Canada Day at Niagara Falls, Ontario

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If you just arrived from the previous page, you know that I boldly declared the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to be the better side — something that wasn’t easy for me, a proud American, to say.  But, I think this picture proves it.  They’ve even got rainbows over here!

The views are simply better, once you’ve crossed the bridge into Ontario.  You get a full, straight-on view of Horseshoe Falls (above), as well as the American Falls.  In exchange for man-made attractions like Cave of the Winds, on this side you get Casinos, restaurants, and a long walkway that provides endless places to stand and gaze at this natural wonder, for free.

Yes, visiting the Canadian side was a great idea.  Visiting it on July 1 was not.  And I, being a stupid American, thought I was being smart.  I had a 4-day weekend off of work (though I had to work on the actual American holiday, the 4th of July).  I knew anywhere I would go in the USA, I would face tremendous crowds of people enjoying the holiday weekend.  Then, my light bulb came on!  I would go to Canada, where surely, no one would be celebrating the 4th of July!

And I was right.  They weren’t celebrating the 4th, they were celebrating the 1st of July, which just happens to be Canada Day.  And apparently, the entire nation of Canada celebrates it, by visiting Niagara Falls.

It didn’t take me long to realize I was in the middle of a tremendous mess of people.  After a very slow drive down Niagara Parkway (the road that parallels the sidewalk that parallels the Niagara River), I realized there were going to be no easy, convenient parking spots.  So, I begrudgingly headed to a remote lot, about 2.8 kilometers (1.75 miles) from Horseshoe Falls, and for the second time that day, paid $10 to park.  Except this time, it was that fake-looking Canadian money, so I didn’t worry so much about it.

The remote lot, south of the falls, offered a shuttle…

… that dropped me off at the Table Rock complex, which is at the brink of Horseshoe Falls.

Thanks to the never-ceasing mist created by Horseshoe Falls, it’s always raining here — which makes it a very bad place to pull out a camera.

From Table Rock, it’s easy to continue walking north, and as you do, you get an increasingly wonderful view of Horseshoe Falls…

… and an almost guaranteed rainbow, especially in the afternoon, when the sun is shining in the right place.  Watch for Maid of the Mist boats to drift into position, to create the perfect photo opportunity.

Walk further up, and you’re getting closer to the American Falls.  They, too, are brilliantly lit by the afternoon sun, along with the city of Niagara Falls, New York in the background.

Looking across, you can see the folks who are hanging out on the American side.  This is the viewpoint on the north side of the American Falls (the last place pictured on the previous page).

I had a couple of hours to go until sunset, and I knew I wanted to hang around long enough to see the falls illuminated by colored spotlights.  So, I decided to kill a little time by walking up Murray Street.  It climbs uphill towards Niagara Falls, Ontario’s downtown, which is also where you’ll find the city’s towering casinos, hotels…

… and the Skylon Tower, which stands 160 metres (520 feet) above street level and 236 metres (775 feet) from the base of the falls.  There is an observation deck and two restaurants at the top.

A pedestrian bridge crosses Murray Street.  From it, you get a so-so view of the American Falls, and an excellent view of the buildings in downtown Niagara Falls, New York.

I grabbed a snack from a convenience store/gift shop at the top of the hill, and relaxed for a while, before heading back down into the crowds along the Niagara Parkway.

About a half-hour before sunset, I somehow managed to squeeze into a spot along the railing, which offered a decent view of Horseshoe Falls (upstream) and American Falls (directly across).  Then, I waited for the light show to begin.  I used the time to think, “How on earth am I going to get out of here tonight?”.  My car was two miles away, and I could barely move without running into another person.  Traffic was at a near-standstill on the parkway.

My plan was to watch the lights come on, shoot as many pictures as I could, as quickly as possible, then make a run for the shuttle terminal, back at Table Rock — hopefully hopping aboard before the fireworks began.

The only problem was, the lights came on late, and even when they did, they weren’t very impressive at first.  They looked like spots on an otherwise beautiful cascade of water.

It wasn’t until it got darker, when the entire falls began to glow.  (That’s Bridal Veil Falls, part of the American Falls.)

The entire scene, looking north, was incredible, especially once I added the Rainbow Bridge into the frame.

To the south, the mist from Horseshoe Falls was partially shading the falls.  Eventually, I decided I had captured the best picture possible, packed up, and started heading south.

Oh, so many people.  They were everywhere.  On the sidewalks, in the grass, in the street.  How was I going to get out of here?

In the midst of my stress, I took what I consider my best photograph of the night — and to my amazement, it wasn’t of the falls.  These are the super-powered spotlights that shine across the river, illuminating the falls.  The slope below these lights was filled with a thousand people, all of whom were wondering why I was taking a picture, looking in the wrong direction.

Back at Table Rock, as I crossed the Niagara Parkway, I looked down on the dismal traffic situation.  Moments later, I arrived at the shuttle station, but there were no shuttles.  They couldn’t get there, because the road was at a standstill.

When the fireworks began, I accepted the reality that I was going to be arriving at my hotel (near Toronto) very, very late.  I unpacked my tripod, and took a few shots of the display.  Then, I hurried back into the line at the tram stop.

It took quite a while for that tram to get there, and by the time it did, a massive crowd had formed around me.  I started thinking about those soccer games in some faraway country, where you hear about people being crushed.  This was a similar situation, but in this case, there were also rolling wheels passing right in front of us, and hundreds of people trying to be the first to board.  After getting pushed and shoved for a while, and watching two shuttles pull forward and let others board, I knew that this was a hopeless, dangerous situation.  I backed out of the crowd, and started walking — nearly two miles, in the dark, sometimes on a sidewalk, and other times on the road.  Amazingly, I found a staircase that led up the hill and to the parking area, then managed to find my car.  It was a scary experience, and I hope Niagara Falls, Ontario gets its act together before next year.

As you can imagine, traffic on the freeways leading out of Niagara Falls was just as horrendous as the pedestrian traffic at the falls.  But I eventually made it to my hotel, safe and sound, having learned an important lesson about visiting Canada on July 1.

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