History to repeat itself as falls dewatering recalls 1969 fiasco


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote the great Spanish philosopher George Santayana.

He wasn’t talking specifically about Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. CEO John Percy or any of the state parks and other officials who have predicted that dewatering the American and Bridal Veil Falls will result in a tourism boom here, but he might just as well have been.

The last time the falls were dewatered was in 1969, to allow a geological study of the underlying bedrock. Writers for the Niagara Gazette did an excellent job of covering the event, particularly its impact on the tourism industry.

Then as now, officials predicted a tourism boom for what was called a “once in a lifetime attraction.” Those rosy predictions did not pan out, and the season was one of the worst in history for motel and tour operators, souvenir salesmen and restaurateurs.   

In a September 1969 article titled “Tourism 1969: It Wasn’t a Good Year,” Gazette writer Joe Donaldson called that year’s tourist season a disaster.

“The visitors season, circa 1969, has gone amidst cries of anguish up and down tourist alley,” Donaldson wrote. “Initially billed as a super year for tourist operators, the year of the big buck, the season fell flat on its face.

“At least that’s what people in the tourist business are saying, as they moan that business if off as much as 40 percent from last year,” he added.

Another article, also from September 1969, said “Local tourism is suffering badly this summer because despite record numbers of people visiting the dewatered falls, tourist attraction and motel and hotel people say they aren’t staying and they aren’t spending money.”

And Gazette writer Greg Mitchell described the 1969 tourist season as “wacky.”

“Attendance on the reservation has been up all summer, thanks to the dewatering project, but the crowds have been made up predominantly of local people,” he wrote.

“Thus, the tourist trade (hotel, motel, restaurant, souvenir business) has not enjoyed a banner year – especially considering the year it feels it should be having with the once in a lifetime dry falls attraction.”

Mitchell quotes an unnamed state parks spokesman.

“‘Everybody expected it to be a big year – I guess it’s not,’ the spokesman said. ‘We’ve gotten mostly local people, not additional tourists. The motels aren’t doing anything.’”

Dyster, Percy and the other officials who have pointed to 1969 as a banner year for tourism have simply not bothered to go to the Earl Brydges Public Library, which is located just down Main Street from City Hall, and read the newspaper reports of the time.

Or maybe they have, and are mounting a deliberate effort to mislead the people here.

Either way, there is absolutely no reason to believe that anyone will benefit from the upcoming dewatering other than the contractors and engineers who will actually work on the project, which will cost the taxpayers in excess of $40 million.


Above we see the mighty American Falls dwarfing the Maid of the Mist tour boat. Below is the same view without the water, the photo taken in 1969. You decide which spectacle would be more likely to draw tourists with money to spend. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. CEO John Percy insist that the pile of rocks below will represent a bonanza for the tourism industry here.



EPSON scanner image

EPSON scanner image



  1. Mayor thinks maybe he can grab a few million in coins that were tossed so that he can throw another kegger.

  2. When the water was shut off in 1969 the bridges should of been checked out and stabilized. Poor planning.

  3. Lou Ricciuti says:

    The first time that they “dewatered” the American Falls in 1969, it was to hose-wash away downstream an accumulation of radiation that had become lodged in the cracks and fissures at the brink. The radioactivity was showing up as “shine” even through the water. Ask yourself this question: Why would the Army Corps of Engineers become involved in a cosmetic project at Niagara Falls the same year as the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam? We were at the height of that conflict at the time. Factories that produced radioactive materials were located just upstream from the brink of the American Falls. In fact, the free world’s largest production center for Uranium metal-from-ore (U.S. Department of Energy citation) was located between the North G.I. bridges and the brink of the Falls…

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