Winston Churchill dubbed this route 'the prettiest
Sunday afternoon drive in the world!
Buffalo via Niagara-on-the-lake
I part the chintz
curtains at daybreak, hoping that last night's icy freeze is
intact. It is. Under snow-threatening clouds, we depart
Jordan and hightail it back to Niagara-on-the-lake on the
QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way). Sitting down to breakfast at the
Oban Inn, I see four golfers heading out to the lakeside
course, and any hopes I still harbor of seeing the falls
frozen are dashed.
Driving out of
town, we head south on the Niagara River Parkway, passing
two massive cannons that mark the site of Fort George, a
base for the British during the War of 1812. Sir Winston
Churchill dubbed this route 'the prettiest Sunday afternoon
drive in the world,' and, at this time of year anyway, its
beauty is shockingly primordial.
blue grape clusters reappear, and we slow for an ice wine
sign at the region's famous Inniskillin Vineyards. Over a
tasting of dessert wine in a barn designed by Frank Lloyd
Wright (at least that's the story), our guide explains the
laborious process that produces the Canadian version of
Germany's eiswein: The grapes are handpicked at night
(sunshine might defrost them) after three consecutive days
of freezing have sufficiently heightened their sugar
content. The result: a fruity bouquet and a finish as sweet
Our ice wine education complete, we continue south, climbing the
Niagara River Parkway past a dramatic vista of the Niagara Gorge
and its ice-glistened walls of layered sandstone, limestone, and
shale. Far below, the great green Niagara rushes along its
Now on a straightaway, we speed past the towering, naked trees
of Queenston Heights Park and the oversized Floral Clock (all
sculpted evergreens this time of year), and pause briefly to
watch the gulls soar at the edge of the gorge.
Minutes later, we stop again for winged creatures of a more
dainty order at the Butterfly Conservatory. Inside its
tropically warm and humid rooms filled with frangipani and day
lilies, millions of exotic butterflies flutter about. Bejeweled
in brilliant blues, yellows, greens, and oranges, the
lepidoptera have the run of the house and freely alight on our
heads, arms, and shoulders as we amble through. 'Do they ever
escape?' we ask Angela, the teenage ticket taker.
like the gift shop.'
the parkway, the Botanical Gardens and the roiling Whirlpool
Basin offer an unadulterated glimpse of natural beauty before
the inevitable commercialism of the falls: signs for helicopter
rides and the antique Spanish Aero Car that crosses the gorge on
a cable; the gaudy neon of hotels and the Niagara Casino. In the
nineteenth century, the falls were home to countless taverns and
souvenir stalls, so making a buck off a natural wonder is
certainly nothing new.
we near the cascades, the mist kicks the S500's automatic wipers
into action. Across the gorge, we see the mighty chutes of the
American side, which are but a prelude to the expansive grandeur
of Canada's Horseshoe Falls, not frozen today but raging.
was in December 1683 that the French missionary Father Hennepin
stumbled on the falls in his quest for the Mississippi. They say
he was so overcome by their awesomeness that he ripped the
portable altar off his back and fell to his knees. We park at
the Canadian Falls—an impossibility during any other season, and
join the other pilgrims snapping pictures of the cataracts.
These foamy torrents have inspired much strange behavior over
the centuries: In 1901, 63-year-old schoolteacher Annie Taylor
plunged over the brink in a barrel, and in 1851, the
world-famous tightrope walker Charles Blondin did his high-wire
act over them, pausing midway to prepare two tasty omelettes on
the stove he ported.
The falls are hypnotic and hard to leave, but on we go, past the
barge that has been snagged for 85 years in the whirlpool
rapids. The sight of it makes me wish, as I did when I visited
as a girl, that it would finally break free so I could see it go
Canada's cataracts are just a memory as the parkway leads us
south along the Niagara River, here as undisturbed as a pond and
lined with million-dollar homes and snowmobile trails. From Fort
Erie, where the Niagara empties into lake Erie, we can see
Buffalo across the river, at the other end of the Peace Bridge.
'Welcome to the United States' a sign greets us, as does the
first sight of snow in days.
The next time I
journey to the Niagara peninsula during winter, I'm bringing my
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Reprint of Concierge article
North of the Border. Original found at