Marriages and Honeymoons:
Writing about honeymooners at Niagara Falls for the May, 1947 issue of Chatelaine Magazine, well-known Canadian journalist Lotta Dempsey noted that most couples at the falls held hands and wandered around in a “dazed and daffy coma” – not a particularly romantic picture.
Nevertheless, as a honeymoon destination, no place is more famous in North American culture than Niagara Falls.
Americans Joseph and Theodosia Alston are often referred to as Niagara’s very first honeymooners, although that is a term they would not have been familiar with. Both were from wealthy, prominent families – Theodosia’s father, Aaron Burr, was the third vice president of the United States.
Arriving here during the summer of 1801 on what they called their “northern journey,” their trip to Niagara did not take place just after their wedding. In fact, it was five months after the ceremony before they gazed in amazement at the mighty cataracts – a scene Theodosia called “magnificent.” Nor were they alone since a number of servants were with them.
Not until the mid-1830s are there references about wedding journeys, (as they were once called), to Niagara Falls that took place soon after the marriage. Among the earliest are these: An author visiting Niagara Falls in 1836 noted meeting “a young married couple who had come to pay true homage to nature by consecrating their new happiness at this shrine.”
Three years later an article entitled “A letter from the Falls of Niagara” appeared in a well-known magazine of the time. It reported, “At the present genial season, this beautiful spot is a favourite resort of lately married pairs. I have counted several cooing couples, both Canadian and American, fulfilling the fleeting period of their honey lunacy” – a hint that the term ‘honeymoon” was starting to be used in popular vocabulary.
So it would seem we can date the beginning of the private, romantic journey to Niagara Falls to the late 1830s.
Still, it wasn’t until affordable, convenient, safe transportation became available that trips to Niagara Falls, honeymoon or otherwise, became common. Therefore, not until the railways arrived here in the 1840s and 1850s did Niagara Falls become accessible to most people. Only then did honeymoon trips to Niagara start to become a widely accepted custom.
But why did Niagara Falls become such a major magnet for honeymooners? During the last half of the 19th century in particular, a visit to see the extraordinary spectacle that is
Niagara was, for many people, the trip of a lifetime. Understandably, there was no more appropriate occasion for the trip of a lifetime than a wedding journey or honeymoon.
Expanding on this idea, one commentator has suggested that Niagara Falls is seen as set apart from the ordinary structured world, making it an appropriate place for the transition from a single life to marriage.
Is there something to this point as well? A souvenir book of 1893 suggests that the thundering falls was suitable for newlyweds because “it distracts their attention gently from one another which is a kindness and when they speak together it prevents alien ears from overhearing what they say.”
While Niagara Falls is renowned as the “Honeymoon Capital,” many couples have found it to be an equally great place to be married. One of the most famous examples of Niagara’s popularity as a marriage location took place on Valentine’s Day , 2OOO, when some 200 couples were married in one mass wedding. Hailed as the biggest wedding party ever organized in Canada, it took place in Oakes Garden Theatre, the beautiful outdoor amphitheatre at the foot of Clifton Hill, overlooking Niagara Falls.
Arranged to coincide with the opening months of the 21st century, the event was billed as the Wedding of the Millennium, The concept came from Ontario 2000, a government-sponsored committee that helped to promote millennial programs throughout the province.
While it would provide a welcome boost to the local tourism industry during what was usually a down-time period, tourism officials here were committed to keeping the focus firmly on the weddings rather than the economic impact. As the president of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Tourism (the agency that organized the complex event) explained, “We are doing our best to ensure that the magic and romance of Valentine’s Day in Niagara Falls and being married here, comes true for every couple in the way they want it to come true.”
There was a $100 registration fee for each couple taking part. That covered such costs as honorariums for the 21 ministers involved, administration expenses and transportation to the wedding site. Each bride received a bouquet of flowers while grooms got a boutonniere. Every couple was given a commemorative certificate and a gift bag as well as an invitation to a post-ceremony wine and cheese reception at what is now the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Widely publicized, couples from such distant points as England, Alberta and Colorado registered for the Wedding of the Millennium which promised to be a unique, exciting and memorable event.
Unfortunately, on February 14, 2000, the weatherman treated Niagara Falls to a snowstorm and very cold temperatures. Nevertheless, when the starting time of 4:30 p.m. arrived, the “marital spectacle,” as one reporter styled it, proceeded as planned and was a great success. Although, as the Niagara Falls Review’s coverage of the ceremony noted, “Over white gowns, many brides wore fur coats to stay warm.”
The Review’s report concluded this way: “At the ceremony’s climax, just before the heart-shaped fireworks were set off over the Horseshoe Falls, the lead minister read a poem by Elizabeth Browning entitled: How do I Love thee? Let me Count the Ways.
“The answer to that question is simple: 200.”