Niagara Falls is a place that excites me. Especially Niagara Falls at night.
Let’s start with the thunderous falls themselves. This wonder of the world is illuminated in colours of the rainbow after dusk. Add the carny atmosphere of Clifton Hill, with its year-round haunted houses and glow-in-the-dark mini putts. Even the casinos, open 24/7 for those who want to stay up all night (whether or not you get lucky).
So what did I do after reading that the Niagara Falls Power Station was reopening and you could visit it at night? I got excited. Then I grabbed some friends for a road trip to see Currents, an art experience that gets you in the doors after dark.
The Niagara Falls Power Station opened in 1905 and, as its name suggests, produced electricity from the natural waterfalls nearby. As a functioning plant, it was never open to the public. And it’s been closed completely since its decommissioning in 2006. So the city has made a big splash of its renovation and relaunch as a new tourist attraction.
Currents is described as an “immersive, interactive media.” But what is it exactly?
What is Currents at Niagara Falls Power Station?
Currents is a cross between a traditional son et lumière presentation, where you visit a tourist landmark at night to hear a narrated history of the place, and the new “immersive” art exhibitions where the paintings of Van Gogh or Monet come to life with 3D mapping projections and music.
The production was created by Thinkwell design studios, who build high-tech interactive exhibits for major theme parks around the world. It aims to tell the story of the falls as a source of power, using the Niagara Falls Power Station itself as its canvas. In their own words: “Experience the change from water to electricity as you follow the exhilarating journey of one tiny water droplet from the Horseshoe Falls through the turbines of the first major power plant on the Canadian side of the Niagara River.”
Don’t be late
Currents is a timed exhibition. We arrived at the Niagara Falls Power Station parking lot pretty much just as our show was about to start. We hurried through the check-in and slid into the power plant’s main hall seconds before massive doors closed behind us. (I was wearing a cape and felt a bit like Indiana Jones trying to protect his hat as I pulled it close at the last second.)
Don’t do this. Be late, I mean. Because you will have missed, as we did, the chance to appreciate the grand entrance to the cathedral-like Generator Hall. Which they fill with dry ice and blue lasers and deserves more time to admire.
Inside the darkened room, we get a “pre-show” of sorts. Spotlights illuminate some of the power plant’s hulking generators, which have been painted aquamarine blue. One of my friends mentions that Currents is designed to respond to movement. We walk around, staring at our feet, triggering our own custom light show on the floor.
Then the music kicks in. There is no narration — since tourists come to Niagara Falls from around the globe, this show is thus equally accessible to all. We heard the sounds of rushing water as the main animations begin.
Do I follow the story? Not really. I prefer to just appreciate the visuals for their beauty, and how they interact with the shapes and structures of the power plant. But it’s definitely all about water. (Another reason to get their early enough is to use the bathrooms. You probably don’t want to attend Currents with an overly full bladder.) And then it’s about the industrial age, the glories of hydro-electricity, and its role in our modern lives.
I find myself following a flashing strobe light to to a small opening in one of the generators. Looking inside, I can see the “guts” of the machinery, and a clanging, incessant pulse hints that this is the heart of the plant. It’s good to walk around, be curious, search for these details. You’re not confined to a seat, and the work is in 3-D, so why not see everything there is to see?
Being inside the Niagara Falls Power Station at night listening to music reminds me of the underground concerts in abandoned industrial buildings I used to attend in Toronto. (Back before those space were all turned into expensive condos). I realize I’ve always enjoyed seeing art in these kinds of buildings — for the cavernous sonic textures, the feeling of accessing something secret. Currents is a very nice, grown-up, legal version!
What else can you see at the Niagara Falls Power Station at night?
I’m enraptured enough by the Currents sound and light show that I’m not too bothered that the whole thing takes place in a rather small area. But I do wish this night visit was also a tour where we could explore more of the plant. There looks like a lot of cool gear just beyond the barricades. (For that you need to buy the day-time ticket.)
After approximately 40 minutes, the show winds down and the lights go up. We are quickly directed to exit through the gift shop. If you want to take photos in the plant, definitely don’t be late because there’s no time afterwards. There is plenty of time to get souvenirs for the science or engineering nerd in your life though.
Don’t forget to look at the Falls!
The Niagara Falls Power Station is located right across from Horseshoe falls. So before you leave the area don’t forget to walk over and see them at night, when they are all lit up. It’s about 1.5 km south from where most people gather to view the falls, so you get an alternate point of view, and no crowds. We felt like we had this part of the city all to ourselves and spent some time in awe of this powerful force of nature.
Currents is a marvellous experience. I recommend a visit if you’re interested in science, architecture, modern projection technology and art, or just something new to do at night in Niagara Falls.
Info: You can visit the Niagara Falls Power Station during the day from 10am to 5pm for $20 or $37 (self-guided tour), which allows you to explore more of the building itself. Or you can grab a $30 ticket for Currents, which gets you inside the building after dark at either 6:30, 7:30, or 8:30 for a 40-minute show. There is also a $40 combo ticket but you’ll need to go and come back. Updated schedule and advance tickets here.