Niagara Falls 

The Horseshoe Falls (a.k.a. The Canadian Falls)

        During the summer of 2001, Debbie flew up to Niagara Falls for a week vacation. We actually flew into Buffalo (so we could get a dead president) and than drove to Niagara Falls. We left on July 29 and returned on August 5. We stayed on the Canadian side not too far from the Horseshoe Falls. This is the Horseshoe Falls with Canada in the foreground above. This picture, along with the one of the American Falls, was taken from the top of the Skylon Tower, where we had lunch one afternoon. It was probably the most expensive lunch we ever had, but what a view. The dining room revolves around the tower making a full revolution in an hour. The tower was built back in 1964 and is 520 feet tall. However, it is 775 feet above the base of the fall where the Maid of the Mist cruises. There are three yellow elevators that carry you up the outside of the tower at a speed of 500 feet per minute. They say on a clear day (which we were lucky enough to be there for) you can see for 80 miles. In addition to the dinning room, they also have an observation deck. I recommend getting a Niagara Falls and Great Gorge Adventure Pass. They have admissions to a number of the places you will want to visit at a reduced price.

Table Rock House        We stayed at the Quality Inn Fallsview on Stanley Ave. which is only a few blocks from the edge of the Horseshoe Falls at Table Rock (it's at the upper right of the picture above). The hotel is higher up in elevation then Table Rock, but they have cog railway cars that take you down to Table Rock. Table Rock House (photo left) has gift shops, restaurants and elevators that take you under and behind the falls. It's called Journey Beneath the Falls. You buy the tickets (In 2001 they cost $7.00, but now it's $10 or it's included in the Pass) that give you a proscribed time to take the elevators. The line is fairly long. The elevators take you down into the cliff. You follow a passageway out onto a platform near the bottom of Horseshoe Falls that you can walk out on.. We did it twice, the first time the wind was in our face so we were drenched again. The second time the wind was blowing away so we could get a good view. Of course, I picked a day when the wind was blowing away from us. It's as if you could reach out and touch the falls. After you leave the platform you can walk through the tunnel behind the falls. There are two openings behind the falls where you can see the water rushing past you. they don't let you get too close to the opening for obvious reasons. However, all you really see is a white wall of water. It's alright, but you don't get a sense of the falls.  It's interesting, but I would put it third behind the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds for things to do at Niagara Falls.

American Falls        On our first day, we walked from Table Rock House through Queen Victoria Park. The Park has millions of flowers and is litter free. They spend a lot of time, energy and money to make this park fantastic. It's about ten blocks long. As you walk, you get spectacular views of the American Falls. We posed for this wonderful picture (right). From their we walked to the Rainbow Bridge. This is where we drove in from Buffalo that morning. US/Canadian borderWould you believe, they charge 50 cents just to walk across the bridge. Luckily it was in Canadian money. You also have to go through Customs every time you walk across - either way. So make sure you have your passport or some ID on you. In the middle of the bridge (left), you are on the Canadian/United States border. We posed for another picture here. People were very kind to take our picture for us. Though, usually, I was also taking their picture. You can see, on the exact border, they have the United Nations flag.

        We continued into the park on the American side. There is a bridge over the part of the Niagara River that flows over the American Falls (you can see the bridge in the photo of the American Falls below) so we could walk to Goat Island (this is the big island that separates the two main falls). There is a third and smaller falls called the Bridal Falls (which you can see to the right of the picture). We walked across the island to the rim of the Horseshoe Falls on the American side. So, we walked from the Canadian edge of the Horseshoe Falls all the way around to the other side of the Horseshoe Falls on the American side. It was quite a hike, but it was easier then trying to swim it. After relaxing a bit (along with a number of photos) we hiked back to Table Rock. 

 The American Falls

       At the far right of the Canadian Falls, next to Table Rock, is where everyone likes to go over in a barrel. I choose not to. A women, Annie Taylor, was the first person to conquer the falls in a barrel on October 24, 1901. She actually survived. If you want to read about these nuts and see the contraptions they use to go over the falls, there is a webpage dedicated to those people called Daredevils of Niagara Falls. The Falls are very dangerous. Many people have been killed accidentally or on purpose going over the falls. If you are interested, there is another web page entitled Niagara - Life and Death on the River. The most amazing story occurred in 1960 when a seven year old boy accidentally fell in the river above the falls when the boat he was in capsized. He was swept over the falls wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and a pair of sneakers. Somehow, he survived. He was pulled from the water below the falls by the crew of a Maid of the Mist boat with nothing more than bruises and scratches. His 17 year old sister was rescued before she went over. The 40 year old man who owned the boat did not survive going over the falls. The boy and man went over next to Goat Island which is to the far left in the top photo.

