There was a time when “Niagara Falls” and “honeymoon” were virtually synonymous
in North America. Newlyweds by the thousands flocked to this spectacular sight,
which straddles the international border between Ontario, Canada and Buffalo,
New York. And while Disney World, Paris and Bermuda may have lured away some of
the happy couples tying the knot, Niagara remains one of the world’s most
stunningly-gorgeous and popular tourist destinations, attracting between 25 and
30 million visitors each year.
The Falls were “discovered” as early as
1604, when Frenchman Samuel de Champlain visited there and wrote about them in
his journal. By the 1700s, Americans and Europeans were flocking to Niagara in
large numbers. After the Civil War, the New York Central Railroad extended rail
service to the city, making it even more accessible from America.
the proliferation of the automobile industry after World War I, the Falls became
a magnet for visitors from every state in the Union, who marveled at this
mesmerizing “miracle of nature.”
The voluminous waterfalls of the Niagara
River were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the last Ice Age, allowing
water from the Great Lakes – in particular Lake Erie – to race along en route to
the Atlantic Ocean. At its peak, more than 750,000 gallons (2850 cubic meters)
of water cascade over the Falls every second. This enormous amount of surging
water was seen early on as a source of hydroelectric power, and was used as far
back as 1759 to power sawmills down-river.
The river’s first power plant
was built in 1881, and when the Niagara Falls hydroelectric project went on line
in 1961, it was the largest hydro-power facility in the Western world. Even
today, Niagara remains the largest electricity producer in New York State, with
a generating capacity of 2.4 million kilowatts.
But the Falls are about
much more than electricity.
Tourism remains the bread and butter of
Niagara, particularly in the summer season.
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Preservationists have worked
hard throughout the generations to preserve the pristine beauty of the Falls on
both sides of the border, describing their efforts as a “sacred obligation to
Hotels, amusements parks, casinos, restaurants and museums
have popped up all around the area, but the primary focus remains the American
Falls and the larger, more impressive Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.
While every few years some daredevil attempts to tightrope across the gorge or
“shoot the Falls” in a barrel – the first successful attempt was in 1829, the
last just a few years ago – the average visitor is content to just feast his
eyes on the perpetually cascading water, traverse the tunnels by taking the
Journey Behind the Falls, or travel right into the raging rapids on the famous
Maid of the Mist boats which have been cruising the river since before the Civil
We were thrilled to do the obligatory tourist thing at the Falls,
enjoying it immensely. But then we headed for the real jewel in the crown – the
pastoral and perfectly picturesque town of Niagara on the Lake, just a short
drive from the Canadian falls. If ever there was a place where you could just
“get away” from it all, enjoy nature’s splendor and relax, this is it! Founded
just after the American Revolution, the original inhabitants were “loyalists,”
British citizens faithful to the Crown who fled across the border when America
defeated the English and won its independence in 1776. The British influence can
still be strongly felt here, as indicated by the fact that many of the town‚s
streets – including Queen Street, the main drag – are named for English
monarchs, and NOTL features the only Lord Mayor in Canada.
The town, once
the capital of Upper Canada, was invaded and destroyed by American forces in the
War of 1812, but the British rebuilt the city, and today it has retained much of
its historical charm. The impressive military compound of Fort George and the
Mississauga Point Lighthouse are among the many original sites restored to
pristine condition and open to visitors.
They say a vacation is only as
good as the guide who leads you and the bed you sleep in. And we were blessed to
find both at the same address, at the Simcoe Manor (www.simcoemanor.com/;
1-866-468- 4886), where we were hosted. This delightful inn is just what you
would picture in a travel brochure: A trilevel, warm and cozy colonial house
that provides the anxious traveler with his every need and offers the comforts
that you generally don’t get at home: A fourposter bed with luxurious down
comforter, fireplace in the corner and Jacuzzi-massage bathtub.
away next to a lush forest, yet just one block from all the amenities of NOTL’s
Old Town, Simcoe Manor has five unique suites, each with a character of its own.
The rooms are lovingly, lavishly furnished, with an eye for detail. There is
both an indoor salon and an outdoor porch for sitting and reading, a large
outdoor pool for swimming or sunning, and a royal dining room that features the
finest crystal and china set on a majestic oak banquet table.
prides itself on providing gourmet breakfasts for its clients, and though we
couldn’t fully indulge – as we keep kosher – we were treated each morning to
delicious fresh fruit cups, freshly-squeezed orange juice, a selection of kosher
cereals, and brewed flavored teas, all of which proved more than ample to start
The best thing about Simcoe is its owner/manager, John Gartner.
