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. It is 2,600 feet wide and 160 feet high while the American Falls is 1,000 feet wide and just as high. Over a million and a half gallons of water flow over the Falls every second. [in August of 2004, Debbie and I came back to Niagara Falls. This time we brought our nephews Justin, Damian and Daniel with us. Some things had changed since our last visit. Any changes I will tell you about in brackets.]
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 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. Three yellow elevators 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 that you will want to visit at a reduced price. [This is still a great deal - they even have added more to it.]
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) [As of 2004, it's no longer a Quality Inn]. 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. Its called Journey Behind 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 an observation 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. 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. [When we came here with the boys, the wind was again blowing in our direction getting us very wet as you can see in the picture at right.] 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. [On our second trip, we stayed at "The Old Mill Inn. It's an excellent hotel near the Skylon Tower.]
On our first day, we walked from Table Rock House through Queen Victoria Park. The Park has millions of flowers and is litter free. The Niagara Parks Commission runs it and they spend a lot of time, energy and money to make this park beautiful. It's about ten blocks long. In the middle of the park is a statue to King George VI (Queen Elizabeth II's father). As you walk, you get spectacular views of the American Falls. We posed for this wonderful picture (above). It's also a great place to watch the Friday night fireworks. [In 2004, we took the boys on the same walk. Here you can see Justin pointing out the DANGER sign to Dan and Damian as they climb the wall across from the American Falls.]
From there, we walked to the Rainbow Bridge (it's about a mile from Table Rock House to the Rainbow Bridge). This is where we drove in from Buffalo that morning. Would 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. [For whatever reason, the flags and poles were taken down after our trip in 2001 - we didn't take them if you were wondering] The Rainbow Bridge was opened in 1941 to replace the old Falls View Bridge (also known as the Honeymoon Bridge) which collapsed on January 25, 1938 due to massive ice blocks that crushed it's supports (it was spectacular and no one was hurt). So that this doesn't happen again, the Rainbow Bridge supports were built higher up in the gorge (50 ft.). The bridge itself is a 950 ft. long arch bridge 202 feet above the river. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, during their visit to Niagara Falls as part of the 1939 Royal Tour of Canada, dedicated the site of the Rainbow Bridge; a monument was erected to commemorate the occasion. The complex on the Canadian side of the Rainbow Bridge features the Rainbow Tower, which houses a large carillon that sounds several times daily. It is estimated that six billion pounds of water cross under the Rainbow Bridge every minute.
We continued into the Niagara Falls State 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) which is 50 feet wide. There is a small island between the mainland and Goat Island called Luna Island. 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. At night, they shine large multi-colored spotlights on the Falls creating an incredible lightshow. Currently a total of 21 Xenon lights are used to illuminate the Falls in many different colors.
Also on the American side is a Observation Tower that extends out into the gorge. The Observation Tower has elevators that take you 80 feet above street level to view the falls or 180 feet down to the base of the tower for a close-up view of the American Falls. You can get some great pictures of the falls from here. From the elevator at the base of the cliff next to the water, you can walk around. This is where you can take the Maid of the Mist from the American side. There are paths that lead up to the base of the American Falls. Though be careful; if the wind shifts you will be covered in spray. We grabbed a couple of old blue plastic Maid of the Mist covers to wear so as to not get too wet while we walked up the path. I found this sign on the path. It made me wonder if anyone was stupid enough to go over the fence next to the falls, but I guess there are.
The American Falls
Over the last century the American Falls has undergone a dramatic face-lift due to natural forces of erosion. The flow of water has eroded the soft shale and limestone bedrock. Large sections of the bedrock have broken off and can be seen at the base of the falls. Some of the parts are actually half the size of the falls themselves. Eventually, geologists predict the American Falls will transform into a succession of descending rapids between the mainland and Goat Island. They once even stopped the flow of water to the American Falls all together to try to bolster the rim. That didn't work. Only 10%, or 75,000 gallons per second, of all the water that goes over the combined falls actually goes over the American Falls. Because of the large rocks at it's base, no one even tries to go over the American Falls in a barrel. The Canadian Falls has far fewer rocks and is actually very deep at it's base. At 184 feet deep, it's actually deeper then waterfall is high.
At the far right of the Canadian Falls, next to Table Rock (photo at right), is the preferred spot where everyone likes to go over in a barrel. I choose not to. A 63-year-old 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. The crew of a Maid of the Mist boat pulled him from the water below the falls 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 photo at the top of the website (Horseshoe Falls). [During our 2004 trip, we saw the movie in the IMAX theater next to our hotel. In the theater are many of the barrels used by stuntmen and women to go over the falls or down the rapids. The movie is well done and is recommended. Here we are with Dave Munday's barrel that he used to go over the falls in 1995.]
