Several hundred feet above ground level, my 15-year-old daughter, Elly, and I are sipping frozen strawberry daiquiris—hers virgin, mine decidedly not—and dreamily watching the twinkling lights of Ontario go by as the Skylon Tower restaurant slowly revolves on its circular base.
Not mindful that the perimeter remains stationary while our table moves, I’ve already lost my napkin twice on the window ledge. Reaching back hastily to reclaim it, I notice small black frames interspersed along the shelf, each containing a curious factoid about the area. The one inching past me reads:
In 1901, Annie Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher from Bay City, Michigan, was the first person to successfully go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel.
“Know anything about your new teachers?” I ask, casually.
The two of us are on a five-day mother-daughter spree, escaping the schedule overload holding my husband and son hostage back in New York City. The summer I was six, my family embarked on a grand tour of America with Niagara Falls as our first stop. I have memories of knee-high rubber boots, long yellow raincoats, and a whole lot of water. Now it’s time for me to introduce the big gusher to a child of my own.
Of course, this isn’t Elly’s first encounter with the falls; she’s seen them in photographs and films—who can forget Superman ripping past the powerful rush?In an attempt to appease a jaded teen, and avoid the mob scene, I’d come up with a watertight plan: two nights at Sheraton on the Falls, right in the thick of things, followed by three at the Harbour House Hotel in the lovely Georgian town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. We’d approach the falls from above and below, upriver and down, not to mention by foot, bike, and boat. Forget just skimming the surface; we were in for full immersion.
About a fifth of all the freshwater on the continent tumbles over the Horseshoe Falls, which extends 2,200 feet—the length of six football fields.
Niagara Falls, in fact, is not just one waterfall, but three, all of them crashing into the lower Niagara River. Although both the American and the Bridal Veil are situated stateside, Canada’s single cascade, the Horseshoe, is larger than the other two combined and has the riverbank with picture-perfect vantage points to view it all. Of the 14 million visitors that tour the region each year, the vast majority head straight for Canada. Elly and I are no exception; we drove straight through Niagara Falls, New York, which, despite a recent flurry of development, is still a ghost town of abandoned 1960’s architecture.
“Daddy, can you hear the falls?” Elly asked when she stepped for the first time onto a balcony in our corner suite at the Sheraton, pointing her cell phone toward the roar. Our 20th-story perch has floor-to-ceiling windows, panoramic views, and real-life audio. For the stereo effect, I pulled back the curtains and opened all the balcony doors. We lay on the king-size bed, mesmerized by the sight and sound of 750,000 gallons of water hurtling over the rocks every second.
A deep, rumbling noise—emanating from my stomach—roused us from our reverie. It was already early evening; time to eat. Leaving our hotel, we walked into the eye of the storm: Clifton Hill, a street originating at the promenade along the river, is the epicenter of the infamous sideshow that has sprung up around the falls. Since the 19th century, hoteliers have been luring guests to Niagara with outlandish novelties—one cruelly sent an ark full of animals over the cataract. Today’s attractions include wax museums and glow-in-the-dark mini golf. We decided to rise above it all.
The Skylon Tower was constructed using 61 million pounds of concrete and 3,200 miles of cable and electrical wiring.