The Prettiest Sunday Afternoon Drive in the World This is the second installment of a two-part article about the scenic Niagara Parkway along the Niagara River in southern Ontario. Last week we focused on the history of the parkway and traveled from Fort Erie to Niagara Falls. This week we will begin at the Falls and travel north to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
After passing the Rainbow Bridge and the Falls tourist area, you’ll travel down a stretch of the parkway I like to refer to as “bed & breakfast row,” since it seems that virtually every home along the parkway has been converted into a bed & breakfast inn. They are great places to stay and an alternative to the often high-priced high rise hotels located right across from the Falls. And they are only about a five minute walk to the Falls and area attractions.
The next landmark you’ll pass is the Whirlpool Bridge, which is a NEXUS only crossing. Frequent travelers to Canada can apply for a NEXUS card, which can simplify border crossings for low-risk, pre-approved travelers (866-639-8726, www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca)
Just past the Whirlpool Bridge is the White Water Boardwalk. For an admission charge, you can take a trail down into the gorge and walk along a 1,000 foot boardwalk on the river’s edge. Here you can observe some of the strongest class VI rapids in the world. The unique building you see across from the boardwalk’s entrance is the Cham Shan Temple (905-371-2678), where visitors can learn about the basic principles of Buddhism on a 45-minute guided tour.
If you want a souvenir of your trip to Niagara Falls, stop at Souvenir City, which has a large selection of Niagara Falls and Canadian-made items. You may want to pull off by the Whirlpool Aero Car and take a ride on this open-air gondola, which travels on a cable across the gorge, 250 feet above the whirlpool. If you are a chicken like me, you may just want to watch it in operation. The ride, designed by Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, has been in operation since 1916.
The area’s new attraction can be found across the parkway from the aero car. The Great Wolf Lodge is a full service, year-round, 406-suite resort which caters to families. Amenities include a 100,000 square foot waterpark, as well as a spa, arcade and five restaurants. Room rates average about $400/night CDN. You must stay at the resort to use the waterpark facilities.
The Whirlpool Golf Course has been ranked one of the top ten public golf courses in Canada. Their restaurant, which overlooks the links, is open to the public April-Nov. Across from the golf course is a scenic overlook where you can get a different view the previously mentioned Whirlpool Aero Car crossing the gorge.
Just beyond the golf course is the Niagara Glen Nature Area, which features hiking trails along the gorge. The area has a large parking lot, public rest rooms, picnic tables and a gift shop open seasonally. Admission to the Niagara Glen is free.
The next attraction, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, is a must-see along the parkway. Admission is free to this 100-acre manicured garden, which is maintained by students from the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. Located within the gardens is a glass-enclosed butterfly conservatory, which features over 2,000 tropical butterflies. (admission is $10 CDN) If you wear bright colors, butterflies may actually land on your clothing.
The next site along the way is the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station Number Two, one of Ontario’s largest hydroelectric facilities. Forty minute guided tours are offered year-round. Park in the lot which overlooks the gorge and take a look over the edge to see how massive the facility really is. Across the river on the US side is the Niagara Power Project. Right around the corner, as you continue on the parkway, is the Floral Clock, an area landmark since 1950. It is 40 feet in diameter and has over 15,000 plants.
The road passes under the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and, in my opinion, this stretch of parkway, from Queenston to Niagara-on-the Lake, is the prettiest part of the drive. Be sure to watch the road signs, as the parkway makes a couple turns here.
You may want to stop at Queenston Heights Park, located on the escarpment. A notable landmark in the park is Brock Monument, a 185 foot monument that honors Sir Isaac Brock, a British general killed at the battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812. If you have the time and energy, climb the 235 stairs to the top of the monument. The Queenston Heights Restaurant offers upscale dining with a breathtaking view of the lower Niagara River.
Exit the park and continue a short distance to the Mackenzie Heritage Printery and Newspaper Museum. Located in the restored home of publisher, William Mackenzie, who published the Colonial Advocate. The museum explorers 500 years of printing technology. Nearby, the Laura Secord Homestead is the restored home of War of 1812 heroine, Laura Secord. Mrs. Secord journeyed twenty miles through the wilderness to warn her husband and the British forces about an impending American attack.
Also in Queenston is Riverbrink, a gallery that houses the art collection of the late Samuel Weir, who collected Canadian art and items pertaining to the history of the Niagara region.
