The first Maid of the Mist was launched in 1846 as a ferry service between the Canadian and American sides, pre-dating by two years the construction of the first Niagara Falls suspension bridge at the site. However, with the opening of the bridge, the ferry service lost business, and by 1854, became a tourist attraction instead with the launch of a more luxurious boat.
Yes we got to keep the ponchos. In the 1980’s my parents and I took this tour but at that time they still used the oilskin coat and hats and you didn’t get to keep them. (Sure wish I knew where those pictures were.)
The boat starts off at a calm part of the Niagara River, near the Rainbow Bridge, and takes its passengers past the American and Bridal Veil Falls, then into the dense mist of spray inside the curve of the Horseshoe Falls, also known as the Canadian Falls.