executive officer David Adames told The Lake Report on opening day.
The power plant, which formerly operated as the Canadian Niagara Power generating station, was originally opened in 1905 and functioned until 2006, when it was closed and gifted to Niagara Parks.
Niagara Parks superintendent of heritage Jim Hill said they didn’t know what to do with it at first.
“Nobody else wanted it at the time,” he said.
But it wasn’t long before the commission realized it had something unique to both sides of the Niagara River, thanks to some old American policies.
“What the Americans did with their original agreement (was) when you were done with these power plants, they had to go.”
That makes the new attraction one of the only historical power plants open to tourists on either side of the border.
“Americans are jealous about everything and this is just one more thing,” Hill laughed.
The project was enabled by a $25 million loan from the provincial government which Niagara Parks has promised to pay back within a decade.
“Judging by the Doors Open campaign that was here before (opening day) it will be sold out in no time. I bet you’ll even pay me back that $25 million sooner than we think,” said Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister of heritage, sports, tourism and culture.
The inside of the station has been polished and cleaned up to reflect its working condition and the giant turbines and control panels have been turned into interactive learning stations for visitors.
Visitors can stroll through and marvel at the magnitude of the structure and its parts while learning about how a hydro power station functions.
The massive building isn’t even 20 per cent of the actual structure. The power plant descends nearly 180 feet below ground. The commission is hoping to open the underground portion of the power plant to tourism next year, Hill said.
Although opening day was last Wednesday, invited guests weren’t the first people to get a view of the refurbished plant.
“Two former employees were in here the other day getting a sneak peak. I think they worked here for over 40 years,” Hill said.
“By the end of their tour they had tears in their eyes they were so happy to see the place shining again.”
The ribbon cutting ceremony started off with speeches from Adames, chair Sandie Bellows and MacLeod.
Karl Dockstader, executive director of the Niagara Regional Native Centre, gave a traditional speech called “The Words That Come Before All Else,” also known as the Thanksgiving Address, in Oneida, a Haudenosaunee dialect spoken by fewer than 200 people in Canada.
The speech, passed down through recitation for hundreds of years, gave thanks to the land, trees and waters of Niagara that Indigenous Peoples have called home for 12,000 years.
“By doing acts like inviting me here today to offer these words of thanksgiving we’re doing our part to ensure that 500 years from now, 1,000 years from now and 5,000 years from now these words are still spoken on these territories,” Dockstader said.
He kept the ceremony grounded in appreciation for the natural beauty and potential of the Niagara region.
“We’re right on top of 20 per cent of the world's freshwater and it doesn’t matter how much money we brought today, how much material we’ve accumulated in our lives – it matters that we have this collective resource.”
The station opened for visitors on July 30 with a regular admission price of $20.