Wednesday, May 11

Three hours in Canada

The mighty Niagara Falls straddles the border between Canada and the United States. The Falls consist of three separate water courses; the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal veil Falls. During late-Spring more than 2,800 m3 of water per second plunges into the Niagara Gorge; with almost 90% of this volume passing over the Horseshoe Falls alone. As a result, the Horseshoe Falls are by far the largest and highest of the three falls. Here the Niagara River plunges more than 53 metres; spread along a 760 metre crescent-shaped span; the centre of which marks the international border.

I first visited the falls in November 1983. I still vividly recall the awesome sight of the Horseshoe Falls seen from the edge of the Canadian shore. Incredibly, an observation deck sits barely a metre from falls dramatic edge. Here you can clearly see the aqua green water flowing by, almost within touching distance. I was thrilled to discover last weekend that the same spot was still accessible to visitors. I can report that the humbling sense of awe you experience hasn’t dimmed in 28 years.

Equally enthralling is the dramatic cruise to the spray-drenched base of the Horseshoe Falls on the deck of a Maid of Mist boat. A 20-minute boat ride up the Niagara Gorge takes you past the boulder-strewn foot of the American Falls and on into the spray clouds that envelope the might Horseshoe Falls. It’s almost impossible to describe the sensation of looking up through the mist as an encircling crest of white water, high above your head, plunges into the abyss. Equally memorable is the moment of confusion you experience as rain suddenly seems to fall from the clear blue sky above. This is the moment the boat crosses into the shadow of the mist cloud rising perpetually above the Falls. Awesome!

On Sunday we started our tour of Falls from the American side; starting with a Maid of the Mist tour which departs from the base of the American Falls. We then crossed the 290-metre wide Rainbow Bridge into Canada to view the same Falls from the gorge’s opposite side. The international boundary can be identified by Canadian and American flags flying from the centre of the bridge. While in Canada, we stopped for a buffet lunch in the Sheraton Hotel. The restaurant was located a stunning 13 floors above the surrounding area. As you’d image, the view is simply spectacular.

After lunch I walked more than a kilometre along the gorge’s crest to the edge of the Horseshoe Falls before it was time to cross back to the United States. Both crossings of the border were faster than normal. Our tour guide attributed the light traffic to people staying home to celebrate Mother’s Day. The speed of our crossing gave us time to take a detour down the gorge to observe the Whirlpool. Here the Niagara River flows into a natural caldera whose curve sends the river swirling in a large arc that eventually crosses its original path. The result is a series of spectacular whirlpools and vortexes. Above the swirling waters a lone red cable car crosses the chasm. Our guide explained that passengers avoid crossing the border by taking the ride in both directions and thus never disembark.

Our day tour finished with a visit to Goat Island which separates the American Falls from the Horseshoe Falls. This was a real highlight for me. I never saw the falls from this vantage point in 1983. Here you can stand on the edge of the American Falls and watch an impossibly large volume of water pour into the gorge below. It’s almost as stunning as the Canadian Horseshoe Falls observation deck. I stood there for almost ten minutes trying to comprehend why anyone would intentionally want to take the plunge. To date, at least 15 people have done so. The first was Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old Michigan school teacher. She went over the falls in barrel.

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