Anna Hyman is still not sure which she preferred the most. The Hornblower Niagara Cruise, up close and personal to those awe-inspiring Falls, or the dramatic Niagara Helicopters flight over them.
We were having a short break in Ontario and had flown Air Canada into Toronto’s Pearson International airport and transferred to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a three night stay. It soon became apparent why Niagara-on-the-Lake is frequently referred to as the ‘loveliest town in Ontario’. We had to agree, it is indeed chocolate-box pretty.
The loveliest town in Ontario
The town, however, has had a varied past. However, in the early 19th century following the 1812 war came prosperity thanks in part to its shipping and shipbuilding interests.
Evidence of that prosperity is witnessed today by the many beautifully maintained old wooden buildings with their carefully tended, flower-filled gardens facing onto leafy and orderly boulevards.
But Niagara-on-the-Lake is famous not just for its prettiness and genteel charm – it is also home to the internationally acclaimed Shaw Festival when the audiences in its three theatres are treated to first class productions of plays and musicals.
For history buffs Fort George and the Niagara Historical Museum are a must; whilst Queen Street, with its boutiques, restaurants and shops, proved to be a delight even on a wet and windy day.
Luckily for our schedule the next day was one of sunshine – perfect weather for visiting those iconic Falls.
History and more
As he drove us from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Niagara Falls our cheerful driver regaled us with information about the history of the area: that the First Nation founders called Niagara-on-the-Lake ‘Onghiara’; how, after the American Revolution, it was settled by Loyalists; and in the 1790s became the first capital of Ontario, changing its name each time before being given in the 1880s that by which we know it today. It’s a pretty drive passing parks and gardens along with lovely river views.
He told us the story of heroine Laura Secord, who during the 1812 war walked some 30 km to warn the British troops of an impending attack by American forces; he pointed out Queenston Heights Park with its statue of Sir Isaac Brock a British Army Officer of the time; and told us of the hydro-electric plants and of the dramatic rescue of three men from the wreck of the Old Scow who in 1918 were nearly swept over the Fall. We duly admired the massive floral clock, said to be the largest in the world.
The spectacular Niagara Falls
It has to be said that city of Niagara Falls with its build of modern hotels, casinos and various attractions etc is not the most beautiful, but it does have the iconic falls which draw visitors from all parts of the world.
They may not be the highest falls in the world, but they are certainly spectacular. Three falls – the American, the Bridal Veil and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls – formed following the last Ice Age when glaciers receded and the water from the resulting Great Lakes eroded a path through what is now known as the Niagara Escarpment to the Atlantic.
The highest part of the falls is the Horseshoe Falls with a drop of some 57m. You can see the spray well before you see the falls and as you get closer the thunder of some 168,000 cubic feet of water every minute plunging over the 670m wide horseshoe-shaped cliff becomes almost deafening.
We pulled our ponchos tighter round ourselves
Having purchased our tickets and put on ponchos we joined our Hornblower Niagara Cruise and headed off towards the awe-inspiring falls. Because it was a sunny day we were able to enjoy several shimmering rainbows on our 20 minute boat ride before we were caught up in the spray and mist from the wall of water as we struggled to pull the ponchos tighter round ourselves whilst attempting to keep cameras and glasses dry.
The boat was crowded, a fair proportion of us foreign tourists, but the atmosphere was fun as we took photos of each other with that incredible, thundering white wall as a backdrop.
Some stomach lurching moments
A few minutes’ drive away on Victoria Avenue is Niagara Helicopters base. For a 10 minute or so flight it is pricey, but worth every $CAD (costs vary depending on tour taken). Strapped in with our headsets on pilot James gently lifted the Airbus H130 helicopter off the ground and over and along the Niagara river and its swirling rapids flying us past the American Falls and heading for the magnificent Horseshoe Falls. On a clear day you can spot Toronto and Lake Eerie.
To say it was a breath-taking trip was no exaggeration and even though my stomach lurched every time James banked the helicopter I would not have missed it for the world and would happily have gone round again for a second bird’s eye viewing of the awe-inspiringNiagara Falls and the amazing landscape spread out beneath us.