History of Waterfalls of Ontario Project

Under Construction

This article tells the history of the Waterfalls of Ontario project. You can read more about the broader history of the waterfalling hobby in Ontario.

It's my belief that this website was the first survey of waterfalls in Ontario for recreational purposes.

Hell's Gate at Engehart, north of New Liskeard.

Early Days

"The best camera is the one that you have with you."

It's hard to say when the Waterfalls of Ontario project actually 'started'. When I was young, my family would take weekend trips to the cottage in Muskoka. I do recall seeing a few rocky rapids along the route.

As a teenager, we took a family vacation around the Great Lakes. I recall stopping at waterfall after waterfall along the Trans-Canada Highway. The first one was cool, but by the time my parents had stopped at the third or fourth one, I was done with waterfalls!

In the early 1990s I studied Physical Geography at Brock University. This included classes in geomorphology, climatology, geology, etc. Each week, our professors would take us to a natural spot in the Niagara Peninsula to study what we were learning in class.

Geomorphology classes with Dr. Keith Tinkler and Dr. John Menzies were the most fun. On a number of occasions we visited streams crossing the Niagara Escarpment. It seemed that there was always a waterfall... maybe those are just the trips that I remember!

A student that was just a few years ahead of me wrote a BSc thesis entitled "Characteristics of bedrock waterfalls along the Niagara Escarpment." (Debbie Stenson, 1990). Was this the first document in Ontario that specifically focused on multiple waterfalls?

Beamer Falls, one of the waterfalls near Brock University.

In 1995, I moved on to Waterloo for a Masters Degree at Wilfrid Laurier University. I gave up the rocky landscape of the Niagara Escarpment to study ground water and watershed hydrology in farm country with Dr. Mike English.

Even though I no longer had classes and field trips at waterfalls, I did spend a lot of recreation time around the falls and gorge in Elora.. One of my professors at WLU (Dr. Ken Hewitt) had written a book about the gorge.

It was around this time that I inherited my grandfather's old SLR camera, a Canon FTb. This was soon pointed at the waterfalls in Elora, and it wasn't long before I was figuring out the long exposure trick. Very few people actually had the tools to do this back then, so I thought it was a big deal.

One summer at WLU I was mysteriously volun-enrolled in a one-day course in HTML. The web was still very new at that time, and I had no idea what I'd do with this new skill.

Shortly after, while browsing the web, I stumbled across Scott Ensminger's 'Waterfalls of Western New York' web site. I realized that my new photography hobby and new HTML skills were on a collison course!

The Website is Born

The first edition of this website, from 2000.

In 1999, I uploaded 'Waterfalls of Southern Ontario'. It was hosted in London at 'www.multiboard.com/ ~mharris/waterfall.htm' Multiboard.com eventually became Start Communications), which now serves all of southern Ontario.

My web site was very basic. I started with the waterfalls that I knew in Niagara and Muskoka. I took a "gap month" after I graduated, and toured Ontario. This allowed me to add waterfalls from Hamilton, Owen Sound and central Ontario.

Finding waterfalls in the old days wasn't easy! There was no social media, no google maps, no online aerial photos, no other web sites, and no books other than Jerry and Mikal Lawton's Waterfalls. The Niagara Escarpment' published in 2000.

Our best tool in the old days was the federal series of 1:50,000 scale topographic maps. Geography students horded these big map sheets. By the early 2000s, you could purchase the entire set on CD-ROM. Today's waterfallers have no idea how easy they have it!

Old school waterfalling required paper maps. Where would you get these?
The Waterfalls Webring from 2000

I was surprised to find that there were many other web sites like mine! Around 2000, I co-started the Waterfalls Web Ring along with Roger Hopkins of New York State. You can still see the join page . This tied together a number of similar sites across the world. This one is still kicking 20 years later!

Web rings were a cool concept that don't appear much any more. Our web ring was covered in an Article by the New York Times. Naturally, Ontario wasn't mentioned in an American article, but it was an early success story.

