Monstrous Water Conduit Niagara Falls, Ontario: Pop. 79,000. Or should that be 18 million plus 79,000? That's approximately the number of visitors the region gets each year, as they come by plane, train, boat, bus, automobile and sometimes by foot to get a glimpse of what has been called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Known simply as the Falls, with the Horseshoe on the Canadian side and the American and Bridal Veil on the U.S. side, these raging cataracts serve as the conduit for shifting water from the four Upper Great Lakes to Lake Ontario and eventually out to the ocean. That's an awful lot of water, as the Great Lakes hold about 20 percent of the world's fresh supply of the precious liquid. The 2,600-foot wide Horseshoe Falls, for example, blast 600,000 gallons per second down their 170-foot face.
Yet, this amazing flow of water (or part of it) has come to a standstill on at least two occasions—once accidentally and once on purpose. On March 30, 1848, an ice jam in the upper river caused the Falls to slow to a trickle for several hours. People actually went out and pulled artifacts from the riverbed. In 1969, the American Falls were deliberately blocked by engineers to see if they could remove some of the rocks at their base but the project was abandoned as too expensive.
More Power to It The Falls aren't just a tourist attraction—it is also the engine for one of the world's greatest generators of hydroelectric power with a combined 4.4 million kilowatts shared by the U.S. and Canada. As an offshoot of this water diversion, the annual erosion rate for the Falls—at one point about one meter a year—has been reduced to three centimeters.
With the late 19th-century Industrial Revolution, this cheap source of electricity brought many industries and manufacturing plants to the region, especially in the Chippawa and Fort Erie areas south of Niagara Falls. It also opened up transportation routes both by land and by sea with the construction of the first Welland Canal in Canada and the Erie Barge Canal in the U.S.
The city of Niagara Falls itself has undergone many changes and facelifts through the years: from being the site of the Seventh Wonder and the Honeymoon Capital to being the present day all-season family vacation destination featuring Marineland and the immensely popular Casino Niagara with 100,000 square feet of gaming space! It is thus a city that rejuvenates itself with almost constant renovation and revitalization, while at the same time respecting the traditions that got it to this point.
Waxing romantic One of the Niagara Falls' traditions is the Clifton Hill area where brand-new luxury hotels vie for space with gaudily-coloured, neon-lit honeymoon motels. Couples step into dark funhouses such as Screamers and NIGHTMARES Fear Factory to see who flinches first. Another tradition is the line up of off-the-wall museums such as Ripley's Believe It Or Not!, Louis Tussaud's Waxworks and Guinness World Of Records that continue to draw the curious.
But any accusations of tackiness are quickly dispelled once you get out into the surrounding countryside. It's no surprise that the first explorers who saw this region thought they'd discovered a new Eden, what with the relatively warm, rich, lush, verdant landscape anchored by those roaring waters!
Today, you'll find fruit trees and vineyards and sun-dappled winding country roads along the river. Jogging and biking paths stretch all the way up to Georgian Bay to the north. Tucked-away bed & breakfasts bear antique furnishings and welcoming hosts. Historical museums and period homes are in mint condition. Not to mention the incredibly beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake that is at the end of it all. If Niagara Falls is all hustle and bustle and humming tourism, this town seems frozen in a Victorian-era time warp, complete with the Shaw Festival with its world-class theatrical tribute to the era of George Bernard Shaw, with the addition of Jacuzzi suites, of course!
Mist Gets in Their Eyes So, while the Falls serve as the obvious focal point in this city straddling the U.S. border, the real secret to this area's success as a resort destination lies in its ability to be all things to all people. Golfers, sailors, fisher folk, campers, hikers, bikers, park and garden aficionados, business travellers, tourists from across the sea, thrill-seekers, wine lovers, history and art buffs, those who enjoy the quiet and reserved and those who revel in loud and tacky—they all meet here in tolerance, bonhomie and misty-eyed wonder.
Okay, okay. So maybe the mist comes from the Falls! But it only goes to show that you can't escape its influence, no matter what your reason for coming here. Maybe those negative ions from the falling water will rub off on all of us so that we, too, will become more tolerant and full of wonder.
