Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake: two great Ontario spots

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE – I want the flower contract for this town.

Seriously, have you ever seen the flower baskets in NOTL? They’re INSANE; the size of a giant beach ball and colourful enough to cause rainbows to hang their heads in shame. IMG_0726The sidewalk boxes and planters are equally bountiful and just as beautiful.

I was in town briefly on Monday for lunch on my way to play golf at The Whirlpool course; one of several nice tracks run by the Niagara Parks Commission. I stopped at the Shaw cafe on the Main St. for a tasty if small and overpriced lunch of ham and melted brie on a too-soft baguette and admired the explosion of flowers from an outdoor seat on a lovely day in southern Ontario; purple and soft pink and deep red and canary yellow.

My Dad and I (I was taking him on a short trip for Father’s Day) also stopped at fabulous Balzac’s for a cafe mocha and a large bowl of cafe latte that could’ve been used as a swimming pool for a small European country’s Olympic team. The Niagara-on-the-Lake version of Balzac’s doesn’t have the atmosphere of the wonderful outlet in the Distillery District in downtown Toronto but it’s got the same great coffee, plus a nice, sunny porch.

On the way to the car I looked around and noticed the same magnificent flower baskets that hang on the main street are also on the light standards in the friggin’ municipal parking lot. And how cool and attentive to detail is that? I mean, when’s the last time you saw a Toronto parking lot with exploding baskets of joyous flowers? Maybe they exist, but the ones I see tend to be dominated by cracked pavement, pools of leaking oil and flaking paint.

There was hardly a soul at the Whirlpool golf course, a nice layout from famed architect Stanley Thompson. I wouldn’t mind a few more doglegs, but the course is a fine piece of work that has been nice, attractive bunkers and several elevated greens that make for a nice challenge. The course runs through magnificent stands of towering evergreens, maples and giant willows, and the greens are in very good shape, indeed.

IMG_0750We bedded down at the Sheraton on the Falls, down near the American falls. Most of the rooms have great views of both sets of falls, and you can open your window (what a concept) to hear the thunder and feel the mist and watch the birds swoop and the tourist boats slide up towards the base of the falls. They’re also lit up beautifully at night.

The Sheraton is down in the older, more northerly section of Niagara Falls, as opposed to the cluster of new hotels down at the edge of the Canadian or Horseshoe Falls. The side door of the hotel basically opens onto Clifton Hill, which a lot of folks make fun of because of the was museums and the scary Dracula museums and the general teenage silliness. But I always love it simply for people-watching; teen girls preening and 35-ish guys with skull tattoos careering down their bare arms, extended families with kids and grandparents of all shapes and sizes.

One little girl of about four years old walked past a giant likeness of a Johnny Depp pirate with a menacing leer near the bottom of Clifton Hill on Monday night and said, “Mommy, that man makes me scared.”

The mom replied, quite simply, “Then don’t look at him, honey.”

But that’s the thing. It’s Clifton Hill. You’re SUPPOSED to look. You’re supposed to gawk and smile and shake your head and listen to the barkers and eat hot dogs and take goofy pictures of yourself at the Guinness Book of Records joint and read the signs about the three levels of fright at the Dracula Museum (the last level is called “hardcore” and is only “for the insane.”). IMG_0743

As much as my Dad and I both loved watching the parade, we opted for a quiet Italian place on Victoria St. called Antica, which makes a pretty decent chicken rustica pasta with (oddly enough) chicken, aragula, onions and a creamy tomato sauce, topped with Asiago cheese. Pretty tasty for $16. And not a grinning, green Frankenstein in sight.

We didn’t go, but on the way back we passed the giant Ferris Wheel, which looks like a fun way to spend a few minutes looking down on the marvels – both natural and man-made – of this wonderful tourist town.


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