Beside the Falls
The thunder roars in my ears as I am bathed in a fine spray of water. I am beneath the arc of a rainbow, surrounded by an ethereal mist. As I raise my eyes to face the tremendous beauty and magnificence of the Niagara Falls, I hold my breath in awe. This indeed, is the moment of a lifetime.
It's a beautiful spring day in May when we decide to drive down to see the Niagara Falls. Avoiding the busy highways, we take the scenic route along the Niagara escarpment – a forested ridge that runs through Ontario, and is one of Canada's most magnificent landforms. We pass through miles of green farmland, untouched forests, meandering streams and sleepy hills. There are lookout points where the cliff falls away steeply to reveal panoramic views of the cities and the deep blue of the Ontario Lake in the distance.
Soon, we reach Niagara-on-The-Lake, a quaint town on the banks of the Niagara River. Tourists throng its streets, browse through the charming antique stores, restaurants, galleries and gardens. A few horse carriages trundle by, and the whole atmosphere is one of old-world charm.
Niagara-on-The-Lake is also the wine country of Canada, and no tour to the Falls is complete without a visit to one of the world famous wineries. At the Jackson-Triggs Estate, one of Canada's most modern wineries, we are introduced to the intricate process of winemaking.
We stroll through vineyards, where the buds are ripe for blooming – in summer they will be heavy with grapes. Inside the winery, the air is thick with the fragrance of wine. We are told that the stainless steel fermentation tanks, and everything else in the building including the platform that we walk on is suspended from the roof, so that nothing touches the floor. In the cool cellars, where the wine is aged in oak barrels that give that particular flavour to the wine, we are shown how to hold a goblet, to swirl and smell the wine before tasting it.
It’s late afternoon when we finally head out to the Falls themselves. The area surrounding the Niagara Falls is surprisingly metropolitan. The busy streets, vehicles and high-rise buildings, are in stark contrast to the remarkable natural wonder just beyond – the most powerful falls in North America.
Standing on the sidewalk, and leaning over the railing, I am merely a few feet away from the top of the falls, where the river drops down about a 173 feet, to create the Falls. Niagara Falls is composed of two major sections parted by Goat Island: Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side of the border, where we are, and the American Falls on the United States side. We can see the State of New York from here, as well as the tourists on the other side. Since the Falls face the Canadian shore, we obviously have the better view.
The highlight of the day however, is the Maid-of-the-Mist boat tour, which takes us to the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. This is one of North America's oldest tourist attractions, with millions of visitors having enjoyed the boat rides since 1846. Kitted out in thin blue raincoats, we board the boat along with hundreds of other tourists from around the world.
As we pass the base of the American Falls, and draw nearer to the enormous Horseshoe Falls, the roar of the water grows louder, filling our ears and blocking out everything else. The mist grows thicker, and soon the spray from the Falls showers us in a constant rain. Looking up at the Falls towering around me and surrounded by rainbows, I am moved to tears by the overwhelming beauty of it all.
It's a mere half hour that we spend on the boat, but it feels like an eternity. We decide to keep our disposable (and soaked) raincoats as souvenirs as we head back into the city of Niagara that is preparing for its busy nightlife as the twilight deepens. There are casinos, nightclubs, fairs and many other attractions, enticing visitors to stay longer.
We decide to come back another time to experience the human face of Niagara. A panoramic landscape unfolding under the spring sunshine, a whiff of wine in a cool cellar, and a moment of infinity at the foot of a magnificent waterfall are the only memories that I want to take home with me today.
Interesting facts about the Falls
While not exceptionally high, the Niagara Falls is very wide. More than six million cubic feet of water fall over the crest line every minute in high flow, and almost four million cubic feet on average.
The Horseshoe Falls are 180 feet high and they are 2,500 feet wide. The depth of the Niagara River below the "Horseshoe" Niagara Falls is 180 feet and as deep as Niagara Gorge walls are high. The huge volume of water that rapidly flows over the "Horseshoe" Falls causes the rushing waters of the Niagara River to appear green in colour.
In the winter the falling water and mist create ice formations along the banks of the falls and river.
This can result in mounds of ice as thick as fifty feet. If the winter is cold for long enough, the ice will completely stretch across the river and form what is known as the ‘ice bridge.’ This ice bridge can extend for several miles.
Until 1912, visitors were allowed to actually walk out on the ice bridge and view the Falls from below. On February 4, 1912 the ice bridge broke up and three tourists' lives were lost. It has been banned ever since.
Daredevils of Niagara
Many brave men and women have tried to achieve fame and fortune by performing unthinkable feats in a quest to conquer the Falls. Some have succeeded, while others have died untimely deaths in their quest to make history, as Niagara Daredevils.
On October 24, 1901, 63-year-old schoolteacher Annie Taylor was the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel as a publicity stunt. She survived, bleeding, but virtually unharmed. Soon after exiting the barrel, she said, "No one should ever try that again." However, many other people have intentionally gone over the Falls since then, despite her advice.
On July 25, 1911, Bobby Leach became the second person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
He spent six months in the hospital recovering from injuries he sustained during the fall. Ironically, Leach later died on a publicity tour in New Zealand from injuries sustained after slipping on an orange peel in the street.
In July 1960, a seven-year-old boy miraculously survived going over the Falls in nothing but a life jacket and a bathing suit. He was travelling in a boat with his father's coworker and his sister when it capsized. His sister was rescued from the brink of the falls while he went over it. He was rescued by one of the Maid-of-the-Mist boats.