Highlights of the Great Trail: Niagara River Part 6

Go back to Part 5

Part 6: To Burning Springs Hill

The collapsed Honeymoon Bridge. Source: Pierre Berton, A Picture Book of Niagara Falls (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), p. 136.

64. As we look downstream (that is, north), that’s the Rainbow International Bridge connecting the Canadian and American banks of the River. The Rainbow Bridge is the most direct route between the tourist centres of Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, NY. It’s a toll bridge, accepting most vehicles except for trucks, while pedestrians pay one dollar (Canadian or US) to cross it. The Rainbow Bridge, opened in 1941, replaced the Honeymoon Bridge, which had collapsed in 1938 when a giant ice jam collided with it. To avoid a similar disaster, the abutments of the Rainbow Bridge (that is, the supports of the arch on either bank) were sited 15 metres above the surface of the Niagara River and distanced 15 metres from the river’s edge. (These days, however, booms installed where the Niagara River leaves Lake Erie prevent any heavy flow of ice over the Falls.) There seems to be some doubt about why the Rainbow Bridge is so called …

65. … but these photographs should lay that doubt to rest. From this angle, the rainbow seems to emerge from the heart of the Horseshoe Falls.

66. Rainbows are caused by sunlight refracted by water vapour in the air when one stands with one’s back to the sun. Here at Niagara, some of the water plunging over the Falls is vaporized and turns into a floating mist. On a cold, windless day like today, the water droplets eventually settle on the riverbank close to the lip of the Falls and freeze, encrusting whatever is there with ice. This produces some otherworldly effects, such as with this riverside foliage …

67. … this small tree in the park by the Table Rock Visitor Centre …

68. … and this metal railing at the Table Rock scenic viewpoint.

69. An antique-style lamp standard with Christmas trimmings is transformed into a giant frost monster.

70. Icicles hang from the roof of the Visitor Centre. Every so often some of them fall with a crash as the sun warms them.

71. The area at the foot of the Incline Railway that links the Fallsview Tourist Area to the Table Rock Centre.

72. The tree-covered Escarpment slope beneath the Fallsview hotels and casino.

73. The Niagara River just above the Falls, not yet confined by its Gorge, is broad. The water gathers speed as it prepares to plunge over the lip.

74. Seagulls on a rock a couple of metres from the lip of the Falls seem oblivious to their dramatic setting.

75. Only a few hundred metres farther upstream, and we are out of the microclimate of frozen water vapour produced by the Horseshoe Falls.

Photograph of E.J. Lennox courtesy of Wikipedia.

76. This massive Beaux-Arts edifice backing onto the Niagara River above the Falls is the former Toronto Power Generating Station. 130 metres long, it was completed in 1906 to provide hydroelectric power to the city of Toronto. The architect was Edward James Lennox (1854-1933), responsible for many of Toronto’s notable buildings, including Old City Hall and Casa Loma. The generating station was shut down in 1974, as it produced outdated 25-cycle electricity, and the upgraded Adam Beck I & II stations at Queenston took up the slack. The building, a National Historic Site, is currently vacant.

Photograph of Sir Harry Oakes courtesy of Wikipedia

77. Oak Hall looms over the Niagara Parkway just south of the Generating Station. A stone mansion in Tudor style, it was built in 1929 by Sir Harry Oakes (1874-1943), an American-born multimillionaire who made his fortune in Canadian gold mines. Oakes lived here only until 1935, when he moved to the Bahamas to avoid Canadian taxes. These days, Oakes may chiefly be remembered as the victim of a gruesome unsolved murder in Nassau, the Bahamian capital. The novelist William Boyd, long fascinated by the case, describes the circumstances of Oakes’s murder on 8 July 1943: “Sir Harry had died from blows to the head made with some sort of spiked club. Then his body was covered in petrol, the down from a pillow tipped over it and the bed was set on fire. But, even though the body was badly scorched, the fire didn’t take … The local CID made an urgent call reporting the murder to the governor of the Bahamas – who just happened to be the former king of England, Edward VIII, now His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor.” There have been numerous books and films about the Oakes murder, and it has generated innumerable conspiracy theories. Oak Hall is currently the headquarters of the Niagara Parks Commission.

Part 7 coming … eventually!