In geological terms, Niagara Falls is not old. At the end of the last Ice Age, water from Lake Erie created a channel north to an ancient lake, since named Lake Iroquois. The edge of this lake was the Niagara Escarpment next to Queenstown (half-way between the present site and Lake Ontario). Old Lake Iroquois have receded to present day Lake Ontario. The water flowing over the old Niagara Escarpment (the original site of the falls) started to erode the soft shale rock creating a waterfalls around 12,000 years ago. As the centuries went by, the flow of water cut a gorge over seven miles long to it's present site. The flow of water used to erode around six feet every year. They have since built controls over the flow of water that have curbed the erosion to one foot every ten years. If it had kept going at the former rate, the falls would work it's way south to Lake Erie in 25,000 years. The difference in elevation between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario is 326 feet (half of that is covered by the Falls).History of the Falls
Native Americans were the first to inhabit the area. By the time Europeans came to Niagara, the Iroquoian tribes lived here along with the Neutrals and the Hurons (The Hurons were constantly fighting with the Iroquoian tribes with the Neutrals being at peace with both). The Neutral Indians vanished from the area in the mid-1600's. Niagara is believed to be the last surviving word from the Neutral Indians and it was spelt "Onguiaaha."
The French were the first Europeans to visit the area. One of the first was a Father Hennepin in 1678, who was a member of French explorer LaSalle's expedition. The French would control the area for the next 80 years building forts (Fort Erie and Fort Niagara) around the Niagara River. During the French and Indian War in 1759, the British destroyed Fort Niagara and eventually defeated the French in the war thus claiming all of Canada for themselves. During the American Revolution, Loyalists fleeing the Colonies started settling here. After the war, Fort Niagara and the east side of the Niagara River became part of the United States. The Canadian side of the Niagara River became a battleground during the War of 1812 and many of the communities (like Niagara-on-the-Lake) were destroyed. Many of the towns never recovered from the war.
Niagara Falls became a honeymoon mecca of the world when Vice President Aaron Burr's daughter, Theodosia, honeymooned here with her husband in 1801. A few years later, the brother of Napoleon also brought his bride here. The tourists era started in the late 1840's. The first suspension bridge was built in 1848 for pedestrians and carriages. John Roebling (Brooklyn Bridge designer) built his famous railway suspension bridge (the first of it's kind) across the gorge in 1855. Other bridges soon followed. The tourist industry boomed with the creation of hotels along the banks and the Maid of the Mists boat rides. It wouldn't be long before stunts like walking across the gorge on a tightrope began. This stunt would be replaced by a new one in 1901, when the first person to go over the falls in a barrel survived. Since then, five of the 14 who intentionally tried this stunt died.
To protect the Falls from uncontrolled tourism, both the American government and then the Canadian Government established the land around the Falls as state parks. Since the end of World War II, Niagara Falls has grown tremendously as a tourist destination featuring all sorts of attractions. The Falls were featured in a 1952 movie, Niagara, with Marilyn Monroe. Other movies have since used the Falls as a backdrop like Superman II (1980) and Canadian Bacon (1993).
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 out into the water to see the falls up close. The tours continued to about the time of the Civil War when they started to lose money. In 1885, using boats made out of White Oak, they started boating tourists to the falls again. In 1955, a fire destroyed the old 19th century boats and two 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.
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) and again in 1983 with number V. In 1990, the larger Maid of the Mist VI was cut into 4 parts and trucked down the service road where it was put back together again (number VII was constructed the same way in 1997). 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. In October, before the ice comes, the boats are taken out of the water for the winter and start again in April.
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 get 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 [now it is $13.00 - but it is also included in the Pass]. The picture above from 2001 was of Debbie and I 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. [We again went on the Maid of the Mist in 2004 and it was just as much fun. Here we are after getting soaked.]
Cave of the Winds
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 though the lines are longer, it's better to go in the afternoon because the sun will be on you and that give you better pictures. You go down by elevator, 175 feet, 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 can see the tourist up on Luna Island between the falls). You get very wet as the water goes over some of 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 foot funguses take weeks to develop. [Since 2001, they have changed the dresscode. Gone are the carpet slippers that grossed Debbie out so much. They now have new plastic sandals that you can keep. Also gone are the big heavy raincoats that you see Debbie wearing. They now have the disposable plastic pullovers like you get on the Maid of the Mist or Beneath the Falls. The only problem is that the pull-overs only go down to your waist. If you go on the Maid of the Mist ride you should save the blue pull-overs for this trip. You will come out much dryer.]
