Anne-Marie, our guide, arranges alarm calls for us each day. These are based on the, mistaken, principle that it takes us ninety minutes to get ready. If pushed we could accomplish this in less than a third of the time. We drive out of Toronto. Like many large cities it has its share of beggars and rough sleepers, here though the latter might choose positions in the middle of sidewalks. Today is cooler – just as well as I am now down to my super hot clothes. To begin with our coach is super hot too but this is adjusted just in time to prevent the entire party from expiring from heat exhaustion. Anne-Marie keeps us informed with plenty of information about what we are passing and Canada in general. We learn that the difference between a condominium and an apartment is that the former is owned and the latter rented. We pass by Fort York again and are reminded that this used to be the shoreline of Lake Ontario and that all the harbour south of here is on reclaimed land. The grounds of the 1928 Canadian Exhibition are also on our route and we see a three story ‘GO train’ (GO stands for Government of Ontario); these and GO buses are designed for commuters. Today’s addition to our First Nations’ vocabulary:- Canada or Kanata, which means village or community – ironic for the name of the second largest nation in the world. That is second largest (to Russia) by area, the population is only 34 million. That is 48 times the area of the UK but about half the population. 90% of these live in the south, within 100km of the US border; the climate and lack of arable land further north discouraging settlement. Some more useful information from today: All cars have daytime running lights. $1 coins are called ‘loonies’ because they depict the loon (a water bird). $2 coins have thus become ‘Twonies’.
We head out on Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) through the heavily industrialised areas around Hamilton, which produces 60% of Canada‘s steel. We see the Welland Canal, whose eight locks take shipping from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, which is 325 feet below. Then we are in the wine and fruit growing areas of the Golden Horseshoe. The vines and soft fruit grow well in the micro-climate between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment. The vines are grafted on to root stocks that are more resistant to the cold and bugs. Roses are often planted near the vineyards as they are more susceptible to pests than vines and are therefore a good pest indicator. Our first stop is Konzelmann Winery for some wine tasting. This is not exactly our idea of fun but it is very informative and our guide Ben is entertaining. ‘Non-wine’ is found for the half of our party (including us) who don’t want wine at this time of day. We learn how to sniff (twice), swill and taste in the appropriate manner. We are encouraged to breath in through our mouths with wine in our mouths. This is actually very difficult to do without dribbling it all down your front. Cheese and crackers are provided so we take the opportunity to acquire free food. We are also told we should have wine and food in our mouths simultaneously, another difficult feat but no one chokes.
Our next stop is at the very pretty town of Niagara on the Lake. The first capital of Canada was here and there are beautiful flowers and horse-drawn carriages. George Bernard Shaw is very popular in the town and a festival is held in his honour. There were some truly spectacular colours at Fort George where we park. The highlight of Chris’ visit was discussing malfunctioning fan belts with the driver of a broken down school bus.
Then it is on to the iconic falls. Niagara means thundering water but now much of the force of the water has been diverted to two power stations for HEP, thereby slowing the rate of erosion to just over an inch a year. The falls are 12,500 years old and in that time they have carved out a seven mile long gorge. There are now three falls that make up Niagara Falls: American Falls, which are 1000 feet wide and 135 feet high; neighbouring Bridal Veil or Little Luna falls and the largest, predominantly Canadian, Horseshoe Falls, which are 2700 feet wide and 140 feet high. We have time to wander round and take photographs of this awesome sight before our trip on the Hornblower (formerly the Maid of the Mist), for a close up and distinctly soggy view of the falls. We are led away to our fate. This is Canada, life jackets are for wimps. Contrast that with our local theme park where life jackets are essential before you can take a pedalo across a totally calm boating lake. Here we are standing on an open, slippery deck in turbulent water but are clearly not expected to fall in. We are issued with fetching red ponchos, which aren’t terribly effective once you get in the wind. I prove once again that my waterproof coat is not waterproof. Had I thought this through I would be wearing my contact lenses as, once in the spray, I can no longer see. An added complication was the failure of my camera batteries just as I embarked. Juggling a camera and two sets of batteries whilst unable to reach my pockets and trying to prevent my poncho taking off was a challenge and my partner in crime was conspicuous by his absence at this point. This is expedition was not to be missed and proved a real bonding exercise for our group.
We are staying at the Radisson Falls Hotel. Some of our party have paid extra for a falls view room. We were not aware of this option and therefore have a car park view room instead. The hotel boasts a ‘swimming pool’ that would make a self-respecting paddling pool look large. The falls are to be illuminated from 8.30pm. We eat in the hotel and manage to stay awake until the appropriate time. We go to a viewing area but are not very impressed and photography is impossible at this distance. By this time, it is very cold and we can’t face the walk back down the hill for a closer look. Will we regret this? We are glad however that our planned evening trip on the boat was cancelled in favour of a daylight voyage, when we could take successful photographs.