Niagara Falls - U.S. vs. Canada
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Two chasms separate the US from Canada at Niagara Falls. The first, formed by water, has been there for thousands of years. The second, formed by fun -- or the lack of it -- has been there only a decade or two. Yet the second has grown so wide that it has eclipsed its older counterpart and vividly brings to mind images of old East vs. West Berlin, only this time the United States are the bad guys.
Twenty years ago the US and Canada were relatively in balance on the tomfoolery teeter-totter at Niagara Falls. Since then, however, American attractions have slunk across the mocking "Rainbow Bridge" to set up shop on foreign soil. They are no fly-by-night waxworks and funnelcake stands (although Niagara Falls, Canada, has its share of these, too) but reassuringly familiar American corporate attractions, names you know and trust: Marineland, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, even Hershey's has defected (You'll also find Canada-based Ripley's Believe It Or Not! and the Brits' Guinness World Records attractions -- as happy to woo rubes here as they are in locations all over the USA).
The result is bleak: the best the American side can offer today are big block letters on the side of a warehouse, "Nabisco: Home of Triscuit," and an old ice cream cone-shaped custard stand on our end of the bridge. The only hint of tourist enticement is an exit off Niagara Blvd.: "Power Authority Water Intakes Overlook Parking" -- and it was blocked by sawhorses when we visited. (The "Power Vista," we've learned, has since reopened.)
How did America allow this to happen? The view can't be the reason -- Canada has always had a better view of the falls. Poor tax policy? Inept local government? Have wily Canucks corrupted weak-willed Niagara Falls, USA, civic leaders with bribes of maple syrup candy and passes to after-dark Bingo slams in Beamsville and Moose Jaw?
We can only observe and record, and to do that we have to travel to where the action is -- Niagara Falls, Canada, a tourist mecca so gridlocked with cruising teens, overstimulated families, and bewildered Europeans as to be nearly impassable. It is the corporate glitz of Times Square merged with the chaos of an Asian bazaar, and it is also probably the warmest place in the Dominion.
The free, natural beauty at Niagara Falls, Canada, is, as at all Roadside meccas, merely an excuse to draw people who can then be distracted by attractions that charge money. The tourism economy booms several blocks inland, in the area surrounding the intersection of Clifton St. ("The street of fun at the falls") and Victoria Ave. Around this axis is grouped the most dense concentration of wax museums and haunted houses on Earth. Within a three block radius we saw Screamers ("House of Horrors!"), The House Of Frankenstein ("The Fear Starts Here!"), Creatures Of The Night ("This Time There Is No Way Out!"), The Haunted House ("A Horrifying Experience!"), and Horror Manor ("Chambers Of Terror!"). Screamers seemed the most promising, if only for its enticing brochure copy: "Find out why over 27,000 visitors have chickened out since 1998 after meeting Tony the Tongue."
Still, for the purposes of comparison, and a lack of desire to shove our way through bands of funnelcake-stuffed families, we opted to compare two attractions standing side-by-side at Ground Zero -- an old favorite, Criminals Hall Of Fame Wax Museum, and one of the new breed, Alien Encounter.
Then we beat a hasty retreat back home, where dollars are paper and traffic signs are in one language.