Niagara Falls, ON

City Population: 82,997 | Urban Area: 382.68 km2 (147.75 sq mi) | Population Density (in sq. mi.): 1,025 |Elevation: 167 m (548 ft)
Dates Visited: 09.07.12 – 09.08.12 | Total Inter-City Miles Traveled: 727 miles| Total Hours Traveled: 15.5 hours
Inter-City Transportation: Megabus #2 | Origin: Toronto

Niagara Falls, ON sits on the more scenic side of the world-famous falls that straddle the U.S.-Canada border: Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls (ordered from largest to smallest). Located on the Niagara River that flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, the spectacular sight of the powerful water cascades–about 750,000 gallons of water each second–draws millions of tourists every year.

I actually missed my first MegaBus out of Toronto because I wrote the time down wrong. The good thing is that Megabus drivers are pretty lenient about letting you board, so long as you have a ticket and the bus isn’t full. (Still, they’re technically not supposed to let you on, so it’s still up to the driver’s discretion).

Niagara Falls is, for many, one of the must-see destinations on the east coast. I’ve never been to Niagara Falls before, but when I was younger, I had already convinced myself that I probably wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. I imagined Niagara Falls as a giant, wetter version of a hyped amusement park ride: a crowded and exhausting experience that was expensive, full of long lines, and ultimately, just another one of those experiences that you do once in your life so that you can check it off that bucket list. And especially after going on the quintessential Maid of the Mist ride, I have to admit it is pretty much like a giant water park, but I’m less cynical about the experience after having gone through it. Niagara Falls really is a spectacular and beautiful place.

My initial interest in the Falls was piqued by a landscape architecture theory course. Niagara Falls, despite popular opinion to the contrary, isn’t the epitome of sublime and wilderness as we might like to believe. Though the falls themselves are a fantastic exhibit of the power of geological forces and erosion, Niagara Falls as we know it was the product of man, engineering, and culture. At first glance, the falls look like unspoiled Nature: strong, beautiful and wild. But peel back the layers of history, and at one time, the falls were enclosed by an ugly frame of industrial buildings and overgrown, view-obstructing vegetation.

In the 1800s, landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux teamed up to fit Niagara Falls within a new frame-of-view, one that was engineered to be more scenic. As Anne Whiston Spirn says:

“Though they (Olmsted and Vaux) were far from thinking that all that is required to accomplish the designed end is to ‘let Nature alone,’ this was the very impression they sought to create by their ‘unobtrusive’ interventions…

Niagara Falls is shaped by water flowing, rocks falling, and trees growing, by artists and tourists, by journalists and landscape architects, by engineers and workers who divert the water. Niagara is constructed through processes of non-human nature, through water use and treaties, through paintings and postcards, memory and myth. Even the most awesome landscapes are products of both nature and culture, and they change in predictable and unpredictable ways in response to both.

For me, the significance of Niagara Falls extends beyond its beautiful geological might and role as a hydroelectric power generator; it’s the first site I’ve ever read about that opened my eyes to the idea of landscapes as palimpsest, a term applied to ancient manuscripts that have been written on again and again, after earlier writing has been partially erased.

Unlike the falls, the city of Niagara Falls, ON is a strange, soulless place. Neon lights and signs twirl and flash up and down Clifton Hill and the whole place is crammed with gaudy tourist attractions: casinos, haunted houses, a movie star wax museum, and night clubs. It’s like a mini-Vegas. It’s a mash-up of tourist attractions that never close. While waiting for my laptop to charge in a Sheraton Hotel lobby, I watched a series of flashy advertisements on Niagara Falls that prided the city on how many of chain restaurants and night clubs they could call home.

One day in Niagara Falls was a good fill for me.

I went on two “rides,” the Maid of the Mist and the White Water Walk. I’ve posted the pictures¬†on tumblr.

One Response to “Niagara Falls, ON”

  1. Phil H says:

    This place brings back memories. I totally forgot about all the attractions.

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