Maid of the Mist

Maid of the Mist        You can see the Maid of the Mist (in the center of the above photo) does get very close to the falls. Their website is very good. They have been running these tours since 1846. Using a side-wheel steamboat, it started out as a ferry service until the bridge was built. To make money, they started running tourists to see the falls. The tours continued to about the time of the Civil War. In 1885, using boats made out of White Oak, they started boating tourists too the falls again. In 1955, a fire destroyed the old 19th century boats and new ones were built that were used up until 1990. They were called Maid of the Mist I and II even though they were the 5th and 6th boats to carry that name. These are the only boats in the water. With the falls on one side and the Great Gorge on the other, the basin of water beneath the falls is inaccessible to boats or ships of any kind.

Debbie & Frank on the Maid of the Mist        All of the Maid of the Mist boats were built next to the water since there is only one small service road and you can't sail any boats into the basin. However in 1972, the 65-ton Maid of the Mist III was trucked overland and lowered over the cliff by two large cranes to a truck on the service road. More cranes below lowered her into the water. This was the first time this had ever been done. They did it again in 1976 with the 300-passenger Maid of the Mist IV (this is the oldest one still running). In 1997, Maid of the Mist VII was cut into 14 parts and trucked down the service road where it was put back together again. The Maid of the Mist VI and VII (in photos) are the biggest of them all and can carry around 600 passengers. I can't imagine how powerful these engines are considering the current they have to go against.

Maid of the Mist        We did the trip twice, the first time we got soaked but the second time, later in the week, the wind was in our favor (so we were mostly dry). You first cruise past the American Falls (which has a lot a large boulders at it's base) then on to the center of the Horseshoe Falls. They get fairly close and if the  wind shifts the so called 'mist' turns into a torrent. They do give you these blue plastic coverings (made me feel like dry-cleaning) to keep you some-what dry. Be careful taking pictures or videos since the cameras can wet very easily. This was one of our favorite activities we did here, so much so that we did it twice. It takes about a half-hour, but get there early as the lines get very long after 11 o'clock. The cost was $8.50 when we were there (now it is $13.00 - but it is also included in the Pass). This picture (above) was of us after the second time when we didn't get very wet. You can also take the Maid from the American side. This was Debbie's favorite activity and is a must on any trip to the Falls.

Cave of the Winds

Debbie under the falls        If you look to the right of the photo of the American Falls above, you see people in yellow raincoats walking next to the base of the American Falls. This is called The "Cave of the Winds". It is a must if you go to Niagara Falls. It is on the American side. It isn't very expensive at $5.50 and it runs up to 7:30 at night. Even know the lines are longer, it's better to go in the afternoon because the sun will be on you and give you better pictures. You go down by elevator to the base of the cliff on Goat Island. Than you walk on wooden walkways and platforms beneath the Bridal Falls (that's the little falls on the right in the picture). You get very wet as the water goes over the walkways and your feet. They do provide you with yellow raincoats (as you can see). Your shoes don't get wet because you're not wearing them. They give you these slippers to put on. Needless to say, Debbie was very grossed out by this (she won't even go bowling because she doesn't want to wear rented shoes). However she did it and survived. Of course, I told her that certain Asian foot funguses take weeks to develop.

Cave of the Winds        As you can see, you do get close to the Falls and you do get wet. The walkways lead you up to what they call "The Hurricane Deck." This is a platform where the water of the Bridal Falls splashes onto the platform and across your feet. In the winter when everything freezes up, they remove all of the wooden platforms and then re-assemble them in the spring. If you see the terrain they have to work on you start to realize what a difficult job that must be. It opens somewhere around the middle of May.

        Another nice thing about this is that they don't rush you. I was having a good time down under the falls and I wasn't in a hurry to get back up. I love water fountains and waterfalls, so this was the ultimate spot for me (the nut with his arms up is me). Someone asked me to take their picture which I did. Next thing you know, everyone was asking me. I really didn't mind. What I found to be very comical is that there is a "No Smoking" sign. As if you could actually light anything with the water and spray everywhere. So if you go, definitely do this. Go to the Visitor Center, too. They have a great video on Niagara Falls done by the History Channel.

