In May 1535, Jacques Cartier left France to explore the New World. Although he never saw Niagara Falls, the Indians he met along the St.Lawrence River told him about it.
Samuel de Champlain visited Canada in 1608. He, too, heard stories of the mighty cataract, but never visited it. A mention is made in his journals of a spectacular falls although there is no indication that Champlain actually saw them. Etienne Brule, the first European to see Lakes Ontario, Erie Huron and Superior, may also have been the first to behold the Falls, in 1615.
That same year, the Recollet missionary explorers arrived in Ontario. They were followed a decade later by the Jesuits. It was a Jesuit father, Gabriel Lalemant, who first recorded the Iroquios name for the river- Onguiaahra, meaning "the Strait". "Niagara" is a simplification of the original.
In 1651, during the fur- trade rivalry between the Huron and Iroquois that was first precipitated by the French, the Iroquois wiped out the Neutrals. Until the American Revolution, they managed to keep white settlers out of Niagara almost completely.
The first record of a European to ever lay eyes on the falls was Father Louis Hennepin, a French-speaking priest. In 1678 he arrived at Niagara Falls and was enormously impressed by the immensity of the falls.
He later wrote in his journal describing the falls as “ a vast and prodigious cadence of water which falls down after a surprising and astonishing manner insomuch that the universe does not afford its parallel”. Nineteen years later, he published the first engraving of the Falls in his book Nouvelle Decouverte. The Falls obviously made a great impression on Hennepin, for he estimated their height to be 183 metres, more than three times what it really is.