Waterfalls of Ontario First Edition

In 2002, I was approached by an editor with Firefly Books. They were working with accomplished landscape photographer, George Fischer, who was accumulating photographs of waterfalls from across Ontario.

Firefly had found my web site and asked if I was interested in providing captions for George's waterfalls. I got suggested something more: combine some of my geography, geology, tourism writing with George's photos.

In order to provide more waterfalls for the book, in 2002 and early 2003 I travelled to the Ottawa Valley and as far as Wawa in the Algoma Region. George and I never travelled together.

Waterfalls of Ontario, First Edition
Mark's interview with Mary Ito on TVO, winter 2004.

The 'Waterfalls of Ontario' book reached stores in the fall of 2003. It featured George's beautiful full-page, full colour photographs in full colour. Back then, this was a big deal. There were other waterfall guidebooks in North America, but very few if any had this level of production.

I contributed descriptions and directions for each waterfall, as well as maps and an introduction. The book also featured what is believed to the first province-wide inventory of waterfalls. This included many sites not shown nor named on any other maps. This work (and future updates) has since informed other waterfall resources.

In the winter of 2004, I was interviewed by Mary Ito on TVO Television. Over the next 5 years, the book would slowly but steadily sell out of all 10,000 copies.

In 2006, George Fischer asked me to help him with a second book, entitled 'Ontario's Historic Mills'. This seemed like a natural companion to our first book, as it dealt (mostly) with neat old buildings developed beside rushing waters.

Working with Boston Mills Press, our book was published in 2007. Hitting more of a niche market, it didn't fare quite as well. However, if you stay in one of Ontario's old mills-turned-quaint-inns, be sure to watch for copies... I've been told on numerous occasions that these are on display, sometimes in guest rooms.

For a number of years after this period, I didn't do much on the website or the hobby at all. I had a young family and even though I could juggle work and family duties, there was not time for waterfalling.

Ontario's Historic Mills, 2007.

Waterfalls of Ontario Second Edition

Mark's interview in 2011 with Daiene Vernile on Province Wide, CTV News. Do you notice anything familiar about his shirt?

In 2010, Firefly Books told me that they were almost out of books, and asked if asked if there were any corrections to be made before a reprint. When I asked if we could add new waterfalls, they liked the idea.

George and I made added the Northeast Ontario chapter. George arrived in the north woods at the peak of fall colour. He nailed it! Photos from that trip would be used for the covers of future books.

Given the popularity of waterfalling in Hamilton at that time, we carved a new Hamilton chapter out of the "Golden Horseshoe" chapter. For the first time, a few of my own photos were included. The second edition came out in 2011.

The Facebook Group is Born

As a way of promoting the new book, I started the Facebook group 'Waterfalls of Ontario' on August 20, 2011.

There was another similar group already in existance. Even though I was already a member, I wanted something that would specifically support and promote the book. As of 2024, both groups are still going strong, and many people are members of both.

My hope was that my new Facebook group would be a way for readers to interact with one another. The group grew slowly at first. We didn't get our 100th member until 2014.

I wasn't doing anything to market the group. This suggests that we were only attracting the most hardcore members at that time. One member, Kit McCann, claimed that he had been to 500 waterfalls. And he had the photos to prove it!

By May, 2017 we had over 3000 members. By August 3 2019, we had over 5000 members. (In contrast, by 2012, the Hamilton group had 12,000 members).

The group grew and succeeded thanks to the superhuman assistance by the group moderators. The earliest moderators included LA Mabo, Darlene Munro, Gary Smith, Ann Behnke, and John Bruce Leigh. Shortly after, they were joined by Russ Higgins, David Reid, and Terry Lupton.

Things got so busy during the Covid lockdown that we added additional moderators, Anneke van Dyk, Sean Christopher and Shawn Brule. In addition to helping with our workload, they brought new ideas. (I'm getting too old for this, you know!)

By spring of 2021, Ontario was in another Stay-at-home Order, and the Facebook group again started to explode in size. At one point, we were getting 500 requests for people to join each day. We were only accepting about 60% of applicants, as many were applying from southeast Asia and clearly had no connection to Ontario's natural places. Facebook was actively promoting our group.

