The Colours of Niagara: Relighting Niagara Falls


The majestic beauty of Niagara Falls, a series of three impressive waterfalls that span the border between Canada and the state of New York, has been enhanced with a new digital lighting system. The upgrade replaces the 1974 scheme – 21 4kW Xenon searchlights with color change via gel sheets. The original illumination systems was more than 155 years ago, installed in celebration of a visit by the Prince of Wales (200 calcium volcanic and torpedo lights), replaced in 1925 with carbon arc fixtures. Fast forward to 2016, when the Niagara Parks Commission and the Niagara Falls Illumination Board (NFI) decided to undertake a $4M revitalization project to update to digital technology.

The design brief called for the new lighting system to be twice as bright as the existing system, meaning the LEDs would have to meet the targeted level of 13 foot candles from a distance of 2,100 feet. In partnership with Salex, ECCO Electric, Scenework, Stanley Electric and Strand Lighting, MBL (Mulvey & Banani Lighting) was a part of the winning team. The approach called for a complete re-thinking of how the falls could be lit” recalls Paul Boken, Vice President of MBL “far beyond the simple concept of the existing 21 separate spotlights. We needed to convince the Client to raise their expectations and consider what a moresavvy public wants and expects today.”

14 FOOT CANDLES: Only five of the 30 competing teams actually had a product capable of meeting the specified light levels. Boken’s team was the only submission to achieve the mandated light level – actually exceeding it at 14 foot candles. The fixture and system was all off-the-shelf and easy to assemble which meant that it is user-friendly. MBL worked closely with the manufacturer to create custom brackets for the fixtures and confirm photometrics and light levels.

SUNSETS OR THE AURORA BOREALIS: LED lighting panels – in excess of 100 – were added, amounting to 1,400 RGBW LED modules in total. 350 separate control zones with full colour-mixing capability were established, enabling a more seamless coordination of lighting displays, programmable lighting opportunities and a greater overall command of the illumination system. The expanded spectrum now allows for over 16 million possible combinations along with the ability to customize light shows according to events, seasons or occasions. “You can’t tell where one beam starts and the other ends so it’s not just colour changing but also subtle grading and shading from one side to the other,” Boken explains. “The resulting possibilities range from dynamic displays such as sunsets or the aurora borealis. They can also project images such as the Canadian flag or American flag.”

INFINITE FULL COLOUR-MIXING CHOICES: The new 8” x 8” floodlights use Lumiled LEDs that have a two-degree monochromatic beam spread, a diameter akin to that of a laser beam. Manufactured by Stanley Electric, the floodlights have the advantage of being assembled like Lego to make a colour-changing fixture. For the Falls, each fixture has a combination of 9 clusters which are carefully focused at a single point to create a range of movement. “They have infinite full colour mixing choices, from saturated to more natural,” Boken points out. “The white LED module provides a better white than what you get from RGB-mixed white.” The change of lighting technology, along with a Green design imperative, translates to a reduced energy consumption of 20%.

NEW FEATURE LIGHTING: New feature lighting at the crest of the Falls enhances the natural movement and enhances the magnitude of the vertical drop. The new lighting positions also include the Illumination Tower (directed at the Canadian Falls), the Bunker at the base of the river (American Falls) and Table Rock, a new location to add light to the mist and the back of the Horseshoe Falls. The full coverage brings drama and intensity of colour, far beyond the original ask.

SHOW TIME: At show time, big metal doors on the front of the Bunker open and the fixtures are exposed. There are no lights in the water due to mist, snow and ice build up- rather they are housed in heated bunkers. At the lighting positions closest to the Falls, especially at Table Rock, even the housings for the LED fixtures are heated with internal heat as well as defrosters. With the overall uniformity, the feature lighting is now four times as bright as the former system, allowing visitors to appreciate the magnitude of the Falls’ regardless of the time of day or weather. The new digitally controlled LED “show” is design and nature harmonized: a 21st century update with magnificent results.


View “The Colours of Niagara – Relighting the Falls”, a documentary.