Highlights of the Great Trail: Niagara River Part 5

Go back to Part 4

Part 5: To Table Rock

In this section we go about 3 km south along the Niagara River Pathway to the lip of the Horseshoe Falls.

50. We are now in the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario. It’s eerily quiet as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, though not yet officially locked down. At the junction of River Road and Zimmerman Avenue stands Christ Church (1865) of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara. On the scroll beneath its coat of arms is a motto that is at once suitably apocalyptic and Niagaran: “As the Sound of Many Waters”: see Revelation 1:15. It’s the only church in the area to have a ten-bell carillon …

51. … which was donated in 1912 by William Lowry Doran, the builder of this house (1866), the Doran-Marshall Residence. Doran was a businessman who owned small factories that made suspenders and neckties, two of the first industrial enterprises in the city. He was also an early investor in the Niagara Falls Electric Light and Power Company. The house, a little further down River Road from Christ Church, is one of the most photogenic in Niagara Falls. It’s in the whimsical Queen Anne Revival style popular in North America during the later nineteenth century. Note the cream-coloured brick surmounted by steeply-pitched asymmetrical roofing, the round corner turret, and the verandah, wrapped around the tower, with a moulded frieze over it and Doric columns supporting it. Needless to say, the verandah overlooks the River and Falls. Currently a bed and breakfast establishment, it’s TripAdvisor’s top-ranked B & B of the dozens in the area, though I don’t imagine business is great at the moment.

52. Thanks to the unquenchable desire of tourists to overlook the Falls while eating, gambling, and having sex, the city has a high-rise skyline, though it’s far from an elegant one. (Above left) the 669-room Sheraton on the Falls Hotel, whose guests (at least those on the east side) have a spectacular view of the Falls. Then there’s a branch of the Hard Rock Café containing such memorabilia as a T-Rex drum set and Clarence Clemons’ saxophone. In the middle stands the 108 metre observation tower of Casino Niagara (1964), an open steel frame construction. But this tower is now too unsafe to ascend, and these days it serves merely as a billboard for the casino underneath. The Duty Free store in the foreground is for people leaving Canada on the Rainbow Bridge to the USA. At right is the 234-room Crowne Plaza Fallsview Hotel, formerly the General Brock Hotel (1929). Marilyn Monroe stayed in Room 801 in this hotel when she was filming Niagara (1953); femme fatale Rose Loomis in this movie was her first starring role. The poster for the film makes crashingly manifest the latent erotic attraction of the Falls.

53. We’re now opposite the American Falls, the smaller of the two major waterfalls at Niagara. This 290 metre wide Falls is entirely within US territory, and is separated by Goat Island from the 820 metre wide Horseshoe Falls, almost all of which is in Canada. The American Falls receives only 11% of the flow of the Niagara River. It’s over 50 metres from the top of this Falls to the River, but there’s a 30 metre pile of rocks at its foot, making the Falls seem much shorter. In sustained cold spells, the American Falls will freeze over; the Horseshoe Falls never does.

54. On this still, clear winter’s day, a vertical tower of spray veils the sun itself. More than 2 million cubic metres of water per second pour over these Falls, a fraction of which rebounds as water vapour. The Niagara River is the main outflow of four of the five Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie. Together with Lake Ontario, into which the River empties itself, the Great Lakes contain about one fifth of the world’s entire supply of fresh water.

55. Where is everybody? What is particularly striking about the Falls during Covid is the absence of people. Even in the depths of winter, this stretch of the Niagara River Pathway would normally be dense with humanity from all over the world …

… this, for example, is what the viewpoint at Table Rock looked like on a much colder day in December 2017.

Casimir Gzowski courtesy of Wikipedia

56. The plaque honours the engineer Sir Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski (1813-98), born to an aristocratic Polish family in St. Petersburg, Russia. He moved to Canada in 1841, and later became the first chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission (1885-93), where he oversaw the original plan for the park system along the Canadian bank of the river. We therefore have him to thank that the Niagara riverbank is a long linear park, free to the public, and relatively unsullied by the tawdriness of central Niagara Falls. Among Gzowski’s many other achievements were the paving of Yonge Street in Toronto, the construction of harbour facilities in Montreal, and the building of the International Bridge over the Niagara River between Fort Erie, ON and Buffalo, NY. Sir Casimir was the great-great-grandfather of the late CBC radio personality Peter Gzowski.

57. The American Falls, with the undistinguished skyline of the city of Niagara Falls, New York at back. At the right there’s a thin fall of water that’s slightly separated from the main Falls. This sliver is the Bridal Veil Falls, the third and by far the smallest of the Niagara waterfalls. It’s technically a separate entity as it is divided from the American Falls by tiny Luna Island. Left of the American Falls is the vertical green mass of the Prospect Point Observation Tower (86 metres, 1961). The famous Maid of the Mist boat ride is accessed by elevators down this tower. In season, the Maid of the Mist and its Canadian counterpart Hornblower perpetually ply this stretch of river, taking plastic-poncho-clad masses close to the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. But all the tourist boats are docked and idle during this pandemic winter of 2020-21.

58. The Niagara Parks Commission is responsible for the entire length of the Niagara Parkway as well as the parks en route, including the jewel in its crown, Queen Victoria Park. The taller building at right is the Fallsview Casino, surmounted by a 374-room resort hotel.

59. The tallest structure on the Niagara Falls, Ontario skyline is the Skylon Tower (160 metres, 1965). There are two restaurants at the top (one revolves a full 360 degrees per hour) and an observation deck. This tower was one of the first structures to be built by the slipform method, in which quick-setting concrete is poured into a moving form, leaving no joints. This is the same construction method that was used a few years later for the CN Tower (1976) in Toronto. Maximum visibility on a clear day like today from the top of the Skylon Tower is 129 km. However, the Tower is, needless to say, closed to the public at the moment.

60. We approach the Horseshoe Falls and the Table Rock Welcome Centre at its lip. Has this area ever been so empty in recent times?

61. The Horseshoe Falls is a magnificent sight, even if its water flow has been greatly reduced for hydroelectric purposes outside of the main tourist season. Sixty tons of microorganisms, dissolved salts, and rock flour are swept over the Falls every minute, and it’s these particles that give the water its startling green colour. It’s taken the Falls about 12,000 years to erode a path 11 km upstream from Queenston to this point, and it’s estimated that it’ll take about 50,000 years more for it to reach Lake Erie. By then, the Falls will have dwindled into a rapids, not that any of us will be around to mourn the loss.

Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

62. “Niagara Falls from Table Rock” (1835) by Samuel Finley Breese Morse (American, 1791-1872). Table Rock (in the centre foreground) was the main viewing area in the early nineteenth century, but parts of it started to collapse between 1818-50. What was left was blasted away for safety reasons in 1935. The current Table Rock Welcome Centre, closer to the lip of the Falls, preserves its name.

63. And if you’re not in a barrel, this is about as close as you’d want to get to the lip of the Horseshoe Falls!

[Part 6 coming soon]