Niagara Falls (Ontario) is probably one of Canada’s main attractions and is certainly a popular day (or weekend) trip from Toronto. Living in Toronto myself, just an hour or so away, I’ve been to Niagara Falls numerous times. For those who have been, you know that it’s an odd place of contrasts. For all the natural beauty of the Falls themselves and of the lush green park spanning the escarpment, there is also the incredibly tacky side of Niagara Falls…Clifton Hill. With it’s wax museums, sweet shops, arcades and midway-style rides, it’s a strange place for sure.
Clifton Hill is a relatively short street (a hill) in Niagara Falls that runs perpendicular to the escarpment. While the gardens and the Falls epitomize the splendour of mother nature, Clifton Hill showcases the odd amusements of human nature – marvelling in the freaky, spooky and excessive.
Thankfully, the high rising Niagara SkyWheel bridges the gap between these two worlds. Half-way up Clifton Hill it towers above the craziness offering riders beautiful views of the Falls.
The Maid of the Mist, a boat that sailed visitors head-on into the famous Horseshoe Falls for what seems like forever has now been retired and replaced by Hornblower boat tours. This is a great way to truly experience the Horseshoe Falls and appreciate the power of their thundering water. We’ve taken our children a number of times as well as visiting guests.
While I’ve enjoyed many of the attractions in the area over the years, there are a few I have never managed to fit in…..until today.
Today was a road trip day. It started with a Tim Horton’s coffee – as all good Canadian road trips should (in my opinion) – and a drive to Niagara Falls to FINALLY experience the Journey Behind the Falls. As soon as we arrived we headed to the Table Rock Welcome Centre where we bought our tickets, pulled on our complimentary yellow ponchos and took an elevator down 45 meters, through bedrock, to reach tunnels that would lead us to 2 different portals located behind the Falls.
Observation decks at the bottom of the Falls gave us great views of the Falls as they crashed into the river. The view was much like what I would imagine surfers see as they’re heading into a crested wave. It was loud and very wet.
The tunnels leading to the portals where we could view the backside of the Falls were also dripping with water, dark and echoing the crashing of the water rushing down ahead of us. To be honest, it wasn’t quite what I had imagined. In fact, you really had to use your imagination to envision what you were looking at. The portals showed such a small portion of the impressive sheet of water in front of us that with all the spray clouding our view, it really just looked like a white wall. A loud, white wall. A larger view giving some perspective of the speed of the water or the force of its weight hitting the river below would have improved the experience for me. I’m sure I’m probably not appreciating the enormous challenges and safety considerations of building tunnels and portals behind such a massive water Fall though. Maybe I’m a tough customer??
Determined to cross one other Niagara Falls experience off my list, my 10-year-old niece and I pulled off our yellow ponchos and headed up Clifton Hill to the House of Frankenstein. It’s a classic attraction on the hill that has been there for decades. We walked past 3 other houses of terror to get there and almost backed out after seeing a snippet of video playing at its entrance – I can’t watch anything where people’s bodies twitch unnaturally. Freaky! My niece had a tiny flashlight in hand which made the walk through the house marginally better, marginally. I stood behind my niece and wrapped my arms around her and together we shuffled our way, slowly, through the never-ending, narrow, DARK DARK hallways. There were screams – not all of which came from us – and cages, and dead bodies and things dangling and air shooting at us unexpectedly and videos flashing disturbing images. More than once we thought about bailing but ultimately turning back seemed just as bad as continuing on and we’d both seen the sign that said “no refunds for chickens”. Were we scared? Yes. Was it actually scary? I’d say yes. Ultimately the fear of the unknown around each corner caught my breath and had my heart pumping…..but maybe I’m not such a tough customer when it comes to scaring me.
Have you walked through Clifton Hill’s House of Frankenstein? Were you scared?