By: Lynn Orgyzlo
Of the millions of visitors that come to see Niagara Falls each year, very few of them come in the winter – pity.
“So when do they turn off the falls?” asks Judy Honey of Fort Worth, Texas. It’s a hot summers day and Judy and her family are visiting Niagara Falls for the first time. She thinks it is “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” The falling water in front of her is a glistening, light green colour that turns white as it falls into billowy clouds of mist that float through the air, leaving a wet film over everything around it.
It’s the combination of height and volume of water flowing over the falls that makes it so beautiful, 6 million cubic feet per minute to be precise. That’s an awful lot of water and Judy turns to look back at the falls with a sense of amazement in her eyes. “So that explains the mist,” she mumbles.
But like many visitors, Judy was surprised to hear that Niagara in on the 43rd parallel, similar to northern California or south of Bordeaux, France. Like others that cross the border in July with skis fastened to the top of their cars, she believes it is always cold in Canada. So it makes sense then to turn off the falls in the winter, otherwise “wouldn’t they freeze solid?”
The speed and volume of water that flows over the falls makes it impossible for the water to freeze solid, but everything else around it does. “It’s the most beautiful time of the year,” says Elbert Wiersma of Niagara-on-the-Lake. He should know, Elbert is Executive Chef of Elements on the Falls Restaurant, perched directly in front of the falls. Chef Wiersma gets a front row view of Niagara Falls every spring, summer, fall and winter.
“Niagara Falls in the summer is beautiful, but Niagara Falls in the winter is pure magic,” says Chef Wiersma. Just imagine the freezing temperatures of January; the falling water stirs up mist that is carried by the wind to land on everything that surrounds it. Trees, rocks, railings, light posts and fences are coated in a thick layer of ice, dressed with icicles of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s covered with a layer of beautiful snowflakes, other times it shimmers like diamonds. It’s the stuff fairy tales and dreams are made of.
During the day the sun’s reflection makes the icy wonderland a shimmering oasis of beauty. Every evening, beginning at dusk, the Falls are lit in the colours of the rainbow that twinkle in the ice and the stunning beauty is romantically breathless. On Friday evenings and special occasions, the magic of the shimmering ice is amplified by explosive fireworks. It’s the Niagara Parks Commission’s fireworks series and it’s the longest running fireworks series in Canada (www.niagaraparks.com/niagara-falls-attractions/niagara-falls-fireworks). “Winter is the best time to be at Niagara Falls,” claims Chef Wiersma.
Of the more than 12 million visitors that come to see Niagara Falls each year, very few of them come in the winter – pity. While the surrounding vineyards and orchards may be dormant in the winter months, Niagara Falls is anything but.
If you’re looking for a weekend at the Falls this winter, here are a few good suggestions to make your stay a great one. With the purchase of a Niagara Parks Wonder Pass (www.niagaraparks.com), parking is free and so is the WeGo bus service.
The WeGo bus runs from the Floral Showcase (with plenty of parking) down the Niagara River Parkway into Niagara-on-the-Lake and back again stopping off at many beautiful destinations such as the Laura Secord Homestead, McFarland House, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory.
If you’re staying at one of the hotels with a magnificent front row view of the Falls, bundle up and head towards the Falls Incline Railway down to the Table Rock Welcome Centre. The new Falls Incline Railway takes you down the escarpment ridge in a warm, comfortable, civilized manner while offering up a spectacular view of Niagara Falls.
At the bottom of the escarpment, right in front of the Falls is the most beautiful skating rink in the world, the TD Rink at the Brink (of the Falls). Rent skates and helmets and have some fun during the day but it’s most spectacular at night when the area is illuminated. The lights sparkle all over everything from the ice beneath your skates to the ice surrounding Niagara Falls and every inch of frozen surface in between. It’s amazingly stunning.
After a good skate, you’ll be ready for a warm cup of hot chocolate, coffee or better yet, a sip of some fine Niagara wine. Walk through the aqueduct-style passageway that leads into the Table Rock Welcome Centre. Inside you’ll find Elements on the Falls Restaurant. Look for a front row seat because here the water is the fastest, the rapids most violent and thunder the loudest.
If you want a nibble, order the Apple Barge. It’s filo pastry with warm cinnamon apples drizzled with Icewine and topped with a bit of whipped cream. The desserts are created by Chef Wiersma who gets his inspiration from the wintery wonderland around him. If the Apple Barge is not available, try the yummy Icewine Fruit Tartlet and beware if he adds his own homemade raisins for they’re soaked in pure rum – yum!
When you’re warm and fortified, walk (in the same building) down to the Journey Behind the Falls path. It takes you below and behind the falling water and you’ll find yourself standing right in the mist and spray of the falling water. Reach your hand out for you can almost touch it; it is exciting and thrilling in a frightening sort of way.
After being thoroughly chilled, it’s time to warm up again. Niagara’s Fury is a short movie of the formation of Niagara Falls. It takes you back in time 10,000 years to follow the Falls from the mouth of Lake Ontario to where it is now. Niagara Falls is the fastest moving falls in the world, travelling at a whopping speed of 12-inches per year. Niagara’s Fury is a spectacular example of aerial photography over Niagara Falls and just good, wholesome entertainment.
If you’re not ready to head outside yet, do a bit of shopping in the Table Rock Welcome Centre. On the second level is Pop & Lolly’s, a fun and interactive Candy Shop. There’s also Canadian Treasures for Canadian Diamonds, Roots brand name wearables, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Kids Explor-it.
Walking is the best way to see the Falls, so dress warmly and head north along the Niagara River with full views of the American side of Niagara Falls. Breath in the pure, pristine, cool winter air, it’s nothing short of invigorating.
Take a left up Clifton Hill and hop on the Niagara SkyWheel. It towers 175 feet over the falls in heated pods for pure comfort. From here you get a great view of the river, falls and surrounding parklands covered in a white blanket of snowflakes and twinkling icicles.
For Judy Honey who is visiting Niagara Falls in the heat of the summer, she’s sorry to miss it at it’s most glamorous and magical time. For everyone else who can take advantage of the winter beauty, here is more to see and do:
All dressed up for the Christmas holidays including a display of the Cullen Gardens miniatures.
Queen Victoria Park New Year’s Eve Celebrations
Celebrate Canada’s largest, free New Year’s Eve celebration with two spectacular fireworks displays (9 p.m. and midnight)
Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights
This year the Festival of Lights is all about Korea and the celebration of its culture with Korean ice sculptures, fire artists, Korean dancing and drumming troupes, Taekwondo, children’s face painting and lantern making demonstrations.
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to REV Publications. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.