Falls not only natural phenomenon that drew crowds
Burning Spring

With an estimated 30 million visitors a year, the city of Niagara Falls has certainly enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship with the tourist industry. Other than the mighty cataracts themselves, one of the oldest and perhaps longest running tourist attraction in the city was known as the Burning Spring. 

Legend has it that the original Burning Spring was discovered in Niagara by local Indigenous people in the early 1700s. Some say that it was originally ignited by a bolt of lightning, and others say that it was a chance spark from two pieces of stone flint that were rubbed together near an underground natural gas leak.

In the 1790s, excavation work was taking place for Bridgewater Mills, located in the Dufferin Islands area. Workmen accidentally enlarged the opening of an existing vent of natural gas. They soon discovered that if this gas was collected and allowed to flow through a pipe, it could be ignited to produce a flame that could “boil water for a cup of tea in 15 minutes”. 

In the early 1820s, tourism began to grow in the city. Clark and Street, the owners of the Mill, began to realize the tourist potential of their Burning Spring. Many early guidebooks of the 1830s helped to spread the word about this mysterious phenomenon and eventually, a building was constructed over it. Inside, the spring was enclosed by a barrel with a pipe coming out of the top. A cork was placed at the mouth of the pipe which caused the pressure of the gas to build. When enough pressure had accumulated, the cork was removed and the gas was ignited to produce the magical Burning Spring. In 1836, Mr. Conklin, the keeper of the Spring charged visitors twelve and a half cents each for admission.

In the 1880s, visitors were offered an additional souvenir. Said to possess mysterious medical healing powers, glasses of the gas-filled water were given to visitors. It was also during the 1880s that the Burning Spring ran into a major problem - it ran out of gas! The story does not end here, however. The Burning Springs moved to a few different locations where natural gas was piped in. 

In 1924, the Burning Spring moved to its final home which was called the Falls View Observation Tower and Old Burning Spring on Portage Road. In the 1960s, extensive renovations took place and a new and improved business featured a modern wax museum. In 1969, a three-alarm fire broke out causing extensive damage. Repairs were made and the business continued to operate until 1992, making it one of the oldest continuous running tourist attractions in the city. If you would like to learn about other historic tourist attractions, please visit our Historic Niagara Digital Collections at: http://www.nflibrary.ca/nfplindex/

Cathy Roy is the Local History Librarian.

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