March 30th, 1848: The Day Niagara Falls Stood Still
Just shortly before midnight on March 29th, 1848, an American farmer was out for a stroll and was the first to notice something. He noticed the absence of something, the thundering roar of the falls. When he went to the river’s edge, he saw hardly any water.
On the morning of March 30th, the sun began to rise, and people also woke to the eerie silence and realized something was amiss. People were drawn to the Falls to find that the water flow of the Niagara River had been reduced to a mere trickle.
Thomas Clark Street, the owner and operator of the large Bridgewater Mills along the Canadian shore at Dufferin Islands was awakened by one of his employees at 5 a.m. reporting the mill had been shut down because the mill race was empty. Other mills and factories had to shut down, because the waterwheels that powered them had stopped.
The bed of the river was exposed. Fish died. Turtles floundered about. A number of people made their way into the gorge to the riverbed, picking up exposed guns, bayonets, muskets, tomahawks and other artifacts of the War of 1812 as souvenirs.
Other spectators were able to walk out onto the river bed that had only hours earlier been a torrent of rapids and would have resulted in certain death. It became a tourist and media event. People on foot, on horseback or by horse and buggy, crossed the width of the Niagara River. It was a historical event that had never occurred before and has never been duplicated since.
A squad of soldiers of the U.S. Army Cavalry rode their horses up and down the river bed as an exhibition.
The sudden silencing of the roar of the Falls had caused much anxiety and fear amongst the residents and visitors. Some believed that this event was the beginning of a doomsday scenario.On the morning of March 31st the Falls remained silent. Many thousands of people attended special church services on both sides of the border.
On the night of March 31st 1848, the wind shifted and the ice dam at the mouth of the Niagara River at Lake Erie broke apart and the river flow returned to its normal rate.