We lit up Niagara

Horseshoe Falls, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

At night the two falls at Niagara are illuminated from the Canadian side by 21 xenon spotlights, each with an output in excess of 390 million candlepower. They’re World War Two spotlights retrofitted with German 4 kilowatt bulbs (the Canadians do do irony).

For a wonderful fifteen minutes last Monday night, we were in charge of them.

The lights are mounted on a building that used to be part of the hydroelectric power station. We elected to have dinner in the tap & grill under the tower. During the meal we got to see a press conference about lighting the falls purple for October to raise awareness of domestic abuse. Afterwards one of the photographers set up next to us to capture shots of the purple lights as they came on. He told us a secret. If we went round the back of the building and rang the doorbell, we might get to look around the control room.

So we paid for our meal and headed up the steep driveway that led round the back of the building. There was a car park and, almost hidden, a door. We had Manda ring the bell, because she’s the cute one who can get away with all sorts of things. For a while it seemed no-one was answering, but eventually and old guy opened the door. When we stammered through an explanation of why we were there he let us in.

He showed us through a workshop wallpapered with news items and letters out onto the balcony behind the first bank of lights then into the control room. Here he went over to a big panel and started flicking turn switches, showing us how to change the gels in front of the lights. With a suggestion that we left all changes for at least thirty seconds, so people could get pictures, he wandered off.

We tried to get red, white and blue on the American Falls, but just couldn’t seem to get the combination right. Otherwise, we had great fun, especially when thinking about all the lighting geeks we know who’d be so jealous. We may have broken the thirty second rule once or twice, but I swear it was accidental. When we were done the operator gave us certficates saying “I lit up Niagara Falls”, treasured possessions.

So, if you were in Niagara on the 1st of October and wondered what the hell was going on with the lights, it was probably us. Sorry.

For more pictures from Niagara, check out the Niagara set on Flickr.