A former Toronto city planner and world traveler, John left the hustle and
bustle of the big city for the serenity of the lake.
and full of useful information, John plotted our trip for us and helped arrange
every detail. He has been running Simcoe for more than a dozen years, and prides
himself on maintaining a level of service that matches any of the world’s great
hotels. But there is a down-home, country feeling here, too, and it begins the
moment you take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the lush
“This is my home,” says John, “but while you are in Niagara on
the Lake, it will be your home, too!” There is quite a bit to do in NOTL,
particularly in the summer months. Numerous wineries dot the area, and tours are
offered during the grape harvest season, from May to October.
STRAWBERRY and cherry festivals are also held during summertime. In January,
there is a twoweek “ice wine” festival in NOTL. Sweet aperitif, highsugar
content frozen grapes are harvested, processed, bottled and sold, providing a
unique drink which only Canada produces and which attracts visitors from all
over the world, particularly the Far East.
There is also a golf course,
beautifully situated along the lake, which is the oldest golf course in North
America, dating back to 1875. And of course, you can visit the Butterfly
Conservatory, which features over 2,000 colorful tropical butterflies floating
freely among lush, exotic blossoms and greenery.
Paths wind through the
rainforest setting, past a pond and waterfall and the Emergence window, where
butterflies leave their pupae and prepare to take their first
But, without question, the two best things to do in NOTL are
biking, and the Shaw Festival. We got our bikes from the Grape Escape Wine Tour
/; 1-866-935-4445), which rents bikes for
quite reasonable prices ($25/day or $15 for 3 hours) and also organizes escorted
wine tours by bike or SUV van.
The owner, Ian Mell, came to Canada from
Yorkshire, England some thirteen years ago, first running a Bed and Breakfast in
NOTL and then opening his cycle shop in the middle of town. Ian mapped out a
terrific route for us, and we were off for the day.
The ambitious rider
can bike to the Falls, about 25 km. away, or even to Lake Erie, a 54 km.
But we decided on a relaxed trip to get to know the town and the
surrounding scenery, taking the Niagara Parkway which parallels Lake Niagara and
is surrounded on all sides by magnificent flora and fauna.
Along the way,
we stopped at one of the many farms which offer outlet stores, and noshed on an
assortment of fresh fruits and juice.
In the evening, we joined thousands
of residents and visitors at the Shaw Festival. As Odette Yazbeck, the
festival’s PR director (email: Odette@shawfest.com; 1-800-657-1106) explained to
us, the Shaw (as they call it) is the only theater in the world specializing
exclusively in plays by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), as well as playwrights
writing anywhere in the world during the era of Shaw‚s lifetime. Shaw is
acknowledged as one of history’s great playwrights, and was a social critic
known for his biting wit and caustic irreverence.
The Shaw Festival,
running from April through November, opened in 1962. It has become one of the
most popular and successful theater festivals in the world, with a permanent
acting company and four separate playhouses.
The largest of the four is
the stylish Festival Theater, which has 856 seats, every one of which was filled
on the day of our performance. It was hard to decide on a play – Candida, Cat on
a Hot Tin Roof, Heartbreak House
and Drama at Inish
were among the great
selections – but we chose to see My Fair Lady
, the Lerner and Loewe classic
based on Shaw’s Pygmalion
, which has wowed audiences for decades with its
brilliant score and story.
We were not disappointed, to say the least. It
was an amazing production, with a brilliant cast and a stellar set design. I
could Doolittle more than sum it up by saying the Shaw need not take a back seat
to its American cousin a few miles to the southeast (Broadway, I think they call
The play was truly a memorable highlight of our visit and more than
lived up to the hype.
Niagara on the Lake is easily accessible from
Ontario, or the USA’s East Coast. From New York City, you can take a short
commuter flight to Buffalo and rent a car there for the one-hour drive to
Niagara. Cross the bridge into Canada and you will enter a special corner
of the world.
Whatever the effort, it will be well worth it! The writer,
director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana, and his partner were guests
of Simcoe Manor.
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