When you have a global wonder in your proverbial back yard, you rarely go to see it, unless you have visitors in from a long way off. Such was the case growing up in southern Ontario. Niagara Falls was an hour or so from home. Because it was so close by, it wasn’t the sort of trip we’d take all that often. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the Falls and the River, so I thought I’d take you along today.
The Falls have been cutting their way through the Niagara Escarpment since the last ice age and are presently divided into two main sections (the Horseshoe and the American Falls) by Goat Island. There’s a third relatively-minor section called the Bridalveil.
The cascade has been an object of fascination almost from the first time Europeans saw what local natives had been living around for thousands of years. Since then, the Falls have been a magnet for tourists, daredevils, suicides, hucksters and opportunists.
Today, most of the carnival atmosphere has been moved away from the Falls, and the adjoining terrain is primarily parkland, especially on my Canadian side. You can get grand views from both sides, but I have a somewhat better vista than my Yankee friends. You can also see it from below on boats that travel into the boiling cauldron. That’s if you have a strong stomach for rough rides and can handle getting mesmerized by the hypnotic water. Trust me, it happens.
Visiting on the Canadian side, you have two options after seeing the Falls. You can enter the carnival part of things, tucked away from sight of the Falls. There you’ll find stretches that make Las Vegas look dignified and classy. Or you can do as I would and take the parkway down river to other spots well worth the drive.
Queenston Heights sits at the Niagara Escarpment crest, above Queenston village. It was the site of a battle in the War of 1812. In October that year, American invaders swept into the area and were defeated by British troops, Canadian militia, and Native warriors. The battle resulted in the death of Isaac Brock, commanding general of British forces in Canada. His remains are interred on the battlefield, where an imposing monument stands watch. The entire site is well preserved and filled with lush gardens, quiet walkways and maybe even the odd ghost here and there.
The river meets Lake Ontario at the last spot on the drive. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a small town with a lot of history. Briefly the capital of Upper Canada and the scene of much action in the War of 1812, the town has preserved its historical sites and small town atmosphere well. Fort George and the Shaw Festival are two of its big tourist draws, though the Festival has neglected the works of George Bernard Shaw lately, so complaints should be addressed to the board of directors.
With its friendly disposition, beautiful architecture, and peaceful sensibility, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tonic, especially compared to the carnival upriver - plus it has a reputation as the most haunted town in Canada. That fellow you see in the British officer’s uniform might not be a Fort George re-enactor.
William Kendall is a writer, photographer and rock climber from the Ottawa Valley. When he's not working on his world domination scheme (no golfers allowed), he can be found writing the forthcoming Heaven & Hell, plus his personal blog Speak Of The Devil.