September 2007 Issue
Falling for Niagara
While international tourists go to great lengths to reach the Niagara Region, teh area's natural wonders and lively attractions are just a car ride away for Ohioans.
As travel books go, you can't ask for a more intriguing title than 1,000 Places To See Before You Die.
And for the special destinations listed in that 2003 best seller –– locales that, author Patricia Schultz insists, are "the best the world has to offer" –– their selection couldn't get more noteworthy. After all, Schultz set the bar awfully high: Whether it's taking a whimsical balloon safari over wildlife in Kenya, or visiting a sand-swept valley for the Pushkar Camel Fair in India, many of the author's suggestions are so exotic and far-flung, Ohioans with a wanderlust could squirrel away cash for years just to afford the adventure.
And then there's Niagara Falls.
The same attraction that Schultz includes as a must-see on her list and hails as a "thunderous beauty" — the same natural wonder that nearly 15 million international travelers trek across the globe to see every year, some considering it a once-in-a-lifetime voyage — lucky Ohioans can experience once every weekend.
Call them the Falls faithful: the residents of the Buckeye State for whom making a casual trip to the border to visit Horseshoe Falls (following a curve from Goat Island, New York, to Canada) and the American and Bridal Veil falls (on the U.S. shoreline) –– not to mention, the myriad entertainment options in the 12 municipalities and 715 square miles of the vast Niagara Region –– is as common a vacation ritual as taking the kids to Cedar Point.
"I can never get over how we get absolutely tons of people from Ohio," says Heather Matte, owner of the popular Bedham Hall Bed & Breakfast in Ontario, a restored Victorian home turned traditional English B&B that's stood sentinel on the Niagara River since 1890.
There's no mystery to the appeal that's lured visitors from Ohio and beyond since the early 19th century. The excitement and serenity that comes from seeing 42 million gallons of water cascade every minute over towering cliffs, has drawn hordes of onlookers since the advent of the railway, and skyrocketed with the popularity of automobile travel after WWI.
But, as noted in Margaret Dunn's book, Niagara Falls: A Pictorial Journey, Mother Nature's handiwork has always been complemented by the area's lively backdrop of fun, man-made attractions. "Vacationers in the mid-1800s described a carnival atmosphere at Niagara Falls," notes Dunn, "with sideshows, dancing monkeys, museums, shops and a barrage of peddlers."
Today, that circus-like setting is a tad more tame (if there are any dancing monkeys, they're wisely hidden out of view). However, the spirit lives on in the kaleidoscopic sights and sounds of the Clifton Hill entertainment and dining district (www.cliftonhill.com
), a bustling stretch of casinos, restaurants and larger-than-life family attractions that overlook the Falls, aglow with enough neon to rival Las Vegas.
"Except better than Vegas: That city doesn't have our scenery," B&B owner Matte says with her Canadian lilt and a smile.
The district's streets teem with attractions as varied as they are colorful –– from Casino Niagara, Fallsview Casino and nightclubs that lure fun-loving adults, to the wax museums, arcades and amusement-park-styled rides (including a 175-ft. Niagara Falls SkyWheel) that thrill young children. Even the district's fine-dining establishments know how to put on a good show. As if eating gourmet cuisine inside a revolving room wasn't satisfying enough, diners at The Skylon Tower this summer (and through September 3) were also treated to the sight of 63-year-old daredevil Jay Cochrane tiptoeing across a tightrope near the restaurant's panoramic windows, 200 feet above the ground.
But just as the Clifton Hill district appeals to tourists of every age, the Niagara Region also caters to visitors with every taste.
There are plenty of ways to balance spectacle with sophistication, and none is more noticeable here than the more than 40 wineries that call the area home –– a wealth of vineyards that offer a romantic escape in the so-called "Honeymoon Capital of the World" (www.winesofontario.org
While worthwhile viticulture options abound, "there's only one winery in Canada that also has a recreational cooking school," says Strewn Winery & Cooking School co-owner Jane Langdon (www.strewnwinery.com
), who, from January through November, instructs guests in the art of creating "wine country cuisine" from locally produced fruit and vegetables, and ends each class with a sumptuous meal and vino made by her husband, vintner Joe Will.
The leisurely and idyllic escape continues on the scenic road from Strewn Winery to the Falls –– dotted with quaint fruit stands, families lunching at picnic tables near bike trails, and boats drifting by on the Niagara River –– thanks to the road's passage through historic Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.niagaraonthelake.com
). From the fragrant flower baskets gracing downtown streets to the Old World-styled hotels and the elegant shops, upscale boutiques and antiques stores, it's clear why the community has been deemed the prettiest town in Canada.