Ontario's Historic Mills, 2007.

Waterfalls of Ontario Third Edition

In 2017 Firefly Books notified me that our second edition was almost sold out. The publisher specifically wanted to "finish the book" by including a chapter for Northwest Ontario. Our second edition had only a four page placeholder.

So I finally got to complete the "Thunder Run" as we now call it. This is a rite of passage for any Ontario waterfaller. We should have done this earlier, but with a young family and 9-5 job, extended trips weren't practical. I also pushed further into the northeast, completing the "Timmins Loop".

George was working on other projects, this chapter featured my own photography. While I am still no professional, I had better gear and photography skills by then. The book was published in 2018.

Waterfalls of Ontario, Third Edition

Waterfallsofontario.com Evolves

Every serious waterfaller eventually has to make the 'Thunder Run'.

This website has come a long way since 1999. There are more pages, the images are bigger and the descriptions have matured. Several waterfalls have been dropped over the years when it was discovered that they were on private property.

One thing that has remained consistent is that I design and code the website from scratch. I don't use WordPress or Wix. This is why it looks "retro" according to some people, and "amateur" according to others. That's fine with me!

Putting together this 1 million piece jigsaw puzzle is part of the fun. That's what I tell myself, at least... The benefit of course is that it allows for full control and customization. It also allows for a much faster experience for the user.

Even though I built the website from scratch, I've had a LOT of help. A Facebook group member, Dan Good, answered a request for assistance years ago. It was one small tweak on an earlier version of the website. Dan got more than he bargained for!

Over the years Dan has helped me countless times. I would get stumped on CSS or HTML, and Dan would help out immensely. After a case of intellectual property theft, Dan create the more advanced map interface featured on this website.

My old roomate, Jeff Dingwell helped with the design of the 6th generation website. Of course, hundreds and hundreds of people contributed photos and tips over the years. The website truly is a community effort. Learn more on the Acknowledgements page...

Every serious waterfaller eventually has to make the 'Thunder Run'.

You are now reading the 8th generation of the website. You can find archived versions of previous generations on archive.org. These date back to 2000

2000 First Edition. The first edition of this website was called 'Waterfalls of Southern Ontario.' It was first uploaded in 1999, but the earliest known archive is from 2000.

c. 2003 Second Generation. This version was developed a couple of years before the first edition of the book, which was released in fall, 2003. The second generation was largely unchanged for 7-8 years; I had a young family and wasn't doing much waterfalling at all. It also covers the period before the release of the second book. For a few years, you could reach the generation via waterfallsofontario.ca

2011 Third Edition. This first appeared in July, 2011 and intended for visitors to use Google Earth as way to navigate the map. This was a new application at that time that blew geographers away. Unfortunately, the app was too slow on many older computers at that time, and it was dropped. A few months after it was first released, the version was modified to advertise the brand new Facebook Group.

2012 Fourth Generation. Released in support of the Second Edition of the book. It was the first to be hosted as waterfallsofontario.com

2016 Fifth Edition. Look! A full-screen home page.

2018 Sixth Edition. This version of the website was developed to coincide with the release of the third edition of the Waterfalls of Ontario book. It was the first to feature 'preview tiles', allowing the user to visually scan through all the waterfalls at one time. The colour scheme consisted of grey and white, and wasn't very attractive.

2021 Seventh Edition. This was a bigger, bolder upgrade to the 6th edition. Colour was back and functionality was improved. Timed to be released with the fourth edition of the book, this edition probably saw more use than any to date. Usage spiked during the Covid pandemic and the year after.

2024 Eighth Edition. Up until this time, each edition of the website had improved upon the last. But each time, I was in a rush and was always unhappy with the result.

In Fall of 2023 I set out to creat the biggest and best website that I could. I wanted a complete redevelopment from the ground up. Many of the same familiar features would be back, but it was time to fix some of the long-standing nagging deficiencies of previous sites.

