Niagara Falls was known to Indians, explorers, missionaries, and fur traders in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century it became a waystop for settlers and government officials as Upper Canada was developed, as well as a familiar landmark to loyalist refugees who migrated to the area from the warring colonies. Several visitors, including women, recorded their observations and impressions of the “Cataract” in diaries or journals. Reading what these various observers wrote gives a sense of the wonder and awe with which this extraordinary phenomenon of nature was viewed and goes far in explaining why the Falls became a popular tourist destination in the nineteenth century.
Ann Powell (1769-1792) was a Bostonian by birth. Of distinguished lineage, her well-to-do family left Boston at the start of the American Revolution. When her older brother, William Dummer Powell, was appointed superior court judge in Detroit—one of the forts still in British possession in 1789—Ann made the journey from Montreal to Detroit with him and his family. She kept a journal recounting her experience, to which she added and amended from memory.
We left Montreal on the 11th of May, 1789. . . . [and] went to our boats; one was fitted up with an awning to protect us from the weather, and held the family and bedding. It was well filled, eighteen persons in all, so you may suppose we had not much room; as it happened that was of no consequence, it was cold on the water, and we were glad to sit close.
This mode of traveling is very tedious; we are obliged to keep along shore and go on very slowly. . . . This part of the country has been settled since the Peace, and it was granted to the troops raised in America during the war. We went from a Colonel to a Captain, and from a Captain to a Major. They have most of them built good houses, and with the assistance of their half pay, live very comfortably.
[At the landing, eight miles from Fort Erie] the Niagara river becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. . . .
After dinner we went on . . . to Fort Schlosher. . . . All our party collected half a mile above the Falls, and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids!
For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of Islands. . . . One in the centre of the river, runs out into a point, and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river, into the form of a crescent.
I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds. . . .
I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity.
For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.
With reluctance I at length attended to the proposal of going, determining in my own mind, that when I returned, I would be mistress of my own time, and stay a day or two at least. . . .
Sadly, Ann Powell had a short life. She married Isaac Winslow Clark, a fellow loyalist who had also fled Boston—his family firm had owned the tea that was thrown into Boston Harbor in 1773—and moved to Montreal where she died in childbirth in 1792.