Of course, its charm and shopaholic appeal are just a bonus for theater lovers, who make a beeline to Niagara-on-the-Lake every year for the Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com
), one of the largest and most successful theater festivals in North America. Running through October 28, it is the only one in the world specializing in plays by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, as well as the period of Shaw's lifetime (1856-1950). This season's lineup is filled with the type of passion-filled productions devotees have come to expect for the past 45 years, including this year's cornerstone, "Saint Joan," Shaw's celebrated recount of Joan of Arc's inspired rise and dramatic fall from power in 15th-century France.
It's a welcome production for history buffs, who are made to feel at home in the Niagara Region. At Fort George (www.friendsoffortgeorge.ca
), visitors are steeped in the past as living-history performers and re-enactments recall the War of 1812 and the battle between British Loyalists and the U.S. Army over land that would later become Canada.
Art aficionados who are curious about the area's past can pay a visit to the RiverBrink Gallery in Queenston (www.riverbrink.org
), where collector Samuel E. Weir's love of country and his commitment to early Canadian painters is reflected in art that includes some 160 works illustrating the landscape around Niagara Falls, conveniently located just 20 minutes away from the gallery. For those keen on more current fare, the Castellani Art Museum (www.niagara.edu/cam
) exhibits contemporary and modern works at Niagara University, on the American side of the Falls.
The pursuits of Niagara Region enthusiasts are as diverse as the area's attractions, and B&B owner Matte has had seemingly all of them pass through the doors of her inviting, lemon-yellow house — from the couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary last year with a visit to Clifton Hill, eager to act like kids again, to the recent wine lovers from Youngstown on a whirlwind tour of vineyards in Ontario, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"If they'll let me, I'll come up with a whole itinerary for them," Matte says with a chuckle. "There's something for everyone down here."
But, no matter the guest, Matte knows that no schedule is complete without the destination that's everyone's favored first and last stop.
"At the end of the day," she says, "it's all about the Falls."
Bewildered at the Border
It was an announcement that created countless furrowed brows.
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security informed travelers that, over the next several years, there would be a change in regulations for border crossing between the United States and Canada –– an attempt, they explained, to make the world's longest non-militarized border (5,526 miles over land and water) less vulnerable.
"And it's caused so much confusion ever since," says Arlene White, executive director of the Binational Tourism Alliance, a Buffalo, New York-based organization that supports destination development in cross-border regions shared by the countries (www.btapartners.com
For many Americans accustomed to making casual trips to Canada, the new rules sparked thoughts of long delays at crammed checkpoints, not to mention packing piles of identification paperwork next to all those vacation clothes. "We've actually seen people who've crossed the border quite comfortably for years, who are now reluctant to make the trip because they think it's going to be this big hassle," says White.
"The truth is, the borders are not backed up … and the lines aren't any longer than they would normally be for people leaving after a long weekend."
Here, the BTA offers a breakdown of border-crossing requirements aimed at ensuring trouble-free travel.
Current Traveler Identification Requirements For Land Border Crossings
U.S. visitors to Canada/Canadian visitors to the United States:
Be prepared to verify both your citizenship (place of birth) and identity (photo I.D.) with such documents as a birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, NEXUS/FAST card, naturalization certificate, Visa or Green Card, baptismal certificate, citizenship card, records of landing, or Permanent Resident Card.
If traveling with children, carry identification for each child. Divorced parents who share custody should carry copies of the legal custody documents.
Travelers under the age of 18 and unaccompanied by a parent need a letter of permission from a parent or guardian.
Citizens of other countries:
Must have a valid passport (and may also require a Visitor’s Visa).
New Requirements For Air Travel between Canada and the United States
Effective January 23, 2007, all Canadian and U.S. citizens traveling by air between Canada and the United States are required to have a valid passport to enter the United States.
Effective June 8, 2007, U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, who have applied for but not yet received passports, can temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government-issued photo identification, and U.S. Department of State official proof of application for a passport, through September 30, 2007. Children under the age of 16 traveling with their parents or legal guardian will be permitted to travel with the child’s proof of application. U.S. citizens with pending passport applications can obtain proof of application at www. travel.state.gov/passport/get/ status/status_2567.html.
|For additional information on exceptions to the standard requirements, as well as duty-free limits, please refer to the Canada Border Services Agency at www.cbsa.gc.ca, or the U.S. Department of State at www.travel.state.gov.