The Other Side of Niagara

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Loving the glitz on Clifton Hill – our answer to Orlando and Vegas on only one street!


As if in sympathy with the Falls themselves, throngs of people cascade down a glitzy stretch of pavement called Clifton Hill.

We’re talking Party Central. Come nightfall the street’s lit up like a Vegas variety show. Head shops and cigar shops, fast food joints and tattoo parlors. T-Shirt outlets. Wax Museums and thrill rides.

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Okay, maybe haute cuisine is not an essential part of the Falls, but beat those glittering street scenes.

 

Now the crowd flows to the lip of the gorge. American Falls dead ahead. Canadian Falls hard to starboard.

Now the Falls are spotlit, painted red and green and blue.

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Here’s another other side to Niagara. The Falls at night.

 

By day people march to Table Rock, mere feet from waters that plummet a hundred seventy feet in a tympani roll roar, your vacation’s sound track – competing in vain with the cacophony of Clifton Hill: throbbing bass grooves from beer gardens, pinball clangs and clinks, screams of kids spinning on a Ferris wheel.

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Though Canadian visitors now don red raingear and book with Hornblower the experience on “Maid of the Mist” was always iconic. And cool. And refreshing.

 

You plunge into another stream of people, shimmering and scarlet in their plastic ponchos. You follow them aboard a Hornblower cruise, embarking on a boat that pitches and yaws two football fields from the base of the Falls. Winds howl with the roar of a thousand tigers, mist swirls about you like whirling dervishes, like screaming banshees.

You’ve discovered another side of Niagara. And you’ve only just begun.

Two sides here, for starters.  The Canadian and American towns share the same name. There are actually three Falls. The Canadian one (called Horseshoe Falls) is bigger and longer than the two American ones put together.

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Life at the edge. A daredevil’s view of Horseshoe Falls from Table Rock.

 

But these are hardly the only differences. Atmosphere on the U.S. side:  forlorn, weather-beaten. Atmosphere on the Canadian side: sheer carnival.

And Niagara has another other side.

Head north along the Niagara Parkway. Winston Churchill called this the most beautiful Sunday drive in the world.

Stop at the Butterfly Conservatory; gaze skyward at butterflies floating graceful and iridescent as pheasant feathers in a rainforest setting that could hold its own in Costa Rica, weightless creatures dipping into great orange flowers for a sip of nectar.

I am smitten.

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Talk about the really other side. Catch nature up close at the Butterfly Conservatory. Definite Niagara must-do.

 

Continue north to Niagara Glen Nature Reserve where trails crisscross like a Manitoba snake den in May. One trail begins halfway down the gorge wall, plummeting through limestone passages, past huge boulders like Henry Moore sculptures, ending at river’s edge.

A couple suns on a great slab of riverside rock.

Keep going north: greet Niagara-on-the-Lake, a dowager queen.

Here the river glides like a debutante at a ball. Here she sashays past Victorian mansions and historical cottages.

A Tuscan villa reclines beside a green tree-shaded park. Stores two centuries old line the main street.

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Shopping, history, culture. Welcome to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

 

The town is peaceful as a June morning. Other than the wind whispering in the trees overhead the only sound you hear is the clip-clop of horse’s hooves as it chauffeurs a pair of tourists in a black buggy, past art galleries and boutiques, past gourmet restaurants.

But just outside town sharpened wooden palisades scowl at you from the shadow of green earthworks. You gird your loins; you march into Fort George.

“American forces invaded early in the morning in May, 1813,” says staffer Dan LaRoche. “They took over the town and bombarded this fort into rubble. So this is just a recreation.”  LaRoche wears a scarlet tunic, a sword suspended from his belt glitters in the sun.

He points toward the town. “The Americans occupied Niagara-on-the-Lake until December. Then they burned it down.”

Niagara-on-the-Lake is pretty and charming. But her elegant visage hides the scars of history.

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Another historical gem in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Niagara Apothecary Museum.

 

And there’s still another side to Niagara.

Arms outstretched, an Inniskillin Winery docent indicates the rows of grape vines marching across a vast green plain.

“Special microclimate,” she says. “The escarpment protects the plain and the lake moderates the temperature.” She stoops and picks up a handful of dirt. She grins. “And the same limestone that made the Falls makes for perfect soil.”

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So much for history and culture. Now stop for some “me time” and a sip or two at a local winery like Inniskillin.

 

Take a wine-tasting limo tour or ride your bike; learn the essentials of a fine wine. And pack some in your picnic basket.

Then repair to the Shaw Festival – home to the work of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, live professional theatre in three distinct venues.

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A hotbed of culture and a Niagara tradition. Make sure you take in a play at the Shaw Festival.

 

The polished wood auditorium of the Main Theatre’s auditorium buzzes with conversation then lights fade to black.

For an hour and a half I am transported.

Now the curtain opens. The crowd rises in a standing ovation, the cast acknowledges it, bowing to the orchestra, to the mezzanine, they bow to one side, then to the other.

To the other side of Niagara.

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Same river, different perspective. White Water Walk gives you a whole new take on the Niagara River.

 

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4 Responses

    • Mark Stevens

      Hey Ted – thanks again for showing the love. Agree about Fort George. My very first fort as a little kid – and first dose of a drug that ultimately became an addiction. Not Sumter and not real (you guys blew most of it up) but still a great spot!

    • Mark Stevens, photos by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

      I am in love with both sides of Niagara – the nature and the glitz!