In DepthThere is something about Niagara Falls that appeals to the lover, daredevil and poet in everyone. Over the years Niagara Falls has been many things—a strategic military post, a prosperous trade center, a carnival town—but never has it ceased to be a natural wonder, mesmerizing travelers from around the world.
The cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, N.Y., are connected by two bridges across the Niagara River. The river is really a strait that carries drainage from the upper Great Lakes to Lake Ontario. At the falls its sudden drop creates one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls. Among the shortest rivers in the world at 58 kilometres (36 mi.), Niagara also is one of the wildest: Its rapids reach speeds of 48 kilometres per hour (30 mph).
The Canadian Falls, 54 metres (177 ft.) high, have a crest of more than 675 metres (2,215 ft.) outlining a deep curve—thus the name Horseshoe Falls. The river underneath is as deep as the cataract is high. The American Falls are 56 metres (184 ft.), but are only about 328 metres (1,075 ft.) wide in a fairly straight line. The smallest of Niagara's falls, Bridal Veil, is separated from the other falls by Luna and Goat islands. The falls are illuminated nightly. During the past 12,000 years—the approximate age of the falls—the crest has moved 11.2 kilometres (7 mi.) upstream.
Water is diverted more evenly over all three cataracts to protect the soft shale and limestone foundations and to slow the rate of erosion. The combined flow of the river over the three falls would normally be about 3,700,000 litres (977,540 U.S. gallons) per second, but the use of the waters to generate electricity reduces the flow to about 2,842,400 litres (750,960 U.S. gallons) per second.
Settlement of the area began after the American Revolution when pioneers emigrated to Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Though admired by passers-by, the falls were not a tourist attraction. In 1795 the government of Canada declined to spend $30 to clear a trail to the falls, in the belief that “nobody wanted to see them but small boys.”
Development of the area was thwarted by the War of 1812, which pitted settlers across the borders against each other. A monument in Chippawa Battlefield Park honors those who were killed in the battle. The bloodiest battle of the war occurred in Niagara Falls at Lundy's Lane. Though neither side claimed victory, this gruesome fight was the turning point of the war. Shortly afterward, the war ended in a draw: The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Dec. 24, 1814, reinstated the boundary line—creating sister cities on each side of the river.
The railroad brought the first tourists about 1840, and Niagara Falls turned into a carnival of hustlers and freaks. In 1885 the Ontario Legislature established The Niagara Parks Commission to preserve the integrity of the land on the Canadian side of the falls. This agency is responsible for the well-manicured parklands along the Niagara River, which reserve the most beautiful views of the falls for the public's peaceful enjoyment.
Daredevils soon followed. In 1901, Mrs. Annie Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, became the first person to go over the falls in a barrel. She was fished out after 3 hours, battered but still alive. Many followed her over the brink. All went over the Canadian Falls, and those who died were usually trapped beneath the tons of water pouring over the crest. Fortunately the era of daredevils has largely ended; stunts on either the falls or the rapids are illegal.
There is no question that the Niagara Falls region is a mishmash of images. In some respects it resembles a sideshow with its wax museums, honeymoon specials and souvenir shops; conversely, it is a well-preserved park where man-made attractions are dwarfed by those of nature. To honeymooners, the city is an exotic destination, yet Niagara Falls is essentially a commercial metropolis.
As long as the falls exist, the tourists will keep arriving—more than 14 million people visit the Canadian side annually. On any day of the year countless shutterbugs jockey for position against the railing, just inches from the magnificent crest, in the hope of capturing the beauty, power and majesty of the falls. If they are lucky, a rainbow will appear in the mist, adding splendor to splendor.
Niagara Falls, ON
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174 m/571 ft.
Ontario's Harmonized Sales Tax is 13 percent.
Greater Niagara General Hospital, (905) 378-4647.
424 S. Service Rd. Grimsby, ON L3M 4E8. Phone:(905)945-6293
Four commercial airports serve the Niagara Falls area. See Approaches by Plane for details.
Hertz, (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members. For a complete list of agencies consult the telephone directory.
Via Rail serves all parts of Canada as well as Buffalo, Windsor (opposite Detroit) and Sarnia (opposite Port Huron, Mich.). The station is at 4267 Bridge St.; phone (888) 842-7245.
Daily service connects Niagara Falls with all parts of Canada and with principal cities in the United States. Coach Canada, in partnership with Megabus—phone (866) 488-4452—and Greyhound Lines Inc.—phone (905) 357-2133—operate out of the terminal at 4555 Erie Ave.; phone (888) 438-4452.
Niagara Falls taxicabs operate on the meter system. The minimum charge is $3.50, plus $2.50 for each additional kilometre (.6 mi.). There is no extra charge for additional passengers. The meter is kept running while luggage is loaded and unloaded.