Niagara Falls was first lit in 1860 with 200 Bengal lights for a celebration for the Prince of Wales. The first use of electric lights came in 1879, when the falls were illuminated by carbon arc lights for a special visit by the governor-general of Canada. Then 1901 saw the falls lit for an entire week during the Pan-American Exposition and, subsequently, in 1907 for a month-long display. Searchlights aimed at the American falls were colored by gelatin film placed in front of the lights by men that were paid 50¢ per night to stand beside them, changing colors by listening for a commanding series of whistle blows.
It wasn’t until 1925, after the formation of The Niagara Falls Illumination Board (still in existence today), that the falls were permanently lit with carbon arcs during a festival of lights. They have remained on nightly ever since, swapping the carbons for Xenon lamps in 1974.
Flash-forward to December 1, 2016, when Nick Puopolo and his team at Salex, Canada’s largest lighting and controls agency, expanded the 21 vertical blocks of colored light to 350 controllable color changing zones of vertical and horizontal patterns. The 21 Xenons were replaced with 1,400 nine-light LED modules using 2º Lumileds LEDs produced by a car headlight manufacturer, which provide over twice the brightness.
Salex’s team consisted of an international team of collaborators, including designers Paul Boken and Alan McIntosh of Mulvey & Banani Lighting; Ed Gesch of Ecco Electric, who engineered the construction and installation of the fixtures; Ron Foley from Scenework, who engineered and installed the DMX control system; and Bobby Harrell, programmer from Philips Strand Lighting. Celebrated Canadian television lighting designer and member of the NFI, Linus MacDonald also became a valuable member of the team in a unique client/consultant relationship.
Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the project in Anne Militello's "Fall Guys," featured in the January 2017 issue of Live Design.
Anne Militello is a renowned architectural and theatre lighting designer with a career spanning all aspects of creating with light. Her career began lighting the music and theatre stages of New York City and eventually expanded to include architectural lighting out of the studios of Vortex Lighting in Los Angeles, which she founded in 1996.