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. As you can see in the picture at right the terrain they have to work on, you start to realize what a difficult job that must be. It can't imagine them carrying the platforms and hammering them into place on those slippery rocks with that water all around them. I bet they get paid well. It opens somewhere around the middle of May. [When Debbie and I went inn 2001, the wind was blowing away from us, so we came out fairly dry, except for our trip to the Hurricane Deck. In 2004, the wind was right at us, so the boys and us got very wet. Plus, we were not as protected from the water as we were in 2001.]
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. [This has changed too, they do keep you moving.] I love water fountains and waterfalls, so this was the ultimate spot for me (the nut above 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 (you can see it in the picture at left). 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. Look at the two of us mugging for the camera.
On the Canadian side, there is an IMAX Theater on Fallsview Boulevard that features a 45-minute movie, Niagara: Miracles, Myths and Magic. This is a must see. [We saw the movie in 2004 and it is definitely worth seeing.]
We really enjoyed walking around the city of Niagara Falls. It is very clean and full of flowers. We wandered into 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 took the boys here in 2004 for lunch. We had a very good time. Not to mention that Damian and Dan enjoyed all of the guitars on the walls. The food was very good and I would recommend it highly.] We had lunch at Planet Hollywood, which was the first time either of us had been in one. [We came back with the boys in 2004 and to very very truthful, we were disappointed.] They have a casino here, but since neither of us are gamblers, we didn't go in. Many of the stores as well as attractions are in the Clifton Hill section. This is where you get the Maid of the Mist rides. They have a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and Guinness World of Records. They have arcades and haunted houses along with miniature golf. If you have kids, this is where you bring them at night, along with your wallet. [The nrphews went into two of the local Horror Houses. Justin, Damian and Dan went to "Nightmares" on the first night there and enjoyed themselves. On the last night, Damian and Dan went into "Screamers." We could hear Dan screaming throughout the place.] Debbie and I visited the Movieland Wax Museum in 2001. They have everything from the Alien from the Alien series outside to Indiana Jones, Braveheart and the Godfather and Wizard of Oz movie characters. As wax museums go, it's not Madam Toussand's, but it's not bad. 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. [This is me in 2001 with the wooden mountie and the boys in 2004.]
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 went back here in 2004 with the boys. It was again hard to get Debbie and Justin out of there. We went outside and sat at a Starbucks. After that Damian attacked a walking candybar.]
Great Gorge Adventure
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 walkway you can take that goes along the river for about a quarter mile (photo below left). 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. [We took the boys here in 2004. Only Damian wanted to try it so we didn't go on it.]
Further upriver in Lewistown on the American side, they have one-hour jet boat tours of the lower gorge. They go into the whirlpool, but don't actually go into the rapids area. We saw a few of them down in the gorge, but you know I was never getting Debbie in one of those things.
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 twice a year. [We drove the boys past it in 2004, but didn't get out. We figured we would let them see it. We didn't think they would be impressed. We were right.] 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. The paths inside with small waterfalls is very interesting as well as relaxing. 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 guy here was nice enough to pose for me. This place was interesting and I recommend it. [In 2004, we came here on the day it rained. The boys thought it was interesting for awhile. However, after 15 minutes they were ready to leave. Daniel did have a butterfly land on his arm.]
Niagara on the Lake
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. A small settlement here was originally known as Butlersburg, in honor of Colonel John Butler, the commander of Butler's Rangers. The name of the city was changed to "Newark" in 1781 as it was heavily settled by British Loyalists leaving the United States after the American Revolution. It became the first capital of Upper Canada (Ontario), changing it's name to Niagara, and the first provincial parliament was convened at Navy Hall in 1792 by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe. During the War of 1812, American troops captured the town, after a two day bombardment from Fort Niagara across the river and from the U.S. Navy. Later, when the American forces were forced to withdraw they burned the town to the ground. 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. In the 1880's, the Town was renamed as Niagara-on-the-Lake to avoid confusion with Niagara Falls.
The town is filled with tree-lined streets with large beautiful 19th century buildings. There are horse and carriage tours around the town. The main street is Queen Street, which is full of quaint little shops and a large clock tower (above right) on an island in the center of the road. We stopped 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 (left). 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. From Queen's Royal Park on the waterfront, we could see across Lake Ontario to Toronto. The CN Tower was very visible in the distance. There is an old Anglican Church called St. Mark's. Originally built in 1809, it was used as a hospital during the War of 1812, the church was burned by the retreating American soldiers in 1813 but was rebuilt in 1822. It has a very old cemetery and has many fascinating old tombstones. They also have a fascination with the playwright George Bernard Shaw. The Shaw Festival Theatre shows plays by Shaw, and others, from April until October. [We took the nrphews here for ice cream in 2004.]
