So I Went to Canada, eh?

Jul 31, 2004

Niagara Falls

The Wootton family went to Canada. We’re back now. In fact, we’ve been back for a while now, our camping experience in Niagara Falls long since over. Don’t worry. Canada is no worse for wear. The moose still graze comfortably by the highway. The mounties can still find their horses.

The whole trip kind of snuck up on me. We didn’t decide to the head for the Falls until about two months before we actually hooked up the camper to leave. That left us just enough time pick a place to stay, search out our birth certificates so that we could not only leave the country but return, and juggle all the responsibilities of an extended vacation (like packing and picking up beer). Surprisingly, we found other willing participants for the trip. The brother-in-law and his family signed up. An additional camper would be coming with us.

Good Little Traveler
The trip to Niagara Falls was about as pleasant as a nine hour trip with an 18 month old child can be. Unlike when I was wandering the back seat for bread crumbs as a kid, Cambell is stuck in his seat, strapped in like a unwilling rollercoaster passenger. I sympathize with the kid. It’s tough to sit still for so long, particularly at an age when the world is so interesting. I’m happy to report that he was an absolute angel. He slept a lot, kept himself occupied while awake, and only resorted to crying just as we were pulling into the campground. He was even better for the trip home.

I should mention that I think we did a pretty good job planning the traveling part of the trip. Cambell ate while on the move so that when we did stop he could chase butterflies. Nothing is worse than sitting in the car forever and then sitting again to eat lunch. Walkie talkies kept the two vehicles navigating together and served as entertainment when times got boring. We discovered that one strength of having a camper around that has no need to pop up is that your bathroom is available whenever need be, something invaluable when you have a pregnant woman on the trip. I do think of my brother-in-law as more than the carrier of the toilet, I assure you, but I know my wife was relieved that both the toilet (and he) were there.

My impression of the falls themselves and Canada in general was almost universally positive. One of my biggest fears — that I’d stare at the falls for 15 minutes in wonder and then wonder what else there was to do — was unfounded. The Falls were an incredible sight. We visited them in one way or another nearly every day. When my 15 minutes were finally up, there was more than enough to do. Let me be your tour guide a little while and I’ll explain:

The Falls

No trip to Niagara Falls can be discussed without mentioning the Falls themselves. I wondered if such a long trip was worth it just to see a single thing. It was.

On the EdgeFor those who aren’t aware of this, Niagara Falls is not one waterfall but two separated by a thin stretch of land called Goat Island. The American Falls are impressive but the Canadian falls are where the action is at. The Canadian Falls, called the Horseshoe Falls, is what most people think of when they think about Niagara Falls. If you ever get a chance to go, visit the Canadian side of the border. Not only does that put you next to the more impressive of the two falls, it gives you a much better perspective to view the both of them.

Obviously, this is the attraction but don’t forget to spend some time there. Check out the river a bit, situated in a deep canyon. Check it out at night when they turn the lights on. Walk to the edge and look down at the drop. Grab a barrel and have some fun.

Tourist Trap

The area immediately around the Canadian side of the falls is the definition of a tourist trap. Noise blares from nearby haunted mansions. Lights blink from the surrounding arcades. It reminded me a little of downtown Tokyo, not that I’ve ever been to Japan.

Video screens and bright letters light up the street at night. The prices are too high. The attractions are a little too tailored to the average folk who is looking for ways to part with their money. I should say that the collection of chain restaurants were useful for eating (although the Rain Forest Cafe may want to turn their lights on; a real-life amazon night settled upon us as their power went out) and the outside free fall rides did provide amusement to both residents of the ground and sky alike. It’s not all bad but not particularly exciting either.

The Skylon Tower

Climbing the Skylon TowerThe Skylon Tower provides a bird’s view of the Falls. A meal in the tower gives you a nice, rotating view of the entire area. The meal itself, while rather expensive, was rather yummy. My chicken cordon blue was excellent and more than made up for fear laiden trip up the glass elevator. Me and heights don’t get along. Me and chicken, however, do.

The Whirlpool

Where is the whirlpool?I don’t know how much I can actually speak to this one since we didn’t see it up close but I was unimpressed. From afar, it didn’t look like much of a whirlpool to me, leaving us with little reason to see it from above while juggling a child in our lap. I pictured it a giant version of my bathroom tub draining away. I was dissapointed, even with the awesome view.

The Maid of the Mist

Maid of the Mist, American FallsA boat ride on the Maid of the Mist is almost a required journey when you visit the Falls. Don’t miss it. It may be the tourist attraction in the area but don’t let that deter you. Embrace your inner sightseer. Don the poncho and grab a seat on the second level, where no roof will obstruct your view.

The boat takes you directly to the base of both falls, actually settling within the horseshoe of Horseshoe Falls at one point. The ride gives you a couple of minutes to really appreciate the power of the falls. It’s the best view of them you are ever likely to get.

These stops barely scratch the surface of the available activities. There was a ton of other stuff to do. Helicopter rides, a journey behind the falls, and jet boat rides — enough left for another whole trip. That’s a good thing. One day we might return.

Note: The pictures above all sport larger versions. Click on them. You know you want to.

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