        We really enjoyed walking around the city of Niagara Falls. It is very clean and full of flowers. We wandered into the Brock Plaza, one of the oldest and more exclusive hotels in Niagara Falls. Well Debbie and I were impressed. I was even more impressed to find that it is not very expensive. They have many restaurants here, like Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe and the Hard Rock Cafe. We had lunch at Planet Hollywood, which was the first time either of us had been in one. They have a casino here, but since neither of us are gamblers, we didn't go in. As you walk around the streets you see many interesting things. We came upon this wooden Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman outside the RCMP Store. I guess they put it there to attract tourists who are dumb enough to have there picture taken with it.

        They also had many other stores you could go shopping. We went to the Hershey Store. As you can see, some people can't be left alone with chocolate. It was very tough getting her out of there. 

        We also went further down river (north of the falls) to the Great Gorge Adventure which is about a mile north of Niagara Falls. They have a Falls Shuttle Bus that can take you there. The cost is $7.50 but it is also included in the Pass. You take an elevator down to the base of the gorge. This is a narrow gorge that has been cut out by the rushing water. Because it's so narrow, all of the water from the falls rushes through the narrow gorge causing a wild stretch of whitewater. The gorge is on the Canadian/American border. There is a wooden walkway you can take that goes along the river for about a quarter mile. There are step cliffs on both sides of the gorge. No one goes in the water. I don't think it's allowed nor do I think it would be very survivable. The only time it was successfully done by a swimmer was in 1933 by an 18-year old Chatham, New Jersey man who went swimming up near the Maid of the Mist docks on the American side and  was accidentally swept into the rapids. He somehow managed to survive the rapids and the whirlpool at the other end. Some people have done it successfully using barrels. Back in 1861, when the old owners of the Maid of the Mist were going broke, they sold their ship, however, they had to sail it to Lake Ontario as part of the deal. With a big crowd watching, three men sailed the boat into the rapids. It tore of the smokestack and was swamped with the waves, but somehow managed to make it through. There used to be a scenic electric trolley in the early part of the 20th century on the American side, but it's mostly gone now. You can still see parts of the railway on the other side of the gorge.

       The water from the rapids enter a giant whirlpool. The river makes a right turn here and the water coming out of the rapids swirls into this large whirlpool before it continues north to Lake Ontario. They have what they call the Spanish Areo Car that crosses over the gorge on a cable 450 feet above the whirlpool. It was built in Spain and is brightly colored in red and yellow. They began service in 1916 and can carry 40 people per trip. We watched it, but never took the trip.

        This is the Floral Clock in Niagara Falls. It gets thousands of tourists a week. Why? I haven't a clue. It's a big clock made with flowers - 16,000 flowers built back in 1950. The floral design is changed each year. They love flowers in Canada. Niagara Falls is like a large Botanical Gardens. The Niagara Park Commission, which runs the Canadian side of the Falls, has hundreds of landscapers and gardeners working full time.

        There is a large Botanical Gardens further down the road from here next to the Butterfly Conservatory. The Butterfly Conservatory is a large building with a tropical rainforest setting full of thousands of butterflies. You get to walk through it as they flutter around you. Though you are told not to touch them. Apparently oils on our fingers are harmful to them. This place was interesting and I would recommend it.

Niagara on the Lake

Cloock Tower       A short drive north of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side is Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is a must see. It's a beautiful little picturesque English town bordering the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The name of the city was originally "Newark". It was first settled by British Loyalists leaving the United States after the American Revolution. It became the first capital of Upper Canada (Ontario). During the War of 1812, American troops captured the town and burned it. The British would exact revenge for this and the burning of York (Toronto) when they captured Washington D.C. the following year. After the war, the town was rebuilt and little has changed since then. The town is filled with tree-lined streets with large beautiful 19th century buildings. The main street is Queen Street which is full of quaint little shops and a large clock tower (left) on an island in the center of the road. We Prince of Wales hotelstopped in one of the shops for lunch. They also have a chocolate store where we got some ice cream. There are flowers everywhere. We did some shopping here and there. They have a number of bed and breakfast places along with some old style inns. I would love to go back and stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel (right). This hotel, built back in 1864 is just oozing elegance. Of course you better be oozing cash because the rooms run between $200 to $300 a night (Canadian). The day we were there was very bright and clear. We could see across Lake Ontario to Toronto. The CN Tower was very visible in the distance.

        On another day, we drove up here to go to dinner at "The Olde Angel Inn." It's the oldest inn in the town. The atmosphere is great and so is the prime rib. We also had a good local wine. The Inn was damaged somewhat during the War of 1812. They even say they have their own ghost haunting the place.

