Westbound Day 7 – Niagara Falls (USA to Canada)

Friday, 24 June 1994

I’m beginning to believe there is some sort of curse of the Wheelers that ensures whenever we visit notable waterfalls not only does water fall over the fall it also falls from the sky. A few years ago we visited Africa’s Niagara, the Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border, and hardly saw a thing for the incessant downpour. There have been other rain obscured falls visit since. Niagara starts the same way but we do manage to see the falls between the showers (well storms on some occasions) although we end the day with a lot of wet clothes.

I visited Niagara once before in the early ‘60s and two things about it absolutely fascinated me. Thirty years later there’s no change, the same things prove of equal fascination to Kieran who is only a few years younger than I was on that earlier visit. One was the sheer idiocy of going over the falls in barrels and other barrel-like devices. The museum I remember showing those crazy contraptions has been relocated to the Canadian side’s Imax Theatre but the wooden barrels, steel drums, foam-skinned capsules, giant spheres and devices made out of huge inner tubes all provide the same morbid interest!

Niagara’s other long lasting memory was the story of an involuntary, but successful, trip over the falls by a seven year old boy in 1960. The boy and his 17 year old sister were out on the river with a neighbor in his boat. The outboard motor failed, the boat overturned and  they were carried towards the falls. The  boy and the man were swept over the falls but the girl managed to hang on to the boat and miraculously was grabbed at the very brink of the falls by two onlookers. The man joined the list of people for whom the the falls was the last trip of their life but the young boy survived, the only person ever to go over the falls without a barrel and live to tell the tale. The event was only a year or two old when I last visited Niagara but today it has been immortalised on film, once more at the Imax Theatre.

This time Niagara’s lasting memory will probably be how wonderfully color co-ordinated everybody is. Passengers on the falls-seeing Maid of the Mist boats, are all kitted out in blue raincoats while visitors to the walkways of the Cave of the Winds are all in yellow. We joined the yellow raincoat bridgade  which takes you down by elevator to the base of the American Falls and then follows a wooden walkway from lookout deck to lookout deck. It culminates in the Hurricane Deck where you stand virtually under the falls. If there’s a more ridiculous human activity than standing under a 180 ft high waterfall in a yellow raincoat it’s hard to think of it. Every second hundreds of gallons of water arrives on your head at 75 mph on the Hurricane Deck but it must be run by displaced Californians because there’s a  large No Smoking sign.

Niagara FallsLater in the day we looked back across the river to the American Falls from the Canadian side and realised that the Cave of the Winds walk was a perfect life size imitation of the computer game Lemmings. In Lemmings players have to save echelons of identical little people from certain destruction and the rows of  yellow-raincoated visitors looked exactly like lemmings.

Popping out of the elevator they marched up and down the walkways in neatly organised single file. The only deviance from the computer game was that for some reason when they marched up to the mighty downpour they were not all instantly washed off the screen. In fact the whole group, having milled around on that wet top deck, all formed up in single file again and marched neatly back to the elevator entrance. A perfect game, we saved 100% of the lemmings.

Niagara, apart from the two great falls, is one huge fairground with countless tawdry museums, numerous rides and sideshows, several lookout towers and the whole thing floating in a sea of fast food restaurants. Dinner at the revolving restaurant felt like it should be in keeping with the spirit but come dinnertime the rain was again bucketing down and the cloud level was so low you could not  even see the top of the tower. We opted for Italian food at ground level. A good cappucino too.