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Thunder of Waters – A Niagara Falls Article
While in New York, I booked a hotel in Niagara Falls. I neglected to check which side of the falls the hotel was on, American or Canadian. After a brief visit to the Crowne Plaza on the American side, I found myself across the border at the Crowne Plaza on the Canadian side of the falls.
It was dark when I crossed the Rainbow Bridge, the bridge connecting each side of the falls, but the falls could be seen and definitely heard. The falls have lighting for the first few hours of darkness and noise dominates the soundtrack of the area immediately surrounding the gorge in which approximately 6 million cubic feet of water tumbles 70 feet above the ridge. The name Niagara Falls comes from the Iroquois word “Onguiaahra” which translates to “Thunder of Waters”. It was my first live view of the falls, having seen them in many documentaries and movies (see Superman II and, of course, Niagara) and I was suitably impressed. It had been an impulse trip to the falls from New York so I had no idea what to expect other than the famous Horseshoe Falls. For example, I hadn’t realized that the American side of the falls also had an impressive waterfall, aptly called American Falls.
Having managed to access Canada, each end of the Rainbow Bridge has US and Canadian customs booths respectively, the Canadian Crowne Plaza was almost immediately opposite. Now located between Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe restaurants, the Crowne Plaza is also connected by skywalks to a casino and water park, as well as numerous retail outlets, Hershey’s & Coca Cola to name a few. name only two, along the entire length of the roadway at street level. . The hotel was originally an exclusive hotel. The hotel opened in 1929 and was originally called the General Brock Hotel, after Major General Sir Isaac Brock, commander of British and Canadian forces during the War of 1812, a conflict between the States United and England. Over the years the Brock has had a succession of royal visitors, it also hosted the cast and crew of Marilyn Monroe’s film Niagara. For Monroe’s most avid fans, her room number was 801. The hotel has moved with the times and grown considerably, while still managing to retain a hint of its previously more glamorous incarnation. The hotel is currently undergoing a transformation from the Brock to the Crowne Plaza in another twist in the hotel’s history.
I arrived on April 16 for a 4 night stay. The room cost around 85 Canadian dollars (at the time of writing the exchange rate is 2 Canadian dollars to 1 British pound). Despite the mild weather of bright sunshine and temperatures of over 20°C, it didn’t seem like tourist season. There are tourists, but by no means as many as the region is prepared to welcome. I imagine that in a few weeks the streets will be in turmoil. Instead, it looks like staff and attractions are starting their preseason warm-ups.
Let’s face it, the name suggests, the falls are the main attraction here. Everything else has been built around to try to keep tourists longer than it takes to view the falls for a while. Every conceivable angle to view the falls seems to be covered. I imagine someone somewhere must be working on something that could get people safely over the falls to complete the experience. Unfortunately for me, the Maid of the Mist tour boats aren’t running yet, so I’m opting for “Journey Behind The Falls”. It is, at a reduced cost of $9.45 Canadian (the lower observation deck was closed), takes you, as you might have guessed, behind the falls. The experience involves descending a few feet in an elevator to a tunnel that extends behind the falls. Halfway through and at the end point of the tunnel are portals from which you can view the falls. The first thing you notice is how cold it is. The second thing you notice is how loud it is. The third thing you notice is that through these portals there isn’t much to see – water gets in the way. Once I got over the initial disappointment, I began to understand what portals presented. The view is of a wall of white water. I couldn’t see anything at all through it. In fact, to recognize that it is water and not a glittering wall, I had to focus my attention. With this concentration combined with the noise and cold, I began to appreciate the full extent of the power of water on display. Besides the portals is an upper viewing platform where, as it is on the side of the falls, but much lower than the pedestrian walkway, I could stand and watch the water rage down the line of crest. When I looked to the other side, the sides of the gorge were barely visible through the spray generated.
Having gotten a better look at the power of the falls, I ventured onto the walkway that runs along the top of the gorge. It seems to me that the further you get from the falls, the less impressive it is. Once on a trip to Iceland I visited Gulfoss (Golden Falls) and it was a terrifying and thrilling experience. It was because I was so close that the jet covered me and wherever it landed the water froze. This made the walkways extremely icy and dangerous. At no time did my Niagara Falls experience become so exhilarating, but I did get glimpses. As I approached the falls, I began to feel the force of the water raging below. The water doesn’t just flow down to the drop and over it. The current rushes towards it, carrying with it branches, huge chunks of ice and any other debris it can suck up. If you fell into the water upstream, the cold would probably kill you and you would be happy because within seconds you would be at the falls with an almost certain fall to your death.
There is a general morbid fascination with falls. In particular, cross the falls in a barrel or on a tightrope while crossing the summit. The tradition began in the early 1900s and seems to have stuck in the public psyche ever since. The chance of surviving a dive over the falls seems to me to be around 50/50 – for every death there seems to be a story of survival…even if severely maimed. The reasons people do it are mostly for publicity stunts or suicides, but one survivor’s story really stands out. In what is commonly known as the ‘Miracle of Niagara’, a seven-year-old boy, Roger Woodward survived going through the falls, following a boating accident, wearing only a life jacket . Luckily for him, the Maid of the Mist rounds took place that day and he was pulled from the water. At the same time, her seventeen-year-old sister was the subject of a dramatic rescue by bystanders as she made her way to the falls. As recently as 2003, Kirk Jones jumped and survived the fall only to be arrested and charged, as it is illegal to cross the falls. The chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission called the waterfall “stupid.” Not wanting to do anything dumber than booking a hotel in the wrong country, I walked away from the falls.
Away from the falls themselves, one thing dominates the skyline: Skylon Tower is a needle-like structure that stands 520 feet tall and houses a revolving restaurant just below the observation deck at the top. Naturally, I took a walk in the tower. The ride in the yellow elevators outside the tower is by far the most interesting thing. From the mall downstairs, you step out of the dark and into the bright sunshine and stunning views of the falls. The elevator moves pretty fast, so it’s quite a ride. The elevator stopped to let people out and into the revolving restaurant and I headed to the top. As for being up high and having a 360 degree view of Niagara, it’s awesome. However, everyone really cares about the falls…unless a great view of the Spaghetti Factory floats your boat. It’s worth the $12 Canadian admission for the photo op alone. But it also gave me the chance to see what else Niagara has to offer.
When I was about 14 I went with my family for a week’s holiday in Blackpool. Niagara reminded me of that vacation. OK, Niagara has the falls, we’ve more than established that. Niagara has a tower and Blackpool has a tower, each impressive in its own way. But Clifton Hill, Niagara, AKA “Fun Street” takes all the credit for my Blackpool flashback. The Clifton Hill area is full of tourist attractions including Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Crazy Golf, Waxworks, Imax theatres, comedy t-shirt shops and easily more haunted houses on a street than I can get never seen. I count at least 4 and I see 2 more advertised on the road. This whole region cries out in desperation to maintain a tourist industry behind the falls. It’s extremely tacky in a very British resort style. I’m not prejudicial to the area, or even Blackpool, the attractions are popular and provide entertainment away from the falls and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes.
So it’s all about the falls and how to look at them. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s a natural sight that needs to be seen up close (but not too close) to be truly appreciated and when it’s done, why not take a haunted house crawl?!
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