War of 1812

Fort George        There are many places around the Niagara area that were involved during the War of 1812. We of course, took some time to visit them. To Americans, the War of 1812 was a minor event which we quickly breeze through in history class. Canadians see it as a major part of their history, like the American Revolution or the Civil War is to us. They see it as the Canadians, with the help of the British, repulsing the invasion of their neighbor to the south (that's  us).

        Just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake is Fort George (left). After the American Revolution, both the United States and Great Britain built forts on the border to protect their countries from attacks. In 1812, war did come to the Niagara region during the War of 1812. We visited Fort George along with Fort Erie. The building in the photo at left is of the barracks and officers house. Both British forts were built along the Niagara River. Fort George in the north and Fort Erie in the south across from Buffalo. 1812 British soldiersThe Americans built forts on the other side of the Niagara River, like Fort Niagara. Fort George was built by the British in the 1790's. It is very large and spread out unlike Fort Erie which is much more compacted. During the War of 1812, the Americans bombarded  Fort George destroying many of her buildings.  The United States Army captured Fort George along with nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake in May of 1813. However, this was as far as the army would go as the British stopped them from advancing any further. By December, Frank at cannonthe British forced the Americans to abandon the fort and retreat back across the border (not before they put Niagara-on-the-Lake to the torch.)  The British continued across the Niagara River to capture Fort Niagara. The British held off another invasion in 1814 and held the fort to the war's end. In 1930, many of the buildings were re-constructed and today they are open to the public as living museums. They have military re-enactors demonstrating military maneuvers and tactics from the Wart of 1812. The day we were there they had a demonstration of musket firing (above right). The buildings have demonstrations of what life was like for a British soldier during the War of 1812. They havee a great gift shop here also. Boy, those cannons look very heavy!

        Driving back from Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stopped in Queenstown. It is a small village beneath Queenstown Heights. These heights are part of the Niagara Escarpments where Niagara Falls were hundreds of years ago. Today, they are a beautiful landscaped park. After the United States declared war on Great Britain in June of 1812. In the center of the park is a large monument to General Sir Isaac Brock (below right). I noticed around this part of Ontario there are a lot of places named after this guy. The reason is that Brock is a Canadian military hero of the War of 1812.

Sir Isaac Brock        Brock was a British officer who commanded Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Québec.) After the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 12, 1812, Brock captured the city of Detroit in 1812. For this he was knighted and called "the hero of Upper Canada." On October 13 of that year, an American force invaded Canada and captured Queenstown. Rallying an outnumbered force of British soldiers, Canadian militia and Native Americans, he counter-attacked up the hill and after a 12 hour battle, won. Unfortunately, during the battle, Brock was shot and killed by a sniper. He was 43.

Brock Memorial       There is a 185 foot tall column at the top of the hill commemorating the general (left) which was erected in 1853 (replacing an older one that had been damaged). His statue is at the top of a giant column. Brock is buried in the vault below along with Lieutenant Colonel John Macdonell (who was also killed in the battle). The column can be seen for miles around. There are stairs you can climb inside the monument to get a great view of the Niagara Valley, but since the view from the base at the top of the ill was pretty impressive, we decided not to climb the 239 stairs to the top. There is also a marker on the hill showing the spot where he was killed. Canada issued a stamp to commemorate Brock in 1969.

       While in Queenstown, we visited the Laura Secord Homestead. Laura Secord was a pioneer in Upper Canada whose heroic actions during the War of 1812 have resulted in her becoming an enduring icon of Canadian popular culture and a designated Person of National Historic Significance. The home from which she began her famous walk has been restored to the 1812 era with authentic period furnishings. Born in Massachusetts, she moved to the Niagara area in the 1790's. During the War of 1812, American troops occupied her house in Queenstown. She overheard some soldiers discussing an imminent attack against the British. After hearing the information, she snuck out of the house and made a treacherous 20 mile trek through the wilderness, full of wolves, snakes and unfriendly indians, that took her 18 hours. She eventually arrived at the British camp and warned them of the attack. With this information, the British were able to ambush the Americans and defeat them. Although Laura was due much of the credit for the victory, her heroism was soon forgotten. It wasn't until 1860, almost fifty years later, that Laura received recognition of her act. She died in 1868 at the age of 93 and is buried in Drummond Cemetery (Lundy's Lane battlefield) in Niagara Falls. She also has  a Canadian stamp commemorating her, issued in 1992.

