Niagara Falls are a must-see Canadian treasure. So why are many Canadians ambivalent towards them?

June 30, 2017

On July 1, Canadians from coast to coast will celebrate the Great White North's 150th birthday. And since G Adventures is headquartered in Canada — we were founded in 1990 in Toronto, Ontario — we thought it only fitting that we dedicate a week to weird, wild and wonderful stories about the second biggest country in the world. Happy 150th birthday, Canada!

About 12 million people visit Niagara Falls, Ontario, every year and I’m usually — reluctantly — one of them.

It wasn’t always this way. I grew up going to the Falls at least once a summer with my parents, visiting Marineland and traipsing up and down Clifton Hill before muscling our way to the front of the crowds overlooking the actual waterfall. I was thrilled by the legends of people going over the Falls in barrels, and would always try to imagine what it would be like. We’d find our spot at the curlicued iron railings — which always seemed surprisingly low to me, even as an eight-year-old — and take photos to commemorate the experience. This was before selfie sticks or even cellphones with front-facing cameras, and my immigrant parents, who moved us to Canada from Trinidad when I was four years old, were too shy, or maybe too suspicious, to hand over their camera to any of the strangers who I’m sure were willing to take a photo. So there was always someone missing: here’s a shot of me and my dad, here’s a shot of me and my mom, but never all three of us in one photo.

Niagara Falls by night. Photo courtesy of anpalacios.

Niagara Falls by night. Photo courtesy of anpalacios.

Then, the best part: the nightly fireworks show. I loved every minute of it.

But as I got older, the charm wore off. Yes, that was an awful lot of water, but Marineland was downright atrocious, Clifton Hill was pretty cheesy, and the fudge wasn’t as good as I remembered.

But my lack of interest didn’t mean we stopped going. As family and friends from Trinidad started visiting more often there was hardly a year where we didn’t go at least once, and sometimes more. And as I got older, I became the primary driver for the hour-long journey between my family home — in Oakville, Ontario — and Niagara. Of course, it rarely took just an hour, since we’d usually go on a Saturday, when (seemingly) everyone in southern Ontario with relatives visiting from abroad had also decided to make the same trek.

I got really good at spotting the landmarks along the way: there’s the abandoned ship in Jordan, Ontario, the signs pointing the way to Megalomaniac Winery (which has my favourite name of Niagara’s many wineries), and Reif Estate (which has my favourite wine), the carved boat prow sculpture in the median just as you enter St. Catharines, which is about a half hour away from the falls, traffic permitting.

Stacy Lee Kong, far left, with out-of-town family members, at Niagara Falls.

Stacy Lee Kong, far left, with out-of-town family members, at Niagara Falls.

But though I was secretly — and sometimes (sorry, Mom) not so secretly — bored of making those annual treks, skipping them wasn’t an option. My dad had happily passed driving duty off to me, after all. And besides, it felt churlish to skip out on something my family was so excited to see. Because they were excited, and totally awestruck. Horseshoe Falls, the Canadian one of the three waterfalls that makes up Niagara Falls, is 55m (180 ft) high and allows 170,000 cubic metres (6 million cubic feet) of water over its crest every minute. Even though Trinidad has plenty of waterfalls all its own, and they’re uniformly lush, tropical, and beautiful, they don’t quite compare.

That’s why I really should be thrilled right along with my visiting family and friends. But it’s not unusual that I’m not: visitors might not be able to tell, but most of the (thousands upon thousands) of Canadian citizens who grudgingly take non- and new Canadians to this literal natural wonder of the world every year are similarly jaded. And we’re all there the same reason: Either those visitors have specifically requested this daytrip, or there’s some part of us that believes it’s worth seeing. Usually both. But our apologetic, humble, self-effacing Canadian-ness — which thinks the slightly seedy downtown core and aggressively fun midway vibe of Clifton Hill can’t compare to a pretty European coastline or, I don’t know, Iceland — gets in the way and, in the process, we end up ruining the Falls, and the joy of watching other people watching the Falls, for ourselves.

We ought to get over it. Frankly, it’s silly to feel vaguely ashamed of what is, objectively, an impressive landmark, particularly when the people we brought there keep telling us how much fun they’re having. Niagara Falls is actually pretty cool — and everyone else in the world knows it.

(The fudge still isn’t that good, though.)

Getting there

Want to see the Falls for yourself (from the Canadian side)? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Canada here.

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