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Fall for Niagara: Escape to Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS
Each year, more than 14 million people visit Niagara Falls, which is composed of three waterfalls: the Canadian or Horseshoe Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls. These stunning cataracts are the result of geological effects such as glacial melting and rock erosion. The falls has a drop of 52 metres (170 feet), making it the most voluminous waterfall in North America. The cascades of water are even more beautiful by night when they are lit up until midnight.

By land, by water and by air, explore Niagara Falls in all its majestic glory. The indoor and outdoor observation deck of Skylon Tower (5200 Robinson St., 1-905-356-2651) sits 775 feet above the cataracts, and on a clear day, it’s possible to see as far as 80 miles. The Maid of the Mist (5920 Niagara Pkwy., 1-905-358-0311) tour boat is synonymous with the falls. Since 1846, millions of visitors have been coming within 300 feet of the rapids, travelling to the basin of the Canadian Falls. Equally as renowned, Journey Behind the Falls (6650 Niagara Pkwy., 1-905-354-1551) takes visitors on an elevator ride down 125 feet to experience the torrential spray firsthand. Get a bird’s-eye view with Niagara Helicopters Limited (3731 Victoria Ave., 1-905-357-5672), which choppers over the falls, the Minolta Tower, the Whirlpool Rapids and along the Niagara River. If the propeller’s buzz is too much for the ears, Whirlpool Aero Car (3850 Niagara Pkwy., 1-877-642-7275) runs cable cars suspended from 160 to 250 feet above the Niagara River and the Whirlpool, providing a spectacular aerial view. The White Water Walk (4330 Niagara Pkwy., 1-877-642-7275) offers a unique experience downstream from the falls, allowing visitors to stroll alongside the great gorge.

CLIFTON HILLS
Clifton Hill, located a block away from the falls, is a colourful strip boasting a quirky assortment of museums and attractions to choose from.

Dinosaur Park Miniature Golf (1-905-358-3676; adult $8.99, child $5.99)
Great Canadian Midway (1-905-358-3676; adult $19.99, child $14.99)
Guiness World Record Museum (1-905-356-2299; adult $11.99, child $6.99)
Movieland Wax Museum of the Stars (1-905-358-3676; adult $9.99, child $5.99)
Niagara SkyWheel (1-905-358-4793; adult $9.99, child $5.99)
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! (1-905-356-2238; adult $12.95, child $6.99)
NATURAL WONDERS
In addition to the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls, a variety of floral and mammal experiences can be enjoyed in the region. The Niagara Falls Aviary (5651 River Rd., 1-905-356-8888)—voted Niagara Falls’ attraction of the year—is home to more than 300 tropical birds from around the world, including South America and Africa. At the tropical rainforest environs of the Butterfly Conservatory (along Niagara Parkway, 1-905-358-0025), more than 2,000 butterflies of 40 international species flutter about. Horticulturalists, or those who aspire to be one, can take a self-guided tour of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens (along Niagara Parkway, 1-905-356-8554) to experience the foliage of the herb, vegetable and rock gardens as well as the arboretum. At Marineland (7657 Portage Rd., 1-905-356-9565), get nose to nose with killer and beluga whales at Friendship Cove, the largest whale habitat in the world. Daily live shows feature dolphins, walruses and sea lions. Kids and adults alike who would prefer to be in the water themselves should visit one of the latest additions to Niagara Falls, the Great Wolf Lodge (3950 Victoria Ave., 1-888-878-1818), where guests of the lodge can enjoy the 103,000-square-foot waterpark.

CASINOS
The flash of lights and jingle of coins, a spin of the roulette wheel: these allures bring one and all into the casinos. Casino Niagara (5705 Falls Ave., 1-888-946-3255) and Fallsview Casino (6380 Fallsview Blvd., 1-888-FALLSVUE) offer a combined 300,000 square feet of gaming, including slot machines, poker and blackjack tables. Fallsview also boasts the 1,500-seat Avalon Ballroom with a roster of live performances and other events.

