Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mythic Niagara Falls

****GUEST BLOG****

The Grumpy Penguin spent the day at a Social Marketing Summit presented by Enterprise Toronto at the Scarborough Civic Centre. A full blog post on this event will be available for public consumption on Wednesday. As the A/C was not working at today's event, Grumpy P took the rest of the day off and has asked a special Guest Blogger to fill in for one post.

The Guest Blogger for today is Sarah Gledhill, who could probably have used a day off herself but stepped up to the plate like a champ. (Love ya, honey!)

Here is her Guest Post!


Last Friday I insisted that we turn on the TV to watch Nik Wallenda walk the tightrope across Niagara Falls. I had been reading in the paper for days about his intent to perform the feat, and surprised myself with my own excitement at seeing the event.

Nik Wallenda
credit: cc ThaddeusB, Flickr

I’ve long felt a personal connection to the Falls, even though I’m not from there, nor do I have any familial ties to the area. Yet, for me, Niagara has an incredible draw, not just the beautiful, powerful waterfall itself, but also the history and myth surrounding the region and the town.

Journey Behind the Falls, no raincoats in winter!

I do remember visiting several times as a kid, and especially descending the dank elevator to what seemed like the depths of the earth to the “Journey Behind the Falls” attraction. At the bottom, my family donned heavy rubber raincoats (they’re disposal lightweight plastic nowadays), and walked along 2 tunnels to various openings in the rock face to stand behind the water’s mighty roar up close. Thrilling!

Love Dinosaurs? Love mini-putt? Have we got an attraction for you!
credit: cliftonhill.com

Once I was in my early twenties, I found myself in Niagara fairly often. This was because I had a job as an attendant on VIA rail, and one of the routes I ended up working quite often was to Niagara Falls. This route continued on into the U.S., where American workers staffed it. So the train would off-load Canadian supplies and employees at the Niagara Falls train station. The bonus of this was that I had most of the day free in town to wander around or to take a nap in the hotel room I was supplied. I got to see some of the real town where tourists don’t often tread, but also to really enjoy the kitschiest of attractions! I would spend the afternoon in Clifton Hill roaming through all the crowds of tourists, the noise and the dinosaur-themed mini-golf courses, Ripley’s museum, arcades, souvenir shops and unfamiliar American fast-food joints (which we didn’t see elsewhere in Canada much in the 1990’s). Where everywhere else at that cynical age I rejected sentimentality, history and kitsch, in Niagara Falls I embraced it all with only a guilty giggle.

The boardwalk along the rapids 
credit: niagarafallsmarriott.com

I particularly remember one visit to the White Water Walk attraction, a boardwalk along the rapids in the Niagara Gorge beneath the Falls. This included a museum with many of the barrels and contraptions that daredevils have attempted, successfully, and more often, unsuccessfully, to ride down the waterfalls in. I was rapt in fascination with the number of people who have felt the desire to conquer the impossible, to prove themselves undefeated by one of the most powerful shows of nature we have. I suppose that one of Niagara Falls’ main draws is how it symbolizes our own life force and of our own struggles against mortality.

Honeymooners have long flocked there to lounge in heart-shaped hotel baths, and stare in awe at the enormous volume of water gushing in eager abundance over the precipice. What better symbol of life and vitality?

So too, daredevils have flocked to Niagara to prove that man can conquer death, not only by lunging over the edge in barrels, but also by crossing on tightropes and building tunnels, boardwalks, a gondola, the Maid of the Mist and high-speed boats that allow every tourist to feel the thrill of defeating death, too.

The Great Blondin, carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back

I have read before about tightrope walkers in Niagara’s past, particularly about “The Great Blondin” who crossed the gorge many times, and trumped everyone by carrying his reluctant manager on his back on a particularly harrowing, but ultimately successful, crossing.

So, hunkered down on the sofa last Friday, I watched eagerly to see if Nik Wallenda would be successful. Why? Because we are truly living in uncertain times. The world economy’s a mess. Wars rage in Syria, Africa and all over the world. Human beings are migrating at an alarming rate, and the environment grows more polluted everyday. We need to feel that we can conquer the impossible and overcome our greatest struggles. A single person can do the unthinkable, crossing a raging river plunging over a rocky gorge on a precarious wire and survive.

As an optimist, I rejoiced that he made it across, with seeming poise, ease and joy, conquering (for now) his, and our, final adversary.

Nik Wallenda pumps his fist in victory!credit: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / THE CANADIAN PRESS


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Gavin! I could write a great deal about Niagara Falls - it is rich in history. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I think you're lucky to have landed up with a job in the city of the Niagara Falls. There is a lot of stuff that you can enjoy besides the falls like the casinos for the adults, museums and amusement parks for the kids and a lot more.


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