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Ridleys in the Mist: Our Trip to Niagara

Across the border from Buffalo, New York, we arrived in Canada to visit Niagara Falls. We checked into our Airbnb, a cute little cottage deep in a charming neighborhood of Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the shores of Lake Ontario.

“Purpose of your trip?” said the border control agent?
“To see Niagara Falls, sir”, I replied.
“Anything but clothes in the car?”
“Uh… not really, no, some groceries” (but yeah, we have a lot of stuff we’re hauling back to Portugal).
“No alcohol?”
“Nope.” He said confidently. Is it a lie if you totally forgot your wife was smuggling a bottle of contraband vodka across the border?

The area on which Niagara-on-the-Lake now sits was populated by multiple different tribes of indigenous peoples from at least the 17th century. The first European settlers were loyalists fleeing the American Revolution in 1778. Loyalists were given land grants in this area by Britain following the revolution and the town was once the capitol of the province, until the capitol was moved to York (now Toronto). Fort George, in town, served as the headquarters of the central division of the British army in Upper Canada during the War of 1812. It was taken by the Americans and the town was burnt down in December 1813 (source). Fortunately, it was rebuilt, as today, it’s a charming little lakeshore resort town with apparent means. We arrived in early May when the daffodils and tulips were in full bloom and the fruit trees were blossoming and budding everywhere you looked. Niagara-on-the-Lake is in the heart of Ontario’s wine country (yup, Ontario’s wine country) and vineyards, including one owned by the Great One (yup, that Great One: Wayne Gretsky) which surround town. There’s also a great bike trail you can take from town all the way down the Niagara River to Fort Erie.

After a morning wandering the parks, lakeside trail and narrow town streets, we struck off for Niagara Falls, Canada. I’d be lying if I said that the city overlooking the falls felt up to date. It seems to be built on tourism and looks like it. Like tourism from the days of yore (if the days of yore are the olden days of the 1970s). We parked at a meter and paid the exorbitant CA$11 per 30 minutes adding ample time for an unexpected duration to procure tickets and ride into waterfalls on a boat. After procuring the aforementioned passes among few other tourists on a relatively queue-free cold, cloudy early May afternoon we donned our red ponchos and boarded the boat to head into the falls.

Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls. The American Falls, the Bridal Veil Fall to its immediate right and the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “niagara” is derived from indigenous Iroquoian language and means either “thundering waters” or “neck”, which could refer to the river which joins Lakes Ontario and Erie. The falls were formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago and it is predicted that erosion will cause them to disappear in 50,000 years. At least there’s still time to see them! My recollection from a visit as a child was that you could not see the Horseshoe Falls, or at least all of it, from the American side, without boarding a boat, and this site seems to back that up.

On our cruise, we steamed ahead, past the first two (American and Bridal Veil) and directly into the churning water and flying spray and mist of water crashing from 165 feet above to where we floated. It’s hard to say what we expected but I don’t think we expected to like it far as much as we did. Soaked and smiling, we docked and departed, back to sit in our lovely backyard and listen to the birds celebrating the arrival of spring and the return of the sun.

And since the Maple Leafs are in the Stanley Cup playoffs and our house lacked any live sports options on TV, we headed into back into town to cheer on the Leafs with the locals.

And while I doubt that we will hit the boat again, Melissa is already plotting and scheming how we can squeeze in a return to the town on our upcoming trek back west across Canada in the not-so-distant future. But, for now, we say “take care, eh” to the Great White North and take my wife’s contraband hooch, albeit with two martinis drained from it, back across the border to the south.

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