Willowbank Heritage Estates, constructed in 1834 by Alexander Hamilton, son of Queenston’s founder, Robert Hamilton, is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in North America. The mansion, named after the willow trees that once stood on the grounds, was saved by the wrecking ball in 2001. The National Historic Site is open for tours Monday-Friday, 12-4 from June-August, and by appointment the rest of the year. It is also open some weekends in July and August. Groups can make arrangements for meetings, weddings and other special events.
Lectures and workshops are also offered at Willowbank on various dates during the summer and an art show will take place October 5-8, 2006. The School of Restoration Art, located at Willowbank, offers a three year course in architectural restoration. Graduates of this course receive a Heritage Consultant diploma.
There are several seasonal farm markets located along this stretch of parkway, along with the Living Water Wayside Chapel, 14908 Niagara Parkway, between Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake. This 10’ x10’ mini chapel, owned by the Christian Reformed Church, is one of the smallest chapels in the world.
There are also numerous wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region, with several along or near the parkway. We stopped at Inniskillin Winery, which is named after the Inniskilling Fusiliers, an Irish regiment that served in the War of 1812. The winery is currently undergoing an expansion. We stopped too late in the day to go on a tour, but we were able to sample several wines at their tasting bar, which is located in the historic circa 1920’s Braie Burn barn; the design was influenced by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. Other wineries close to the parkway include Rief Winery, Zelak Vineyards, Lailey Vineyards and Peller Estates.
The McFarland House, located on the parkway just before the town of Niagara-on-the Lake, is a 1840’s Georgian-style home decorated with period furnishings. Tour the home and herb garden; afterwards enjoy refreshments in their tea garden.
As you approach Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake, the parkway veers to the right along the river, towards Fort George. It’s fitting that the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive should end up in the prettiest town in Canada. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this charming village full of Victorian properties, shops, restaurants and museums.
Of course, Niagara-on-the-Lake is best known for the Shaw Festival, which features the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. There is so much to see and do here that you may want to spend several days. Contact the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce for information on attractions and accommodations. Keep in mind that overnight reservations must be made well in advance, especially during the summer months.
If you’re just visiting for a day, finding a place to park may be a challenge, as parking is very limited in the historic district. You may have to park a distance away and walk.
A really pretty spot to relax and enjoy the scenery is Queens Royal Park, Front and King Street, which has a panoramic view of the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and Old Fort Niagara, across the River in Youngstown.
If you go
Niagara Parks Commission (877-642-7275) 5233 Stanley Ave, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Niagara Falls Tourism Association (905-356-6061, 800-563-2557) 5515 Stanley Ave., Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Car-go Audio Driving Tours PO Box 911, Grand Island, NY 14072. This newly released two CD set is a self guided driving tour that takes you along the Niagara Gorge from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The CD is available through their website or at various Canadian retailers, including Souvenir City and Inniskillin Winery. $24.95 ($29.95 CDN)
White Water Boardwalk (905-371-0254), Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls.
Souvenir City (905-357-1133) 4199 River Rd., Niagara Falls.
Whirlpool Aerocar (905-371-0254) 3850 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls
Great Wolf Lodge (1-800-605-9653) 3950 Victoria Ave. (off the Niagara Parkway) Niagara Falls.
Whirlpool Golf Course (905-356-1140) 3351 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls.
NPC Botanical Gardens (905-358-8633) 2565 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls.
Sir Adam Beck Generating Station Two (contact NPC 1-877-642-7275)
Queenston Heights Restaurant (905-262-4274)
Mackenzie Heritage Printery (905-262-3676) 1 Queenston St., Queenston.
Laura Secord Homestead (905-262-5675) 29 Queenston St., Queenston.
Riverbrink Art Gallery (905-262-4477) 116 Queenston St., Queenston.
Willowbank (905-262-1239) 14487 Niagara Parkway, Queenston.
Inniskillin Winery (905-468-3554).
McFarland House (905-468-7405) 15927 Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce (905-468-1950) 26 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Western New York An Explorer’s Guide from Niagara Falls and Southern Ontario to the Western Edge of the Finger Lakes by Christine A. Smyczynski (The Countryman Press, 2005).
The Niagara Parkway runs along the Niagara River from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the Lake. From the United States it is accessible by any of the four area border crossings; The Peace Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, Whirlpool Bridge (a NEXUS pass only crossing) and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.