It's truly strange. Across the Niagara River from New York, Canada's Niagara Parks Commission has taken great care to create a series of generally tasteful attractions that work with the gifts that nature has given. The consequence is that the Canadian side of the river from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake offers a pleasing tour, the best drive for many miles around. It's a contrast that shames New York, with its river vistas of chemical complexes and industrial brownfields.
Ah, but then there's Niagara Falls itself. Suddenly the Canadian commission's winning formula takes its losses.
The notion that the view of the great falls should be as natural as possible takes a beating with regularity. The American side would take no prizes for taste; but on the Canadian side, especially, towers and other manmade "improvements" hang down over the landscape, detracting from the waterfall, which is, after all, the kind of scene best viewed without distractions.
Apparently, it's about to get worse.
Local government officials on the Canadian side, wooed by the prospect of additional economic development, fought a sound Parks Commission proposal that would prevent new buildings at the falls from being higher than treetops.
Sorry. Not appropriate in view of the economic opportunities, asserts the Niagara Falls, Ont., mayor.
Now a "compromise" is being considered that would create a skyline of high buildings with pointed tops instead of high buildings that are block-shaped.
Waiting in the wings is a proposed 27-story hotel next to the Skylon Tower. Also in the works is the permanent version of Casino Niagara, the Ontario gambling magnet that seems to have taken on more importance to falls power brokers than anything else.
The strange assumption seems to be that none of the development aimed at falls tourists will succeed if it's not practically hugging the cataract. Why? There would be plenty of room for all of it to coexist happily with a natural falls -- it only needs to be set back a reasonable distance from the river and kept at a scale that doesn't intrude on the landscape for falls viewers.
As things are going now, the continual intrusive development within view of the falls moves a majestic natural blessing deeper and deeper into the background, as if to say: "Oh, yeah, we've got this place where a lot of water drops off a cliff. Check it out, if you have the time."
Hey, fellas, it's the falls that put you on the map in the first place.
None of this is meant to say there should not be hotels to accommodate visitors nor other things for tourists to do. It is meant to say that they should be far enough away so they don't compete with the falls visually. Trees can hide a lot of things. The glitz of Canada's Clifton Hill won't win any prize for beauty, but the old tourist strip is hidden from the falls view and, therefore, does not damage it.
Before they make matters worse, officials on both sides of the border could justify a junket to the middle of Africa. There they would find Victoria Falls, a world wonder at the boundary of the independent nations of Zambia and Zimbabwe, the former British colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia.
There are plenty of gift shops and hotels, plenty of economic ventures. One hotel even has a swimming pool with a bar that serves drinks to folks while they are still in the water. You are not traveling like Stanley and Livingstone when you go there.
But that stuff is a mile or so away from the falls. At Victoria Falls itself there is nothing manmade. You cannot see a building. It is in its natural primeval state. Mist from the falls creates a rain forest that's left alone. You see Victoria Falls as it always was.
This is not to say everything within a mile of Niagara Falls should be bombed into oblivion to gain a natural view. Victoria Falls cannot be duplicated. But it is to say that officials on both sides -- perhaps inspired by Victoria Falls, not to mention the much-visited natural wonders of our own West -- should set a long-term goal to make the immediate view of Niagara Falls as natural as possible.
And then they should stick to that goal, forgetting pointy buildings and other new intrusions.