Although we all agree that Niagara Falls is still one of the wonders of the world and should by all rights be totally and easily visible and accessible to everyone, many visitors I’ve encountered have asked me how they can get to Niagara Falls; specifically, to the water that flows over the cliff. Having spent my youth in Niagara Falls, I don’t associate that time with casinos, hotels, or other money making schemes that proliferate Niagara’s tourism industry today.
The simple reason for visitor confusion is that the highway artery which accesses the city does not pass anywhere near the Falls. Other than advertising of hotels and attractions not a lot of visible signs that communicate how people can get to the Falls itself exist. Mostly perplexed by now you must pass through the dense tourist business area to finally get your long-awaited glimpse of the Cascades. It is impressed upon us that the first order of business will be commercialism and delight afterwards - something of which I was not entirely aware as a teen.
In those days, we would just hop on our bikes and ride down a few half empty streets to the overlook, and there she was, thundering white in all its majesty just waiting for more attention. And Niagara Falls certainly did get attention. Times sure have changed.
In your travels, you may notice a road that follows the Niagara River Gorge on the Canadian side. Winston Churchill called this the “prettiest site in the world.” It still is with its smooth two-lane paved road meandering north over the escarpment at Queenston Heights where General Brock fought the American intruders in 1812. In about twenty minutes you’ve arrived at the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
In those days, we would just hop on our bikes and ride down a few half empty streets to the overlook, and there she was,
James Kershaw Early Life in Niagara
At the risk of punishment for turning my allegiance from the Falls to this little community, devoid of hustle and bustle, in my opinion, this is the crown jewel of the Niagara region. No elevators here, no towers, no glaring lights or false hopes. As you pass the famous Shaw Festival theater on the left, you are immediately introduced to a wonder of shops by a structure built with red brick topped with a real working clock. Everything is accessible from street level. Check out the quaint little two story buildings that huddle closely on both sides of a wide causeway. Feasts for all your senses, interiors expose their finished original wood and ceiling structures with every product neatly arranged on its shelf or in antique cabinets in the style of the early 20th century.
I couldn’t be a thrifty spender here, but I will get my money’s worth with the highest quality of the goods sold. Saunter along with your ten dollar Gelato cone while you peer through the glass at the cake display. Enter if you are so inclined. If you naturally diverge to the many side streets don’t be surprised if you are overwhelmed contemplating the amount of care that has gone into the architecture.
Geography, business, and climate shape the unique personality of Niagara and its people. Mainly a retirement community with heavy industry extinct, many villages have the semblance of ghost towns for six months of the year. When Spring arrives, the reality of the commercialization of a natural occurrence is its own survival instinct. But take heart: It won’t cost you a nickel to night gaze at the misty falls bathed in coloured lights in any kind of weather.