CHAPTER 50. Niagara Falls

At 10.15 p.m. we were in our sleeper on the Niagara Express. At 9 a.m. We reached the town with its 85,000 population, the name of which is known in every corner of the globe. Before we left the train we had arranged to spend the whole of Saturday in seeing the falls. Previous to reaching Niagara I understood that seeing the falls was just seeing the falls.

Here to “see the falls” means looking at them half way up, viewing them from above, looking at them from below, looking at them for the north, south, east and west, getting a close view and coming back a mile for a distant view, climbing a hill to view them from a tower, passing by at the foot in a boat, passing through their spray underneath, viewing the falling water from a tunnel behind, seeing the rapids before the water reaches the falls, watching the rapids go to a whirlpool after it is passed over the falls, and lastly, seeing the falls illuminated at night by strong searchlights with colours changing every few minutes.

When this has been done and you have paid 5 dollars each for the car and the guide and six dollars each for all the special points of vantage which only the American mind can conceive of preparing for the tourist, then and then only can you say you have seen the falls. This reminds me of the man who was trying to sell a Burroughs machine. The prospect was complaining about the high price. The salesman said, “Yes, it is high. Even the cost of living is high at present, but” – with a smile  – “it is worth it!”.

World Tour 1938

The falls are well worth it. First we drove to the top of the falls and this first sight was the one which will remain longest in our memory. The guide told us that we need not take all the many ways of seeing the falls unless we wished to do so. As I never expected to be here again I told him we might as well see everything while we were about it. Consequently he then directed us to the building with a big sign reading, “The cave of the winds”. We walked in not knowing exactly what was going to happen. There was a man at the entrance who called out, “Ladies right through, gentlemen to the left”.

Like lambs we all followed instructions. I was wondering what the ladies were going to see that I had to miss. My mind was soon set at ease as another man came along and opened a door and gave me a pair of grey flannel trousers which were made like pyjamas and a grey flannel shirt. He then explained that we had to take off all our clothing as we would get very wet when passing under the falls. I smiled as I thought of the ladies having to undress and I wondered how many would see it through. I soon stripped and put on the rough garb and also a special pair of slippers tied up with string and a felt sole. I was given a box in which I locked all my valuables. Then I put on an oil skin on which was attached a hood for my head. I went outside, and, sure enough, Rozie and Elizabeth said I could get a refund on their 2 dollars as they preferred not to get undressed.

World Tour 1938
Niagara showing where we walked under the falls

Lo and I then went down a lift with some others which was a shaft cut out of solid rock 180 feet deep and which took two years to build. We then walked up some wooden steps and across some small wooden bridges right underneath the spray of the falls. There were times when we could not see anything at all because the wind would bring the spray so heavily over us that we could do nothing but just stand there having a tremendous shower bath.

It was a real thrill to get under the falls in this manner, but we were soon glad to reach the end of the steps and bridges. Like drowned rats we returned to get into our proper clothing. We were scarcely dressed when there was a very heavy thunderstorm. We had to wait for some time as I did not want to go on to another spot until it was fine enough to take photos.

World Tour 1938

When the rain stopped we drove to the other side of the river across a bridge which led us into Canada once more. Here we had to show our passports and get examined by customs officials. The first fall we had seen was the American falls. We had passed under the Bridal Fall first and now we were going to see the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

The town of Niagara is thus divided into two parts. That on the side where we got out of the train is called Niagara, New York, and that on the other side of the river is called Niagara, Ontario, Canada. We then saw the American Falls from the Canadian side and also the Horseshoe Falls. These views were very beautiful. Then we paid another dollar to see something which was not so good, but because we did not know what it was like and could not see it without paying the price we were caught like thousands of others and proceeded with it.

World Tour 1938
Cage crossing Falls Gorge Niagara

We did not have to change on this occasion, but we were all put into an oil skin which covered us from head to foot, and our shoes were changed for gum boots. Then we went down another lift level with the bottom of the falls. We walked down a tunnel and through three holes cut out of the rock we were able to see the waters of the falls dropping down in front of us. Every few seconds the wind would bring some of the water into the lookout, but on the whole it was something to be remembered that we were actually behind and at the foot of these great falls.

World Tour 1938

We then drove up a hill to see the falls from a high tower. We would not have bothered about this, but in the tower was another unique sight for us to see. This was the burning spring. We entered a room which had a space about six feet in diameter fenced off. The centre of this was a similar space in which was a running spring. The guide put down a taper and immediately the water appeared to be burning. Of course, it was the gas which was coming up from the water. It was a queer sight, especially when he gave us each a glass of water from the spring and it was icy cold. Then he put out the flame by inserting a long pipe into the spring where it was bubbling. He then lit the gas at the head of the pipe. He told us that the gas or gases which were burning had no heat and it was not until they were mixed with the oxygen of the air that any heat could be felt. To prove this he put his finger into the flame which was blue just at the mouth of the pipe. He also took out his handkerchief and put that right through the flame at the same spot, but it had no effect upon it. He told us it had been found and more or less worshipped by the Red Indians many years ago. Scientists had since endeavoured to find out what the gases were and where they were coming from, but they had not been successful.

World Tour 1938
cataract after passing over falls

We returned to the falls and after lunch we saw them from several other angles. Then I went down another lift to see the rapids where the water was rushing past after leaving the falls. The rapids I had seen in Montreal were nothing compared with these. The guide said the water was travelling at the rate of over 30 miles per hour and was the fastest in the world. I believed him.

World Tour 1938

The rest of the afternoon was taken up in driving around the falls country until we had seen the falls from every possible angle and also the town in both Canada and the U.S.A.

World Tour 1938
Niagara at night

When it was dark at 9.30 p.m. the driver of the car again picked us up and completed his day’s work by again taking us into Canada where we once more went through the business of passports and customs so that we could stand on the Canadian side and see the falls illuminated. The coloured searchlights made the falls very beautiful, but personally I preferred them when they were shown with only the strong white lights. By 11 p.m. we were home again after our passports had been examined, this time by the U.S.A. Officials.

World Tour 1938
Niagara Falls

Next morning, Sunday, was free and as we were not catching the train to Detroit until after lunch we decided to see the last known method of viewing the falls. This consisted of again going down in a lift to the bottom of the falls and getting on to a small steamer which went close to the foot of the three falls. We had been very dubious about this trip because we did not think it would be much good. It was only because we had the Sunday with nothing to do that we thought it worth while spending 4 more dollars on the falls.

World Tour 1938
Niagara by day

It turned out to be the best sight of all. When we reached the Horseshoe Falls I ran out of film and before I could change it the boat was caught in the whirlpool and I had missed the best view. I told one of the men on the boat what had happened, gave him a quarter of a dollar and he told me to stay on board for the next trip. When I told the others that I was staying for another journey they said they would stay also as they had quite enjoyed it. Therefore, we all had another trip, as the man said the steamer was not very crowded.

Once again we had put on oil skins and as the day was very hot they were most uncomfortable until we were cooled in the spray and then they were appreciated. I got some good photos. and we returned to the hotel to have lunch and get the train to Detroit.

We arrived at the hotel at 8.30 p.m. according to our time, but we found the correct time was only 7.30 as Detroit does not have daylight saving. Somehow or other the name Detroit seemed to fill me with a certain excitement which I had not experienced in any other place. I went to bed at midnight after looking around the city, but I could not sleep. There was too much heat and I was too excited.



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