I wanted to finally do a full-screen design that would look good on all platforms. 60% of the traffic to the website was generated from mobile phones. My landscape-orientation images weren't cutting it because they didn't fill the screen. I also wanted the google directions to go straight to a parking location. There was no sense in sending waterfall coordinates to Google Maps... many falls aren't beside the parking lot.

The eighth edition was finally released in May, 2024. It has much better support behind the scenes, which allows me to make site-wide changes and updates much more easily than before. It is still based on a static dataset, but this works. It maintains the same grass-roots, amateur, yet useful approach. I was happy to hear in an interview in 2024 that the interviewer thought that the site was "cool retro!".

Long time users will note that the website now incorporates Google Adsense Ads. The site ran for 24 hours with ads. Some users and Facebook group members convinced me that it wasn't a terrible idea to try to make a bit of money back for my efforts.

Will there be future editions? I'm not sure. It's becoming clear that more and more people get their information from social media. They don't want to read websites. They want to crowd-source everything. Is there a role for websites like this in the mid-2020s? What do you think?

Additional Exposure

During the COVID lockdowns, a few excepts from the fourth edition were featured in the Toronto Star. An article in March spoke about visiting Rockway Falls and Louth Falls after the lockdown restrictions were lifted.

'Backroads Bill' Steer wrote an article that was featured in several northern Ontario newspapers: Did you know waterfalls can make you happier. It included some interview statements from me and mentioned the book, website and Facebook group. Bill teaches at both Nipissing University and Canadore College in North Bay.

Also, Peter Sacco worked with the legendary Canadian band, the Spoons, to put together a video to bring hope and inspiration. It featured cameos by Corey Hart, Jane Siberry, Ed the Sock, Alan Frew, Live Earl Jive, Bif Naked, David Marsden... and Mark Harris, "Ontario Waterfalls Author." I appeared in the video for 2 seconds, but that was good enough for me!

The Spoons were reportedly impressed by the LP display!

Waterfalls of Ontario, Fourth Edition

Every serious waterfaller eventually has to make the 'Thunder Run'.

During the Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, sales of the third edition were brisk. This was reflected in usage of the website as well as requests to join the Facebook Group. People had nothing to do during the lockdowns and found the outdoors. Firefly ordered a small reprint of the third edition, but even it was selling out.

The fourth edition of the book was released in Spring 2022. It was longer than ever. All of the content was checked for out-of-date information. Hundreds of corrections were made... although even now, some are already incorrect! The maps were re-drawn from scratch, the introduction was completely re-written, and about 12 new waterfalls were added.

Will this be the last edition?

2024 And Beyond

At the time of writing, Waterfalls of Ontario consisted of the following components:


The website, in its eighth edition, provides photos, descriptions, mapping and directions to over 710 waterfalls in Ontario. Waterfalls that are found on private property or prohibited areas are not included. Pages from the site had been loaded over 2.3 million times since 2012.

Waterfalls of Ontario book

Published by Firefly Books, this book is now in its fourth edition. Books were published in 2003, 2011, 2018 and 2022. The most recent book as 288 pages, full-colour. Each run is 10,000 copies.

Waterfalls of Ontario Facebook Group

The Facebook group continues to grow, with over 45,000 members

Waterfalls of Ontario Facebook Page

The Facebook page has close to 6000 followers.

Waterfalls of Ontario Instagram

The Facebook page has close to 4400 followers.

Waterfalls of Ontario Wall Maps

Wall maps are available for purchase from the website. They show the distribution of waterfalls in Ontario. One map covers southern Ontario and another covers northern Ontario

Waterfalls of Ontario Badges and Stickers

Badges and stickers are available for purchase from the website.

Waterfalls of Ontario Project

This project has been online since 1999, in print since 2003, and on social since 2011. (See archives: 2003, 2012, 2018). It was the first to inventory and map Ontario's waterfalls for recreational purposes. With your continued help, it grows. Learn more...
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This page last updated on June 12, 2024. Earlier versions can be examined on Archive.org, dating back to 2003.