Niagara Falls

Every school child learns about Niagara Falls in geography classes as I did. I was filled with excitement in my college days when I watched the Hollywood movie NIAGARA, starring Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotton in Bombay in 1953. Marilyn Monroe played female fatale, scheming to murder her husband in the backdrop of Niagara Falls.

The defining moment came when I with my wife went to attend the 10th World Congress on Sexual and Impotence Research in Toronto in 2002.Toronto is a fabulous city but its importance to the tourists is more for a stepping stone to the Niagara Falls.

It was quite a thrilling experience to see the majestic beauty and humbling power of Niagara Falls – a sparkling scenery from a nearby Top of the Falls restaurant. The Falls are huge and wide. It is a favourite spot for honeymooners. Visit to Niagara Falls I understand, rose sharply after the Niagara movie. 28 million tourists visit the Falls every year. The oldest and best known tourist attraction at the Niagara Falls is the Maid of the Mist boat cruise with water falling around you. The boat carries passengers into the rapids filled with water mists immediately below the Falls as seen in the Niagara film. It is an experience of a lifetime. Cruise boats operate from boat docks. The last booking must be long before dusk. Visitors can walk the windy steps right down to the base of Niagara Falls during the Cave of the Winds tour after having worn trademark yellow plastic raincoats for $5, as my wife has done in the photograph.

We went by a taxi from downtown Toronto to the Niagara Falls town in the horse-shoe shaped southern Ontario, a distance of 110 km (68 miles). Hotels are cheap in Canada and many good hotels are available in the Niagara Falls town. It is a fair-sized town with big hotels, bars, restaurants, clubs and casinos that operate in the evening. At night the town is transformed into a small Les Vegas with illuminations and a variety of gambling places. From the Canadian side (I have not been to the American side) multicoloured flood lights illuminate both sides of the Falls from dusk to midnight – a spectacular sight indeed.

The Niagara Falls is voluminous waterfalls but is not exceptionally high. It is very wide on the Niagara River that straddles the International border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. The Niagara Falls is situated at 75 miles (120 km), southeast of Toronto, Ontario and 17 miles (27 km) northwest of Buffalo, New York. The Horseshoe-shaped Falls – two-thirds in Canada and one-third on the American side is separated by the Luna Island. Both Falls are visible during the day.

The Niagara Falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of Wisconsin glaciations (the last ice age) leaving a great lakes that carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment en route to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the most powerful and most beautiful waterfall in North America.
Six million cubic feet (168,000 m3) of water falls over the crest line every minute, providing a valuable source of hydroelectric power since the 1800s.

Initially, it was called Fort Schlosser and renamed the Town of Niagara in 1812; it was a frontier replete with Indian, Europeans and pioneers. The town operates under a town Supervisor. It is a form of government with a Supervisor and four members of the Town Council. Formerly a farming community, it is now a considerable commercial, residential and industrial complex and the old Military Road remains a mainstay for transport and activity.

The Niagara Falls has been a constant site for daredevil activities. I remember reading about it in school textbooks. From times immemorial humans had an irresistible spirit of adventure. It has been said the human mind is like a restless monkey swinging from a branch of a tree.

As early as 1829, a chap called Sam Patch jumped from a high tower into the gorge below the falls and survived. This was the beginning of many daredevils trying to go over the falls in a barrel. On October 24 1901, a 64 year old woman Annie Taylor, a school teacher from Michigan was the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel as a publicity stunt. She climbed inside her airtight wooden barrel; the air pressure was compressed to 30 p.s.i. with a bicycle pump. She survived though bruised and battered. She expected fame and fortune but she died in poverty. Previous to her attempt, on October 19, her domestic cat named Iagara was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength. The cat survived the plunge unharmed.
Following Taylor’s attempt, 14 other people had intentionally gone over the Falls in a barrel or on a device. Some have survived unharmed, but others have drowned or been severely injured. Such stunts are illegal and survivors face charges and stiff fines.

Other daredevils have made crossing the Falls their goal. One Jean Francois successfully crossed the Falls in 1859 walking on a tightrope. These wires ran across the gorge, near the current Rainbow Bridge, not over the waterfall itself. An Englishman Captain Mathew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel drowned himself in 1883 after successfully trying to swim the rapids down the river from the Falls.

On October 22 2003, Kirk Jones from Michigan became the first stuntman in the history of Niagara Falls to survive the plunge wearing only clothes on his back. He went to the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the river and entered the water about 100 yards upstream and began swimming out into the swift current. Eight seconds later he made 175 foot (53.3m) drop and swam to shore. He was treated for minor bumps and bruises. For his stunt he was fined a total of $2,300.00 and banned from entering Canada for life.

The last stuntman was Robert Overcracker. On October 1 1995 he rode a jet ski over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls to help promote awareness of the homeless. His parachute did not open and Robert ended up promoting better parachutes. He plunged to his death and his body was never recovered.

The writer is based in the UK