A Misty Visit to the Canadian Side of Niagara Falls
Our visit to Toronto and the family-friendly Toronto Islands was coming to a close, and with just a couple of days left to do as we pleased, my daughter and I decided to explore more of the province of Ontario. We headed to the resort town of Niagara-on-the-Lake with the goal of visiting Niagara Falls. I’d only been to the American side, and I’d been told that the Canadian side was even more impressive and dramatic.
“If you haven’t been to the Canadian side, you haven’t seen anything,” a teenage boy we met on the way confirmed for us.
With Toronto’s tall buildings behind us, we drove through Canadian wine country with its farms, flowers and lush greenery. Everywhere we looked were signs inviting us to visit wineries, including one owned by Wayne Gretsky.
Our plan was to visit the falls on the second day. The first day we’d relax and do a little wine-tasting. The sun was bright, and its warmth soon had us stripping off our layers of sweaters and jackets and leaving them on the rental car’s back seat. Little did we know how changeable the weather could be at this time of year.
A few of our days in Toronto had been cloudy and cold, and I could hear my mother’s voice in my head now telling me to get to Niagara Falls while the sun was shining. Instead, we stopped at Ravine Vineyard for a tasting tour and met Alex Harber, whose family has owned the farm since 1867. Harber showed us the wine-making apparatus and the restored farmhouse that has kept as much of the old wood as possible in a modern setting. He poured their new Redcoat, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. We tried whites, too, as well as their ice wine, an after-dinner treat in Canada.
The next day, we had breakfast at the inn and then left for Niagara Falls. By now the sun was only peeking periodically through our window on the 20-minute drive, and we had to retrieve the sweaters and jackets from the back seat of the car. The closer we got to the falls, the colder, windier and foggier it became. What had happened to yesterday’s nice warm sun?
That was exactly what the tour guide asked rhetorically when we reached Table Rock, where it’s possible to watch the falls through a window on days like this one. An elevator takes visitors to various viewing spots as they watch the mint-colored waters come tumbling down. But we wanted to see the Horseshoe Falls outdoors since the view from here was so obscured by fog.
A fierce wind blew as we zipped our jackets and tied up hoods. Some hardy visitors, especially little ones, didn’t seem to mind the water that soaked hair and shoes as they took pictures of a lot of mist and a bit of falls, posing, smiling, holding onto umbrellas and pulling their raincoats shut. We could see a fraction of the magnificent Niagara Falls, and we could certainly hear the waters, but we needed to use our imagination to get the full picture.
Eleven million tourists from around the world come here each year to glory in the wonder of this natural beauty and stand where we were standing. In 1885, the Ontario government passed the Niagara Falls Park Act for the preservation of the natural scenery. Over many years, more and more land was acquired, and today the Ontario Niagara Parks system encompasses 4,250 acres. The admission fee and other monies collected here go to help with the enhancement and preservation of Niagara Falls.
As we left, an attendant at the visitors center suggested we come back in the summer.
Perhaps we had come at the wrong time for the falls, but we had come at the right time to see one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays. This is the 50th anniversary year of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which will run until Oct. 30. As a former theater critic, I can say that the acting and set design were as good as I’ve seen anywhere.
With plays presented on four stages, the Shaw Festival is well-known nationally and internationally. Across the street, visitors can see a statue of Shaw in front of stores and cafes. A four-legged visitor the day we were there seemed upset that the Shaw statue did not respond in the way of most humans.
On Queen Street, we looked into some of the quaint tourist shops selling gifts, clothes, handmade goods and foods. After sampling a selection of fudge, we walked away with a bagful of different flavors.
This area is also historically significant in that it played a part in the fighting in 1812 between the Americans and the British. In one event, Americans occupied the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake for seven months before British forces forced their retreat. In defiance, the Americans burned the town to the ground.
The town itself, with the lake lining it, is charming. Runners and bicyclists are everywhere, and there are hardly any cars on the colorful side streets of Victorian, Regency and Edwardian structures.
That is sure to change during the summer, and one of these summers we’ll be there again. This time we’ll choose a warm, sunny day for our visit to Niagara Falls.
WHEN YOU GO
We flew Air Canada into and out of Toronto.
For further information, contact the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce: www.niagaraonthelake.com.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake we stayed at the Oban Inn and Spa Resort: www.obaninn.ca.
In Toronto we stayed at the newly remodeled downtown Holiday Inn. It’s comfortable without frills, offers good service and has a nice restaurant: 30 Carlton St.; phone 416-977-6655; www.holidayinn.com.
The Canadian dollar is currently stronger than it has been in recent years. Canadian ice wine and maple syrup will cost more than in the past.