The Tribune - Spectrum


, September 1, 2002

The lure of Niagara Falls has not dimmed

Niagara Falls, one of the most famous tourist attractions of the world, receives 20 million visitors annually. More camera film is sold here than anywhere else. A century after the first woman floated over the falls in a barrel, the lure of the awesome falls has not dimmed. It keeps attracting lovers, poets and adventurers, writes Nutan Sehgal.

Niagara Falls: Awesome natural wonder
Niagara Falls: Awesome natural wonder.

BACK in 1841, when the renowned British writer Charles Dickens visited Niagara Falls in Canada, he stood mesmerised for hours. Later, that night he wrote, "Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an image of beauty, to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat forever."

That’s the kind of mind blowing effect that Niagara Falls has on people who throng in thousands to visit it daily. For centuries now, the thundering falls have lured lovers, poets and adventurers. Depending on the mood, they can instill feelings of power and magic or calm and tranquility.

The Falls can be viewed from the Canadian side or the American side. Most diehard Niagara Watchers, however, prefer the Canadian side where the horseshoe-shaped Falls offer an awesome view. Several questions crowd the mind of the first-time tourist. Where does so much water come from? When were the Falls first discovered? What are the stories linked to Niagara?

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How to reach Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is easy to reach by all modes of transportation. Both the Canadian side and the American side are linked to the highway system. There is rail service from Toronto and New York. Long-distance buses serve from both countries. There is an international airport at Buffalo, New York, which is linked by frequent bus connection to both sides. The other airport serving Niagara Falls is the International Airport at Toronto. The airport is also linked by a direct bus to Niagara Falls.

This true wonder of nature was born out of melting glaciers some 12,000 years old. In earlier times River Niagara was 11 km downstream from its present location. The Falls have eroded at the average rate of one metre per year.

From the Canadian side, the water cascades down from a height of 543 metres (177 feet) while from the American side it is at 56 metres (184 feet). The flow of water over the crest line of the falls is estimated at more than 168,000 cubic metres.

There are many ways to see the beauty of Niagara. The best way to see the river’s natural whirlpool is from aboard the Niagara Spanish Aero Car. Located 5 km north of the Falls, the cable car was designed and built in 1916 by Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo.

From atop the cable car, one gets a panoramic view of the rapids and speed boats full of adventure seekers crashing into the waves. The car takes tourists from one end to the other over a spectacular whirlpool.

Under the Falls

A trip of Niagara can never be complete without going under the Falls — almost literally! There is a man-made tunnel that takes you to the base of the Falls leading to an observatory where, through a glass, you can see the Falls cascading down millions of galons of water into the river.

Of course, the best way to see the Falls is by taking a ride on the Maid of Mist. — one of the world’s most thrilling boat rides. It takes you so close to the Falls that you get sprayed by the mist that rises as the water comes crashing down. This boat ride has been one of Niagara’s most popular attractions for a century and a half.

Back in the nineteenth century the boat was used to ferry people, cargo and mail but when a bridge was built across the river in 1846, the Maid of the Mist became a sightseeing boat that took tourists as near to the falls as is humanly possible. Over the years, millions of visitors, including kings, presidents and celebrities have enjoyed this exotic boat ride.

Horse-drawn buggies in Niagara-on-the-lake are reminiscent of a rich past
Horse-drawn buggies in Niagara-on-the-lake are reminiscent of a rich past.

An awestruck tourist wrote after the ride "Until you have seen Niagara Falls from the deck of the Maid of the Mist, you have little idea of the overwhelming power of that mighty boat. As it heaves and bucks, approaching closer and closer to the cascading water, all the passengers are completely enveloped in spray. The deafening roar, the spray driving against your face, the hammering of the ship’s diesel engines as they force the vessel against the current, make for an unforgettable experience.

The Falls have attracted a number of daredevils who challenged them and attempted to cross them on ropes and go over them in barrels; many never lived to tell the tale and some even didn’t attract attention.

The most famous of the exploits was that of Frenchman Jean Francois Gravelet, who walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope in front of over 25,000 people. He later repeated the feat but incredibly, this time he had a friend sitting on his shoulders.

Death-defying feat

A century ago on July 24, 1902, Annie Taylor was the first person in the world to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She told the gathered Press that she was 43, though later it turned out that she was a 63-year-old American school teacher. Her barrel jump was not just successful, she lived another 20 years to talk about the amazing feat.

After the death-defying exploit, Anne Taylor’s advise was: "For those who want to follow my example I have only this to say — Never do it!" Over the past century, 15 people have not heeded her advice. While 10 succeeded, other five perished in the waves. There have been miracles as well. Some years ago a seven-year-old boy and his 17-year-old sister accidentally fell in the river but were saved from the very edge of the Falls.

Maid of the Mist is the world’s most thrilling boat ride
Maid of the Mist is the world’s most thrilling boat ride.

Besides the Falls, there are several other attractions around Niagara. For example, 9 km north of the Falls along the Niagara Park way is the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture. A conservatory is located in the botanical gardens, which is home to over 2000 free flying tropical butterflies. It is said that the lush greenery and flowing water are ideal conditions for these colourful ‘flying flowers.’But best of all is a visit to a quaint little place on the mouth of River Niagara. Called Niagara-on-the-lake, this is a picture postcard town built in 1799. It was the principal British garrison and was captured and occupied by the Americans in 1813. The British recaptured it after a blood-spattered war in 1812.

The town is still under siege, but by thousands of tourists who come to this old world town daily. It has now been restored to the way it was in 1812. Costumed and uniformed guides relive those times, and this includes such activities as boat-building, musket firing, blacksmithing and cooking. There are also fife and drum drills. All these activities make it easy to imagine how life was in the early nineteenth century.

Here you can visit a Georgian bakery built in 1801 where you can have freshly baked scones with hot tea. Or you could go to one of the many wine-tasting centres where you could sip the famous wines that are made from grapes that have been grown in this area.

If that’s not your kick you could go to a heritage printery that spans 500 years of letterpress printing. Or just take a leisurely trip around town on a horse drawn buggy. If you are in the mood, you could retire to the Shaw Theatre that feature works by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. But you’d have to be extremely lucky to get a ticket.

A visit to this town is a must as it sets the mood for one of the greatest spectacles of the world — the Niagara Falls. A natural wonder that attracts over 20 million visitors every year where more camera film is sold than anywhere else in the world!

Newsmen Features


This feature was published on August 25, 2002