Niagara Falls then and now

I visited Niagara Falls many years ago as a 6-year-old and my only memory is that my new patent leather pumps got soaked during the ride on the Maid of the Mist.
I returned to the falls in July with my kids and grandkids, and it was an entirely different experience. We were awed and amazed — figuratively and (nearly) literally blown away by this Wonder of the Natural World.
We drove from northeastern Ohio, through Pennsylvania on to New York’s Interstate 90, which parallels the southern coast of Lake Erie. The landscape here is blanketed by grapevines for as far as the eye can see.
Driving through Buffalo toward the Canadian border, it was a bit depressing to see all the abandoned and rusting factories from the former boom days. After a bit of delay at the border, we arrived at our hotel, trucked our luggage up to our room on the 30th-something floor and gazed out the window. Below was a spectacular view of both the American and Horseshoe falls.
It was a good show — watching the millions of gallons of water cascade over the cliffs on its way from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and eventually out to the Atlantic Ocean — but it couldn’t compare with the up-close-and-personal encounter that a ride on the Maid of the Mist can offer.
The first Maid, built in 1846, was a steam-powered sidewheeler with smokestacks. The first “modern” Maid, known as Maid of the Mist I, was built in 1955 of steel, was 66 feet long and featured a 200 horsepower engine. Today’s Maid VI and VII are 80 feet long, have 350 horsepower engines and carry up to 600 passengers.
This time, tennis shoes have replaced patent leather pumps, and blue plastic ponchos have replaced the heavy yellow slickers visitors wore in the 1950s. I was skeptical that these ponchos could really keep us dry because they are so flimsy, but surprisingly, they did a fairly decent job.
The Maid’s 30-minute ride first takes visitors past the very scenic and powerful American Falls, which drop 182 feet onto a rocky slope on the New York side of the river. I was told that, a few years ago, these falls were actually “turned off” so engineers could reinforce the walls to help slow the erosion.
As we passed the falls, like so many others, we had our cameras out, snapping away. But as we neared the larger, 187-foot-high Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, we stowed our cameras. The winds were ferocious and the water needled us at a near-horizontal angle. We clung tightly to our 3-and-a-half-year-old grandsons, who weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
It’s difficult to describe the fury of the falls unless you’re there, but you can get a glimpse of the experience with the video at www.maidofthemist.com/en/ .
As for the town of Niagara Falls, two words: tourist trap.
Our grandsons were in heaven. There was junk and kitsch at every turn — like the Styrofoam swords they couldn’t live without. I passed on the $1 postcards and $5 and $6 ice cream cones. We picked the wrong restaurant for dinner. It was pricey and the service was poor, but we did find a reasonable breakfast buffet the next morning.
Another pity: the presence of the too-large, too-high Fallsview Casino Resort which sits too close to the river gorge and falls. Fortunately, there is the splendidly green and flowering Queen Victoria Park to counterbalance this faux pas. The beautifully maintained park, which runs parallel to the river, offers mammoth shade trees, a rock garden, a large tea rose garden, colorful ground cover, a koi pond topped with lily pads and acres of green lawn.
It all made me a bit
nostalgic for patent leather shoes.

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