Skip to main content

The skylon Tower

How the Tower was built
The Skylon Tower is one of the most recognizable attractions of the Niagara Falls area, but is also important because it was one of the first high-rise towers with a revolving restaurant, which are now widely distributed around the world, and was one of the first proving grounds for the construction methods that would allow the tallest buildings in the world to be erected. Although now surrounded by and integrated into a large tourist area thoroughly of the late 20th and early 21st century, the Skylon Tower still conveys a sense of the 1960s and 1970s, a time of great excitement in the tourism and high-rise construction industries.

The tower was built by the Niagara International Centre, a private partnership largely financed by Charles R. Reese, owner of the candy company famous for peanut butter confections and one of the founders of the Hershey candy empire. Construction began in May, 1964 and cost CDN$7 million The tower was dedicated in October, 1965, and was purchased a decade later for CDN$11 million by Canadian Pacific, proprietors of famous Canadian hotels such as the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, Royal York in Toronto and celebrated resorts in the Canadian Rockies as well as the Plaza in New York and other Fairmont hotels in the United States. CP had operated the tower’s restaurants and lounges since its opening, and sold the tower in 1986 to a local consortium that operates it still. The tower originally had the green copper roof that is characteristic of CP hotels, and this was restored in 2008 during renovations that connected the tower to the Fallsview Casino, 3D and 4D theaters, Starbucks and other modern facilities.

The tower was the second structure to be use the slipform method, in which concrete is continually poured into a form that is being raised slowly but continuously from its foundation, and was the first building to be completely constructed by this means. The method was originally used to construct farm silos and grain elevators, and is now commonly used in erecting both vertical structures like towers and buildings and horizontal ones like roadways. This system was later to be used to build the CN Tower in Toronto, which was for several years the tallest structure in the world.

The Skylon Tower today
The Skylon stands 520 feet (160 m) above street level, and is 775 feet (236 m) above the bottoms of the American and Horseshoe Falls. It was originally illuminated at night with white spotlights, but in recent years changing color schemes have been implemented, using the same colors that illuminate the falls. Three outside elevators ascend the tower, and these were the first of their kind in Canada and were the prototypes of scenic elevators used in many other tall buildings today. They ascend the tower in 52 seconds and have guide rails and cables only in the back so as not to obstruct the passenger’s view; this necessitates a curtain wall behind each elevator to protect the counterweight and cables from the elements.

The most noteworthy feature of the tower is of course the view from the observation deck. On a clear day you may not be able to see forever, but you can usually see Toronto and Buffalo as well as about 8,000 square miles of New York and Ontario. In addition to the falls, the entire Niagara River gorge and most of the Niagara wine country can also be seen. There is also a theatre that shows a 3D and 4D movie of and about the falls, telling the story of the glaciers that formed the Great Lakes basin and the Niagara River and how the gorge and the falls began. The special effects adventure also covers the Indian legend of the Maid of the Mist, and allows the audience to ride on the rainbow that saved the falls.

Niagara Falls is also a glassmaking center, and the tower contains the studio and galleria of Angelo Rossi, Canada’s leading practitioner of traditional Venetian glassmaking. Several demonstrations a day of glassblowing and related techniques are presented during most of the year, and the displays and shop are open year round. There is also a shopping mall in the base of the tower, and SkyQuest, the largest family entertainment centre in the Niagara region, is also located there.

There are two notable restaurants at the top of the tower. The Revolving Dining Room, one of the first restaurants of this type, makes one revolution every hour and has been a recognized dining destination in the Niagara area since its opening. The Summit Suite Buffet on the upper level does not revolve, but has extensive brunch, lunch and dinner buffets as well as the observation deck view. Diners at the two restaurants can access the elevators and observation deck without charge.

How to get there and What it costs
The Skylon tower is located at 6200 Robinson Street in Niagara Falls, Ontario, next to the Canadian Falls and easily accessible from downtown. Downtown Niagara Falls can be reached by the Queen Elizabeth Way and Ontario Highway 420 from Toronto, and by bridge from Interstate 90 in New York; Americans who enter Ontario will need a passport. The tower is open from 8 a.m. to midnight during the summer and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the winter. The 3D/4D movie is shown from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Elevation costs CDN$13.91 for adults and CDN$8.11 for children over 3, while the movie is CDN$11.59 for adults and CDN$6.99 for those 3 to 16. Combinations of elevator and movie and discounts for online purchase are available. As it reaches its 50th birthday, the Skylon tower is celebrating with daily Scratch and Win Prizes, and has been awarded the Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor.