Once upon Niagara Falls

September 8, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“Constance, can we go to Niagara Falls this year?” asked my Ugandan friend, Caroline. She said, “Every year I come to Canada and then I go home and everybody ask me, ’did you go to Niagara Falls?’”

She told me, “After all these years, I’ve never been.”

I promised her, “Yes, we certainly can.” And so it was decided. 

Caroline Neumbe used to come to Canada, where her sister lives in Toronto, to bring batiks, art, jewellery, sculptures, and many other things from Uganda to sell at a variety of festivals here, particularly the CNE. That’s where we met her, the only year we brought our Celtic Fair jewellery to the International Building at the Ex.

That year, Caroline was five months pregnant; so, the two young people working with us were frequently of assistance to her. Anyway, years later, once she was done working the CNE, it was early in September, 2017, she and I took our trip to Niagara Falls. 

I love going to the Falls. Let no one bother me about the crowds of people, the silly shows and stores and wax museum. I don’t care. I love the power and the energy of the Falls, they way they change the air. How great every photograph you take comes out. So, I was definitely the right person to take Caroline to see it all.

There is always lots of room to park and this was easily done right across the road from the complex housing the tourist information, the ticket office for many of the sights, the entrance to the walk behind the Falls and Table Rock restaurant.

Much as I like to go to the Falls, years can go by, between trips and some things have changed; some things haven’t; the walk behind the Falls was one that had stayed pretty much as is.

It was our first adventure: acquire a water proof, if not particularly substantial, hooded poncho; down the 125 feet of elevator, down through the rock passages that had taken years to drill, to the observation decks and the portals, standing directly behind the Falls. By George, there’s a sense of power, where, as the tourist information declares – a little unbelievably, “one-fifth of the world fresh water [crashes] down the the basin below.”

My companion was truly in awe of the experience of the portals, which were barred views of the Falls from inside the rock over which they flow. It is a raw place, rather wet and rather wild, without the need to scream. A simple arrangement for a genuine thrill.

We made our way to the observation decks, afterward, for an outside close-up view; these also present an interesting and, in their way, exciting aspect, but not necessarily an enticement to go shopping for a barrel, that strange, old fashioned conveyance chosen by people a hundred years or more ago, in which to attempt the voyage over the falls. It was a plan that rarely worked out well… 

Back on the street, we strolled along the road to my personal favourite treat at the Falls, on what used to be the Maid of the Mist, now the Hornblower, that fabulous boat, ferrying its passengers right up to the Falls. (The Maid of the Mist was sold to the Americans after many years in service and was replaced by the Hornblower, for anyone else who hasn’t been there for a while).

I noticed my guest’s hesitance. “Are you sure it’s alright?” she asked me, somewhat dubiously.

I assured her fervently of its safety and good reputation. A little timorously, I thought, wondering a bit about it, she accepted another poncho and, watching her steps carefully, came aboard. 

Of course, it’s just the best: steaming along the raging water, that definitely makes a difference to how the Captain steers his vessel but, with years of experience, all’s well. The ferry edges its way toward the furious tumble of water (one fifth of the world’s fresh water!) and, sure enough, we swirl in its eddy, soaking us and we, now including Caroline, rejoice in the joining, the very brief sense of being part of it – yet, without harm – just a rush. Too soon, we pulled away and headed back to the dock, to walk the plank and stagger somewhat back on to shore.

All this: the strolling, picture taking, conversation, stopping to admire, everything that goes with such a day, had taken as long as we liked and what remained was to eat. First choice was the Table Rock Restaurant for its wonderful, close-up view of the Falls. Its style and format has been elevated since its days as a more family oriented establishment to fine dining. So, that was great as well. 

We sat, enjoying the service and the meal and, at one point, over dessert, I think, Caroline had an admission that explained a lot: “Constance,” she said, “that was the first time in my whole life, I have ever been on a boat!”

Memories are made of this….

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