A view from the other side

A Canadian heads across the border for a different take on the Falls

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Published in The Waterloo Record in October 2015

Who has a better view of Niagara Falls — Canadians or Americans? By a simple fluke of geography, our side wins hands down. The width of Canada's Horseshoe Falls is not only almost three times that of the American and Bridal Veil Falls combined, but its curvy brink gives it a full-figured, wide-angle appeal that catches the eye more than its linear U.S. counterparts.

And because the Falls actually face Canada, we get a perfect full frontal view. Poor Americans, they really have to stick their necks out for an unobstructed view of the hydrodynamic spectacle by walking out onto Prospect Park observation tower, a man-made structure that extends out over the Niagara Gorge. No wonder Canada pulls in 12 million tourists to the Falls, compared to the U.S.'s eight million.

Even the New York Times has called the American Falls a "poor relation" compared to Canada's status as "king" of the thundering waters.

When it comes to the superiority of our side of the Falls, it's hard not to sound like a cocky Canadian. But in the spirit of true Canadian humility, marked by our nation's cultural disposition to consider all views in an effort to be as fair and balanced and possible, I made a trek across the border to take a walk on the other side.

I discover some pleasant surprises. For one thing, the U.S. side is located within the natural setting of Niagara Falls State Park, making it much less commercial than the carnival atmosphere of Clifton Hill. For another, it's got uniquely named features such as Goat Island, the land mass between the Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls, named for an early pioneer who kept a herd of goats in the area.

You can hop on a trolley to get around Goat Island and get off at Terrapin Point, an observation area that overlooks the falls and the lower Niagara Gorge, as well as the Three Sisters Islands, named after the daughters of an American commander of the War of 1812.

These tiny peaceful enclaves are connected by a series of footbridges and contrast with the rushing intensity of the nearby Niagara River rapids that hurl themselves toward the edge of the falls. You can get much closer to the river's edge here than you can on the Canadian side.

Both the U.S. and Canada offer boat tours in the basin of the Falls. The U.S. Maid of the Mist boats are smaller and older, albeit more romantically named, than the swank new Hornblower cruise boats that were recently introduced in Canada.

The Maid of the Mist operates half-hour rides until Nov. 8 and the $17 US ticket gives you great bang for your buck, as it motors right to the base of the Horseshoe Falls where the surround sound of 600,000 gallons of cascading water will pound in your ears and your chest.

The flimsy blue poncho you're handed won't prevent you from getting wet — you'll emerge from the experience feeling newly baptized by the ever-present mist.

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