RIDE THE RAILS
Through to September 8, VIA Rail (140 Bay St., 416-366-8411) runs an enhanced summer schedule of daily departures to Niagara Falls from Toronto. In partnership with Fallsview Casino and Peller Estates winery, riders can sample award-winning vintages while gaming aboard VIA’s luxurious Glenfraser Car. On select trips, there is also a shuttle from the Niagara Falls train station, which takes passengers to the casino.
LAKESIDE RESPITE
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a picturesque town located only 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, and is the first Ontario town to be designated a National Historic Site. Renowned for the Shaw Festival, its historic sites and golf courses, the town provides a charming experience.

The Shaw Festival (1-800-511-SHAW) exclusively stages productions by George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) and his contemporaries, as well as plays set during Shaw’s lifetime, from cherished classics to seldomly staged works. Established in 1962 by a local lawyer and playwright, the summer performances in the Court House were originally called “Salute to Shaw.”

Today, the festival—one of the largest and most successful in North America—runs from April to November at three theatres. The flagship Festival Theatre is the largest with 856 seats, where the annual grand opening takes place each season. The Court House Theatre with its 327 seats is where the most challenging or intimate works are staged. The Royal George Theatre, originally a vaudeville house in 1915, presents the festival’s most popular plays in a 328-seat space. Highlights among the 10 productions scheduled for the 2006 season include Shaw’s Too Good to Be True and Arms and The Man, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Anton Chekhov’s Love Among the Russians and Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm.

Two nearby attractions commemorate Canada’s role during the War of 1812. Fort George (on Queen’s Parade, 1-905-468-6614) is a National Historic Site that served as headquarters for the British Army. The Laura Secord Homestead (29 Queenston St., 1-905-262-4851) in the nearby village of Queenston, honours the Canadian heroine who walked 20 miles to warn British troops of a surprise attack by American soldiers.

Amidst the luscious backdrop of the Niagara River and Niagara-on-the-Lake are manicured fairways that offer a challenging round on the links. The Royal Niagara Golf Club (1 Niagara on the Green Blvd., 1-905-685-9501) is a public, Ted Baker-designed 27-hole course, while Peach Trees Executive Golf Club (221 Niven Rd., 1-905-468-1811) is a public nine-hole course. The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club (143 Front St., 1-905-468-3424) is a private 27-hole course that is one of the oldest in North America.UNCORK THE REGION
The Niagara region is renowned for its award-winning wines that contend with the world’s best. The icewine produced in this area is an internationally celebrated dessert wine. The region’s unique micro-climate allows an abundance of grapes and other fruits to thrive, making it Canada’s largest wine region.

Niagara’s scenic wine route—which is marked by signs along the highway, or you can pick up a map or guide at tourism offices and LCBO stores—travels through more than 50 vineyards and orchards, stretching from Grimsby through to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Most wineries offer tours of their fruitful grounds and cellars, as well as tastings, and a chance to purchase the wines. Some wineries also have dining on the premises featuring locally grown fare paired with the vineyard’s wines. Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate (1-866-589-4637) stages live performances at its open-air amphitheatre through the summer. This year’s lineup includes the Jim Cuddy Band, The Philosopher Kings and Natalie McMaster.

From award-winning rieslings to merlots, sample unique vintages at some of the area’s finest wineries; call ahead to verify tour hours.

Cave Springs Cellars (3836 Main St., Jordan, 1-905-562-3581)
Château des Charmes Wines (1025 York Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-262-4219)
Hillebrand Winery (1249 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-800-582-8412)
Inniskillin Wines (Line 3 at Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-468-3554)
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate (2145 RR 55, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-468-4637)
Lakeview Cellars Estate Winery (4037 Cherry Ave., Vineland, 1-905-562-5685)
Magnotta Winery (4701 Ontario St., Beamsville, 1-905-563-5313)
Peller Estates Winery (290 John St. E., RR 1, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-888-673-5537)
Reif Estate Winery (15608 Niagara Pkwy., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-468-7738)
Strewn Winery (1339 Lakeshore Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-468-1229)

Oenophiles and novices alike should take note of the 11th annual Niagara New Vintage Festival (1-905-688-0212), June 10 to 18. This event brings together more than 30 wineries to showcase Ontario’s newest wines from the 2004 and 2005 harvests. Wine and cheese seminars, tastings and tours round out the festivities.—Linda Luong

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