The Battle of Lundy's Lane

             When you think of Niagara Falls, you think of the scenic beauty and the immense amount of tourists. Somehow, a battle doesn't quickly come to mind. Despite this, one of the severest battles in the War of 1812 was fought here. On July 25, 1814, the Battle of Lundy's Lane was one of the bloodiest battle fought on Canadian soil. An American invasion of Canada was stopped by a combined British/Canadian force less then a mile from the falls. The battlefield was then and is still today a cemetery in the City of Niagara Falls. There is a memorial there to honor those killed. Outside of that, there is little to show that an important battle was fought there. Though a current movement by a local organization is trying to change that.
            On July 3, American General Winfield Scott led a force at Buffalo across the Niagara River into Canada. They easily captured Fort Erie and moved up the Canadian side of the Niagara River.
           After defeating a force of British soldiers at the Battle of Chippawa two days later, Scott and the U.S. Army advanced. 20 days later, when they reached Niagara Falls, the 3,700 British/Canadian soldiers, under the command of
Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond defended the high ground around a cemetery on Lundy Lane. In the afternoon, the 2,800 American soldiers attacked up the hill despite the murderous cannon fire from the British. By nightfall, after a number of assaults, the Americans captured the cannons, but were in turned attacked by the British.
           Bloody hand to hand combat among the tombstones continued into the night. By midnight, the Americans were forced to pull back. Both sides had lost about 800 men in casualties. The American army retreated back to Fort Erie and and later to the United States ending the invasion of Canada. Today the cemetery has been re-named Drummond Cemetery.

       We also went to Fort Erie, which is south of Niagara Falls, across the river from Buffalo (avoid that place if you can - Buffalo that is). The first Fort Erie was built shortly after the French and Indian War, when the British took Canada from the French in 1764. Being on the shores of Lake Erie, the fort took a beating from the weather. Frank in uniformA newer Fort Erie was being constructed on the high ground behind the fort when the War of 1812 broke out. The United States captured the fort in 1813 and held it until the end of the year. The British reoccupied it until July 3, 1814 when the United States Army under General Winfield Scott easily captured it in his invasion of Canada. After Scott was stopped at Lundy's Lane, he withdrew to Fort Erie. On August 15, the British launched an all out assault on the fort but were held off by the Americans with a loss of over 1,000 British casualties. The British laid siege to the fort which the Americans broke a month later. In December of 1814, the Americans abandoned the fort and withdrew back across the border to Buffalo.

        In time the town off Fort Erie grew around the ruins of the fort. In 1937, it was reconstructed and is also a living museum. They have re-enactors demonstrating different aspects of life in a British fort. When we were there they were showing how to fire a cannon. This fort let me try on this British uniform. The fit was a bit tight. It was totally made of wool so it is very warm. Plus, buttoning all those buttons! How did they do it? On the other hand - I do look good.

Eating in Niagara Falls

       All in all, we had a great time in Niagara Falls - we picked this newspaper up on our way out of town. It amazing what some crazy tourists will do to get in the papers.

over the falls


        We also made a day trip to Toronto on August 1. We drove from Niagara, which took about an hour. We parked below the SkyDome, so when we got out of the baseball game, we could leave quickly. Since Debbie and I love to take boat trips where ever we go, we did so here too.  We took a hour cruise out on Lake Ontario. It didn't go out into the lake as much as it cruised to some islands in the lake. We took a bus tour through the city also. Toronto is great to visit. We found an English Pub for lunch. I had some Fish & Chips served in a London Times newspaper - how authentic.

As you can see, we made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Here we are with Lord Stanley's Cup. It's really a replica, the actual silver Stanley Cup, that is the very original, is kept in the vault in the Hall permanently, it is not strong enough to be held up by winning teams anymore so it has been permanently retired. We spent about four hours walking around the exhibits and of course I took a lot of pictures. They have a big exhibit on Bobby Orr. Of course, without a doubt, they have more space dedicated to Wayne Gretzky than any one else.

We went to a Toronto Blue Jays game that night. I bought tickets over the Internet few weeks earlier. I got some good seats behind home plate. As you can see from the empty seats around me and the crowd in the distance, many people there don't buy the expensive seats. Of course, this let me really stretch out. I was never so comfortable at a baseball game. The Blue Jays beat the Twins by a score of 3-1 in the shortest game in the American League that year: 2 hours and 1 minute. Debbie was very happy; she finally got to see a homerun, two of them in all. Carlos Delgado hit a blast to deep center.

So, all in all, we had a great time. Niagara Falls is a great place to visit. Stay on the Canadian side, it's cleaner and the exchange rate is great. I saved some of my Canadian money because we are going to Nova Scotia later in the summer.

If you ever want to visit Niagara Falls and I highly recommend it,
first look at The City of Niagara Falls Visitor Information

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