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Niagara Falls Public Library

Despite skyline changes over the years, Skylon Tower remains a Niagara Falls landmark

Aside from the mighty cataracts themselves, it can be said that the most iconic landmark in Niagara Falls is Skylon Tower. Soaring 336 metres (775 feet) above the Niagara Gorge and overlooking both the American and Canadian falls, the panoramic view from the top of Skylon Tower is truly breathtaking.

Skylon Tower was designed by the Toronto architectural firm Bregman and Hamann, which was inspired by the Space Needle in Seattle that was constructed for the World’s Fair in 1962. The general contractor for the Niagara Falls project was Pigott Construction in Hamilton. In total, 600 labourers worked on the $11-million project that took only 17 months to complete.

Before construction began in May 1964, and due to the extreme height of the tower, extensive wind tests had to be conducted by experts at University of Toronto. The tower was designed to withstand winds of up to 177 km/h (110 miles per hour). So far, the strongest winds the tower has faced have been 146 km/h (91 m.p.h.).

One other hurdle that had to be crossed involved both the American and Canadian air transport authorities. Because of the height and location of the tower, several air regulations had to be met, including identifying the tower with approved marker lights. As well, the tower would be lit with floodlights at night, which would provide additional warning and guidance for any nearby aircraft.

Builders used the “slip form” technique to construct Skylon Tower. In this technique, concrete is continuously poured into a moving form. To build the tower, concrete was continuously poured for 38 days. Hydraulic jacks pulled the entire form upwards one inch every 10 minutes. In total, 21.77 million kilograms (48 million pounds) of concrete was used to construct the tower.

The official opening ceremonies for Skylon Tower occurred on Oct. 6, 1965. Many dignitaries from around the world were in attendance, including Ontario Premier John Robarts, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and even our own Judy LaMarsh. After a gold and green ribbon was cut, the 15th Niagara Scouting Troop raised 26 flags. At the time of its opening, Skylon Tower was the tallest reinforced concrete structure of its kind in the world.

Today, Skylon Tower is still a popular attraction where tourists and residents alike can travel in the outside mounted “Yellow Bug” elevators for 52 seconds to get to the top. On a clear day, you can see the skylines of Buffalo and Toronto. Meals can still be enjoyed at Canada’s first revolving dining room that completes an entire rotation once every hour. You may also have visited to take part in the Climb for Cancer, for which you had to take the hard way up, climbing 662 steps to the top.

Although the Niagara Falls skyline has certainly changed significantly over the years, Skylon Tower is still a unique and iconic architectural city landmark. If you are interested in viewing more historic photos, Niagara Falls Public Library has a Skylon Tower display at its Victoria Avenue branch during the month of March.