Niagara Falls (Canada part II)

Date: August-September 2018

Continued from part I…

The morning after the wedding we drove over to the Old Town to spend more time there before we left Niagara-on-the-lake for Niagara Falls. With it being a Sunday morning in a small town, the pace of things was pretty slow, the roads weren’t crowded. Of course, are they ever crowded in a town that has a population of 20,000? Maybe not. Who knows.

Since I love my coffee, I of course wanted to find a local coffee shop for breakfast. Being in the center of town this was pretty easy to find. With it still in the mid-70s, we sat outside on the front of the building, under the huge leafy trees that were everywhere around here. A jet black squirrel or two ran by. How could you not sit outside on a day like this?

We sent some time exploring the old town. We found a great gift for a friend of ours that we should’ve bought, then forgot about it. We’ll have to order it on Amazon later, I guess. Oh well. After exploring Old Town for a bit, we headed over to The Irish Harp Irish Pub. By some method, an Irishman made his way to Niagara-on-the-lake and decided to start an Irish pub there. I was initially drawn to this place because it had over 2,000 reviews on Trip Advisor. All of them were rave reviews. So of course we had to try it. I’m happy to say it was as good as advertised. After exploring for a little while longer, it became time to leave this wonderful place.

One thing I noticed about our entire time in NOTL was that it never felt touristy. Were there visitors there? Absolutely, especially with it being maybe 90 minutes from Buffalo. But there weren’t any tacky tourist trap stores or anything like that. Very few chain stores, very few big-box stores, most independent places. Tons of greenery. Tons of wineries. Bike paths everywhere. A pretty awesome place.

We left Niagara-on-the-lake a little bit of a different way than we came in, destination a different part of southern Ontario, Niagara Falls.

The road was still two lanes. Greenery was still absolutely everywhere. We passed several more wineries that we hadn’t gotten a chance to visit. The temperature was still in the low 70s. This early in the morning it may have even been in the upper 60s. In early September. Six weeks later as I’m starting to write this post (and as it turns out not finishing it until literally the end of the year) my weather app tells me it’s 52 in Niagara-on-the-lake.

Anyway, to Niagara Falls.

With it being Labor Day (which is a holiday in Canada as well as the US), the road to Niagara Falls was packed. I don’t know if Labor Day is the busiest weekend of the year here, but it has to be one of the busiest. Cars were everywhere, and if you’re like me and don’t like driving as it is, driving at a time like this makes you want to pull all of your hair out.

From what we learned from locals, Niagara Falls is a sleepy town during the week, actually. The hotspot of town is of course right near the falls, where casinos dot the edge of the falls, only a few hundred yards away from the US-Canada border. But with it being Labor Day, it was one of the busiest days of the year here.

Our tour guide was supposed to pick us up at our hotel at 3:00. Sure enough, we went down to the lobby at 2:50 and there she was. Canadian by birth and from Ontario, she had never heard of Niagara-on-the-lake until she had started college. We ran into several people with similar stories, actually. People from Ontario who had never heard of Niagara-on-the-lake.

We got into the van, and found a couple from Mexico and a couple from Boston already inside. With our Canadian guide, our tour group represented all the countries of North America.

If you’re reading this and wondering, the view of the Falls from the Canadian side is way better.

Our first stop was Skylon Tower, the observation deck on the Canadian side. Even though we only had 6 people, we still qualified as a group tour and got to skip the huge line in front. Into the elevator and up we went, The view from the top of the tower was amazing, and it made for a pretty incredible set of photos and a breathtaking panorama. Informational placards at various points of the observation deck pointed out things of interest. The remains of a barge that got too close to the Falls and ran aground on a shallow part of the Niagara River in 1918 laid there even 100 years later, slowly eroding.

Part two of our tour was the Journey Behind The Falls. Before I did this tour I had no idea of this, but there are observation tunnels underneath and behind the Falls (at least on the Canadian side) that you can buy a ticket to visit. Something about Niagara Falls I also didn’t know is that the amount of water you see going over the Falls today is actually only 50% of the total amount of water that is capable of going over. The force of the water going over the Falls is so powerful that at the normal rate the Falls erode 10 feet every year. By diverting half of the water for hydroelectric power generation into tunnels dug along the side of the Niagara River, the Falls erode only 1 foot every 10 years. Not only does the diversion of water stop erosion and make the beautiful Falls last longer, but it also generates tons of power for the Niagara region in an environmentally-friendly way. Eventually though, the Canadian side of the Falls will erode, even with the water diversion, leaving only the American side.

Similar situation as last time, because we’re a group tour we get to skip the huge line at the front. After grabbing a plastic rain poncho we get into an elevator that takes us down about 50 feet below the Falls. Underneath and behind the Falls are a network of observation tunnels that allow you to get right behind the water. One section of the tunnels goes off to the side and opens onto ab observation deck. Even with the amount of water going over the Falls being scaled back to 50% capacity during the day the roar of the water is huge and it’s pretty easy to get wet from the spray. After about half an hour, maybe a little longer, in the tunnels below the Falls we came back up and headed over to the boat launch for the third and final part of our tour.

There was definitely a crowd control system in place. Niagara Falls may not be that busy of a place most of the year, but this weekend (Labor Day weekend, remember) was one of the busiest of the year. We headed down to the boat with dozens of other people, some on our boat, some on other boats. We were still on the Canadian side of the Falls. We boarded the boat, and off we went into the area below the falls (I’m not sure what this is called, exactly).

The Falls are way bigger on the Canadian side, and the roaring sound of the water only got louder as we got closer. We definitely needed the cheap plastic rain ponchos they handed to us on the way down to the boat. Out onto the boat we went, and we pulled away from the dock and headed out towards the Falls a few minutes later.

What we learned on the first part of our tour, that during the day they scale back the water flow to 50%, actually ended up being really important. Even with the water flow only being at half the natural capacity we both were still soaked! I don’t think I took any pictures of videos of the Falls while actually on the boat for fear of losing my phone to water, but I got some awesome pictures and videos during other parts of the tours. They’re at a better angle anyway since they’re looking down over the Falls instead of at the angle of looking up from the water.

Touring Niagara Falls was awesome and the tour was great, but I was happy we decided to only spend about half a day in Niagara Falls. We originally had planned to spend an entire day there and had booked a early tour and decided to move it to the afternoon and spend the first half of that day in Niagara-on-the-lake. All that said, I’ll definitely visit the Falls again the next time I’m in that area.