Niagara Falls - 13 Stories of Thundering Water
Autumn is a good time to visit the Falls. Crowds have thinned, leaves are changing and the air is crisp and clear. As well, the main attractions
along the 56km / 35 mile Niagara Parkway beside the river are still open. The boat tours that take you into the spray of both
Horseshoe and American Falls continued until November 30 in 2014.
There was a time when the views were boarded and hoarded by enterprising individuals who charged for a peek, but in 1855 the
Niagara Parks Commission, a government agency, was created with the power to appropriate and eliminate all of that.
The public views from shore have been free ever since, although unique, entertaining “extras” maintained by the parks commission
have a fee for usage. The money is chanelled back into continuous parks beautification — and the entire Parkway is undeniably gorgeous.
Free attractions and entertainment: www.niagaraparks.com
* Niagara Parkway drives and recreation trails
* Floral displays, including the Floral Clock
* Nightly illumination of the Falls
* Summer fireworks and concerts
* Picnic tables, benches and boat launches along the Niagara River
* Over 100 historic plaques and markers
Paid attractions and entertainment:
A Niagara Parks Adventure Pass provides timed access to over, under and around the falls and river at a 30% discount compared to individual tickets. It’s the deal to get if you want to do it all. Compared to commercial theme parks, it’s cheap. The sad news? It's finished for this year. The good news: it'll be available again in May 2015 . Meanwhile, individual tickets are available.
* Falls incline railway
* Hornblower Niagara Cruises
* Journey Behind the Falls
* Niagara’s Fury 360 degree 4D theatre
* Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory
* Niagara Parks Golf
* Niagara Parks heritage sites
* WEGO buses
* Whirlpool Aero Car
* White Water Walk
Maid of the Mist tour boat snow globe.
Right: the lip of the falls. Click for a video.
Niagara's Fury presentation introduces the 10,000 year-old prehistoric background of the falls and gorge using cartoon characters aimed at families with children. You might as well start getting wet here before tackling the actual Falls. The exit puts you into the gift shop (surprise, surprise) where you'll be welcomed by an oversized Chip the Beaver. Mugs and postcards are big sellers, and there are authentic Canadian-made products too, including maple syrup, which is actually what holds Canada together.
A descent 13 stories into the bedrock brings you to the base of Horseshoe Falls from which tunnels lead to two openings behind the rumbling torrent of water. 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the tunnel. Interesting signs and pictures line the walls with the famous and infamous who have been here — from Winston Churchill to Minnie Mouse.
The outside observation platform enables a spectacular panorama of both falls plus the torrent of cascading water from Horseshoe almost close enough to touch.
All that rushing water makes one thirsty and hungry, so ascending to Elements on the Falls Restaurant for lunch isn't a bad idea. Elbort Wiersema is the capable and internationally experienced chef whose team makes it all happen on appropriately named Table Rock. The Niagara Burger is the most popular item on the menu, but I'd also vouch for the baked French onion soup and Niagara Spy Apple Barge, named for one type of apple from surrounding orchards and also for the wrecked barge upstream from the falls. Elements serves Canadian hormone-free beef and pork. The restaurant sources local produce when possible, while sharing a growing concern among restaurateurs for sustainable (rather than oversized) portions. Even a full dining room allows continuing sustainable views of the falls, though.
After lunch it's onto the water with a ride aboard the famous cruise that comes teasingly close to the Canadian Horshoe Falls — certainly enough to get you soaked — and circles around past the American Falls, under the Rainbow Bridge and back to terra firma every 15 minutes. Captain Mark came to Hornblower from Maid of the Mist, bringing with him an expertise that can't be learned from books. See video. "This boat is pretty well unsinkable," he said. Hmm, didn't they say that about the Titanic? But today it's true; as just one of the modern safety features the boat is actually double-hulled, with one boat inside another. It's also a very green, clean machine.
On deck, passengers in rain gear resemble hooded religious penitents. Maid of the Mist boats, North America’s oldest tourist attraction, have been operating since 1846. Hornblower Cruises won the bid for the exclusive boat tours in 2012 from the Canadian side while Maid of the Mist continues from the American shore. Upon landing, I also discovered that rented falcons (!) are employed to help keep pigeons and gulls at bay (or off the bay).
The White Water Walk. Down an elevator and through another tunnel, opening this time onto a 1/4 mile boardwalk beside Class 6 rapids. For the uninitiated, that means rocks and currents nasty enough to kill you. Needless to say, boats don't go there. Exhilarating, though. And beautiful. Click for video.
A little further downstream is the historic Spanish Aero Car over the Whirlpool Rapids, operating since 1916. Click on any photo for a video of the ride.
It had been cloudy until about 6PM when the setting sun coaxed a rainbow over the falls. I walked past a statue dedicated to the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) who developed the world's first hydro-electric power system right here in Niagara. The casino on the American side began to sparkle in the twilight as I prepared to rendezvous with a unique individual on the Canadian side of the river.
On a small hill across the road from the falls sits a
historic stone structure discreetly crowned with
oversize square black lamps. Barely noticeable
in daylight, they reveal themselves at night as the
source of illumination for both the American and Canadian Falls. Although not the only
person on the job, Peter Gordon is "Mr. Illumination". He's been lighting up the falls for 53 years from an office and control room that defy logic with a mix of state-of-the-art
computer technology and old-fangled fuse boxes and wiring. It's also a library of sorts with news clippings of past events and visitor business cards adorning the walls.
"I love the Japanese. They are so gracious...Apparently, I'm a star in Tokyo due to a Japanese TV crew that came here...You never know who'll come through the door: Danny DeVito...the Queen's baker...but the building was considered unsafe for Princess Di when she visited."
(Above) Red, white and blue lights on the American Falls, red and white on the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. The lights can be changed manually or automatically. Peter was an 11-year old bell hop at the Brock Hotel when Marilyn Munroe stayed there during the 1953 filming of Niagara, a Hollywood box office hit shot in technicolor. (Right) German-made 4,000 watt Xenon short arc bulbs by Osram last about a year and cost $1,800 apiece. (Below left) the Skylon Tower hovers behind Peter at work. (Below Right) A photo illustration of the lightbanks ready for nightly and special events as they ignite the sky with colour.
Photos, text and design
© Gary Crallé 2014
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