Niagara Falls and freaks of nature


I will not attempt to write a one-size-fits-all travelogue of Niagara Falls from whence I have just returned. For background to some of my comments – plus a whole lot more – I would suggest a look here. I will not even try to match that body of work.

Completely on impulse I decided to go to Niagara, for a day-and-a-half or so, to take pictures of what I was sure would be winter beauty unimaginable at the height of the summer tourism season. I was not disappointed. So far I have uploaded 130 photos to my Webshots gallery. (More may be added as I create another category for other falls-related pictures.)

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I think, with the exception of a day visit a few years ago, this was my first trip back to ‘The Falls’ since I lived in Welland and then St. Catharines, both about fifteen miles away, back in the 1977-87 period. It was certainly the first winter visit since that time – and it almost seemed, despite evidence to the contrary borne out in the number of day visitors, that I had stumbled on to a little secret about Niagara’s winter beauty. (In my day Niagara Falls was not very successfully marketed as a year-round destination.)

Just two hours from Toronto it is one of those places, like the CN Tower here, one tends not to visit unless out-of-town guests wish to go. Unless one is an avid gambler, in which case I guess many more frequent trips would be almost inevitable nowadays, it is easy to forget that there is such a beautiful system of parks, on the perimeter of the Niagara, so close to Canada’s largest city. (The casinos I will touch on later.)

A place which inspired a Marilyn Monroe movie and countless falls-jumping daredevils can be forgiven for a little tackiness. Alas, Clifton Hill remains a carnival of gawdy signs, must-see places – family-friendly, I’ll grant them that – like wax museums and other $10 and $20 diversions. Yet fools and their money…

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I cannot stress enough the pleasure and awe one experiences closer to the river, where the roar of the falls easily drowns out the roar of recorded tourist trap barkers up the hill.

Now on to the casinos which, other than taking some pictures of their exteriors, I was not the least bit interested in visiting – a lack of interest for which I am immensely grateful, or I’d be sure to be visiting these premises.

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The first casino was located behind the Falls Avenue hotels (where buses continue to congregate en masse so obviously the original cash-box remains very active.)

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Not too far away, literally above the Canadian falls and at the opposite end of the park, now stand the behemoth Fallsview Casino and its associated hotels.

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This was the area, on the once-much-better-protected Niagara Escarpment, where the tallest structures were two observation towers (the Skylon and the Minolta), a pyramid-shaped IMAX theatre and a then-smaller, albeit ever-ambitious, Oakes Inn and a few low-rise motels. The Minolta, now the Konica Minolta Tower Centre, doesn’t even charge admission any more now that it is directly connected to one of the new hotels. Who am I to argue with that positive change?

This is the southwest skyline now with, as locals were telling me, more to come.

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The Niagara Falls mist, for which the legendary Maid of the Mist is, of course, named, can now, depending on wind direction in the vicinity of the falls – which, in turn, is affected by the towers on the hill – soak falls visitors, at the popular vantage points adjacent to Table Rock House, in ways that previously only adventurous tourists would wish aboard the Maid or down in the tunnels behind the Horseshoe Falls. While I’m all for super-soakers at summer Pride parades it is a phenomenon I was not prepared for in February. Had I only done some light research. [1] [2] (Registration may be required at the second link).

As a result during my afternoon photograph hunt on day one my winter jacket and casual slacks were first soaked and then frozen, only losing some of their stiffness once I had retreated indoors to Table Rock House (as seen here from ground level atop the escarpment) for a snack and a break from walking. And, yes, that rainbow to the right of the building is the real deal 🙂

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Ultimately, however, the soaking was not a vacation-buster and, as luck would have it, when I returned for evening photos, wearing lined, cross-trainer pants over my jeans (the trainers made of unknown combinations of materials) – recycled garbage bags for all I know – the soaking did not occur.

This Globe and Mail article sums up, at least in its headline, what is my sentimental attachment to the abiding natural beauty of Niagara Falls. The piece does not settle, though, for the mere splendour of nature. Given the copious number of minimum-wage, tip-dependent jobs created in the new, now-year-round Falls economy, it is very clear that a few people – developers, property owners and, perhaps, local politicians – are becoming very, very wealthy while the rest…not so much.

So go to Niagara Falls, in winter or summer, for whatever other reasons you may have but go, too, for the pictures.

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3 thoughts on “Niagara Falls and freaks of nature

  1. Haha… Your entry reminded me of a journey my family made to the falls when I was in elementary school. I remember it was cold when we arrived at 10 or 11 PM. We had been in the van all day, and were ready to find someplace to sleep. Dad drove around looking for a hotel to accomodate us. All of the reasonably priced establishments had already lit up their “no vacancy” signs. Apparently we had come to Niagra on a busy weekend- some big conference in town. The only hotels with vacancies were asking prices we could not afford, so we kept looking.

    Dad and mom were exhausted, and my brothers and I were dozing in the back seat when my father spotted a vacancy sign about 45 minutes outside of Niagra Falls. Dad went inside to check on the price of a room. The man was asking a lot, but my dad decided he’d be willing to pay for a good night’s rest. (It was past midnight at this point.) Fortunately, my dad asked to see the room before he paid. The man took my father down the hall and into a dimly lit room. There wasn’t a bed frame, just a spring mattress on the floor. There was a bucket of water in the corner to use in flushing the toilet. The room was filthy. My father told the man that he didn’t want to subject his family to a night in that room. The owner quickly offered a lower price, which my father declined as he bid the man goodnight and walked toward the exit. The man stepped in front of him, and said, “Ok… Well, I’ll make you a really good offer.” He lowered the price yet again and said, “I’ll even throw in a bucket of wine.”

    My family slept in the van until 4 AM. We ate an early breakfast at Denny’s, saw the falls, and bid Niagra farewell.

  2. Well it’s Niagara in New York State, too – so no need to pin the mistake on your nationality 🙂

    Everything in that area, on both sides of the border, is “Niagara this” or “Niagara that”; oh, and, close to the falls, it is “Rainbow this” or “Rainbow that…” 🙂

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