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
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, on the Niagara River, is Fort George (right). 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 above 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. The 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, the 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). The buildings have demonstrations of what life was like for a British soldier during the War of 1812. They have a great gift shop here also. Boy, those cannons look very heavy! [In 2004, we came again to Fort George, but this time at night. Debbie and I along with the boys took "The Ghost Tour." Dan and Damian thought it was great. I was a little disappointed. I really was hoping to see something. Debbie naturally doesn't believe in any of it and was not impressed. However, when we were done, I noticed my leg had a small cut on it that I don't remember getting. Perhaps one of the ghost was upset with the intrusion and cut me. Who knows? Debbie, of course, thinks that's a ridiculous idea.]
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 left). 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.
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.
There is a 185 foot tall column at the top of the hill commemorating the general (right) 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 hill 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, which 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
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 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. A newer Fort Erie (left) 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. The fort lets people try on the British uniforms. 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. [In 2004, we took the boys here after the Butterfly Conservatory. It was still raining out, but luckily not so bad. The boys enjoyed the uniforms as you can see. Here they are with the local militia re-enactor. Do you really thinkthey would pass inspection?]
Eating in Niagara Falls
Eating in Niagara Falls is certainly not a problem. On our first night, we stayed close to the hotel. We went to My Cousin Vinny's and as you probably already guessed, it's an Italian restaurant. It looks great however the food was so-so. A few blocks from our hotel, on Stanley Avenue, is the Happy Wanderer Restaurant which features German food. The restaurant is decorated like an old German inn. The food was fine and even Debbie found something she could eat (though sausages and beer were not part of it). I was in the mood for prime rib one night, so we went to The Beef Baron on Centre Street. This place was more upscale. It was done in heavy oak paneling with original bronze Remington sculptures. Outside of leaving my credit card behind, we had a great time. You might want to make reservations.
Near The Beef Baron is one of our favorite places, which I highly recommend. Mama Mia's, also an Italian restaurant (which I am sure you already guessed), is also on Victoria Avenue. I had the best Spaghetti a la Carbonara anywhere. [We came here on our first night in 2004 and were again impressed. We also visited Hard Times Restaurant in 2004. The food is very good, but the portions are not very large. However, we enjoyed our dinner here. I said above, we had a very good lunch at The Hard Rock Cafe and recommend it. We were disappoineted with the variety of the menu at Planet Hollywood, but the decor is very interesting if you have never been to one and you enjoy movies. One rainy morning, we skippeed our usual trip to Tim Horton's coffee and doughnnut place to go to Denny's in Niagara Falls. It was you typical Denny's food but at incrediably high prices. So if you are a fan of Denny's, I would look at the prices first before you sit down.] In 2001, Debbie and I also had lunch in the Skylon Tower in the Revolving Dinning Room. The food was fine, but you go here more for the view and experience. The restaurant does a complete revolution every hour. The menu is in French, but they have translations. For lunch might I suggest the "L'Hambourgois sur Pain Grillé" (hamburger on a Kaiser bun). They serve it with bernaise sauce and charge you around $25 Canadian. If you go for dinner you could have the "Le Filet Mignon Roquefort ou Béarnaise" (Filet Mignon with either Roquefort Cheese or Bernaise Sauce. This will run you about $50 Canadian.
Debbie and I spent a really enjoyable night at Oh Canada Eh?. This is a two-hour dinner show that features actors portraying everything Canadian from hockey players to lumberjacks to Canadian Mounties. They sing a wide variety of Canadian music, everything from "Maple Leaf Forever" to "Chevalier de la table ronde (a French Canadian folk song)" to "The Hockey Song." They love to poke fun at themselves and their accent, eh. They finish the show with a flag waving patriotic ending. You are seated at large tables and the food (all Canadian) is served family style. You get to know people from other places. We were with people from Labrador (which is a Canadian province - and a very cold one). This is great place to bring kids. The decor is done in rustic log cabin. It gives you the wilderness feel. It's not in downtown Niagara Falls. You have to drive way out on Lundy's Lane beyond the QEW. Call ahead to make reservations. The tickets run about $50 Canadian each. They have two of these restaurants in Canada. The other one is in Alberta. Their website is great also. [We took the nephews here again in 2004.]
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. We picked this newspaper up on our way out of town. It amazing what some crazy tourists will do to get their picture in the papers.
ever want to visit Niagara
Falls and I highly recommend it,
first look at
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