It was a very good year The year 1885 was a pivotal year in the life of Niagara Falls, NY, a 16-square-mile city about 25 miles north of Buffalo and on the border between Canada and the U.S. If it weren't for what happened that year, we might not have been able to view the Falls from the U.S. side—at least not without having to pay dearly for the privilege.
Already, by that time, the area around the Falls was being built up with factories, mills, warehouses, taverns, hotels, and other commercial structures. As well, these business people and property owners were blocking access by putting up high fences and other barriers and charging people to see the Falls. And that might have led to the slow death of the town rather than the healthy 55,000-population resort destination it is today.
So, what exactly did happen in 1885? Bowing to pressure from the 'Free Niagara' lobby, led by the famous landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City's Central Park, the New York State legislature passed a law creating the 200-acre Niagara Reservation State Park, the first-ever attempt to use public money to preserve natural beauty. The result is what we have today, a zone around the Falls and rapids that is off-limits to commercial development and free to the public, a zone filled with landscaped gardens, parks and woodlands, hiking and biking trails and places for a quiet family picnic.
Cascade and they will come Thanks to these efforts, today's Niagara Falls, incorporated in 1892, is a bustling place with a thriving tourism industry that, with its sister city on the Canadian side, annually attracts between 14 and 18 million people and brings in something like USD1 billion a year in revenue for the region. The proximity of the Falls to the metropolitan areas of New York and Toronto put it within easy reach of more than 100 million people.
At the same time, the cheap electrical power generated by harnessing the Niagara River and Falls attracted numerous industries to the area during the early part of the 20th century. Some of these industries, such as Occidental Chemical, EI Dupont, Nabisco, US Vanadium, and Goodyear, remain, providing work for those in the population who aren't connected to the hospitality and tourism trade. Many industries, however, either shut down in the last 30 years or moved to the suburbs or surrounding small towns. After a prolonged economic downturn, the city has been revitalizing its downtown area, thus making it more attractive and viable for both residents and businesses.
But there is no doubt in anyone's mind what the prime pump for the economy is: without the Falls, this city would be simply one more border crossing fallen on hard times due to the collapse of heavy industry and shipping. The Falls form a cascade in more ways than one, including a trickle-down effect for the economy.
High rise to low-slung It is the Falls that supports the 3,000 hotel/motel/bed & breakfast rooms in the region. They allow luxury high rises such as Comfort Inn The Pointe and Holiday Inn at the Falls, low-slung motels such as the 3 Star, and classic Victorian B&Bs such as Rainbow House Bed & Breakfast to fill with guests anxious for a glimpse of the famous cataracts.
It is the Falls that bring 50,000 honeymooners a year (drawn, some say, by the negative ions released by the falling water and believed to be strong aphrodisiacs). And it is thanks to the Falls that attractions such as Cave of the Winds, Maid of the Mist boat ride, and Schoellkopf Geological Museum exist. Not to mention the dozens of tour companies coming from all over North America to deposit tourists to the spot where the 'Thunder of Waters' takes place.
Around Niagara Falls proper lie a series of historic towns and villages including: Lewiston, home of the Outdoor Fine Arts Festival and Lewiston Museum, Lockport, with its Erie Canal heritage and Underground Boat Ride, and Youngstown, with Old Fort Niagara where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario.
Geologic shift makes good Niagara Falls has its own international airport, featuring the fourth longest main runway in New York State, as well as the nearby Niagara Aerospace Museum, with displays of rare planes and helicopters. It has a vast, 580-acre public park with an 18-hole golf course, and a massive downtown shopping mall-cum-music plaza right next to the Convention Center with 152,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit and banquet space.
All made possible thanks to a quirky geologic shift 12,000 years ago that sent the Niagara River plunging down the edge of the escarpment.
The city of Niagara Falls, NY, is eternally grateful and shows that gratitude by making sure each and every one of the millions of visitors gets a free and unobstructed look at that Seventh Natural Wonder of the World.