Chapter 18: Niagara Falls

Beyond Dreams of Aberystwyth | The Book

Anne and Mick took me to Cleveland station extremely early the next morning for the last train journey of my journey across the great breadth of the USA. A hard goodbye to good friends. I was going to Buffalo, border town with Canada.

For the first time it was hard to get a seat. The train was packed with just-waking people who needless to say weren’t interested in rousing themselves to shift for anyone boarding. I squeezed in quietly and, fully awake myself, watched the sun rise over America for the last time.

The train came in at Buffalo and rather than wait the ridiculous 5 hours for the next one to take me only 20 miles to Niagara Falls I made my own way.

I got a taxi to Buffalo Bus Station. It was a grey day, still pretty early, a Sunday. Buffalo Bus Station was nothing special in the line of bus stations, utilitarian, quiet at this time, a few poor looking people around, going somewhere grim by the look of them or with nowhere to go. I was going to Niagara Falls, I was excited! But I was tourist. For everyone else it was just another grey Sunday. I took the scruffy local bus to the equally scruffy and slightly seedy town of Niagara Falls USA. Even dream destinations are ordinary for somebody.

From here I could walk across the border to Canada. I sat on a bench near the footbridge and ate some breakfast from my bag. Home, I thought. I was finding it hard to leave the USA. I’d had such a lovely sense of family with Anne and Val and Ben and I’d been in the USA longer than anywhere else, travelling across for 3 weeks. I’d loved it. But here I was going ‘home’ again in a different way. I could see the Canadian flag fluttering just over the bridge from me, the red maple leaf on white. The land of my birth. I was beginning to be ready to ‘go home’ now. I was tired, I’d been travelling about 7 weeks. I was missing the dog. And I’d run out of moisturiser – that might seem a small thing but you can’t get Superdrug’s Vitamin E moisturiser outside the UK! And I found I wasn’t quite ready to make the gigantic leap of choosing a new one from who knew where?! Going home, leaving home, far from home, where was home? Always a question I’ve found hard to answer: ‘Where are you from?’

So I packed up my food and carried my suitcase across Rainbow Bridge to Canada. It was a dramatic moment, Niagara Falls crashing magnificently and eternally to my left. That’s the way to cross a border! It was the simplest border crossing I’d made to date, barely anyone on the gate or questions to answer. And there I was! Canada. I’d been to Niagara Falls once before, when I was about 3. My parents took me and my 2 siblings on a trip from where we lived near Toronto with a visiting cousin. I barely remember it but there are photos of 3 adults, each one nervously clutching a small child at the railings, me with my security blanket tied around my waist. (I didn’t want to lose that.)

Niagara Falls Canada is much better than USA Niagara Falls, and I’m not just saying that because I’m Canadian. You can’t even see the Falls properly from the American side. It was completely amazing and compelling, even on the dull autumn day I was there. I was fascinated. The power of ever-moving, ever-falling water, crashing down and rising up in a permanent cloud of mist and rainbows. Left to itself the Falls would erode backwards at a rate of 3m a year. Now humans have managed to slow it down with water diversion to 30cm a decade, which I think is a shame, to tame something so mighty. But it makes it a lot easier to build hotels, casinos and theme parks around a feature if it stays still. There are so many on the Canadian side, a tacky expanse of glitz at odds with the natural wonder. It almost felt like the Falls had been put in later as an extra feature.

I’d just missed the end of the tourist season so the opportunity to go on the Maid of the Mist boat trip near the bottom of the Falls (as in the movies) was sadly lost. But I went on the Journey Behind the Falls where you go down tunnels that take you behind and to the bottom of the Falls and took a million more photos.

After taking in the magnificence of the Falls I carried on walking upstream, beyond the head of the Falls. My whole journey has felt like a circular journey – like the salmon that swims upstream back to the birthplace, again and again. To my ancestral homelands, following my father’s footsteps across the earth, and now back to my literal spawning ground – the place I was born. My parents honeymooned in Niagara Falls, I remembered (though I was not conceived there).

It was quieter up there. The hotels disappeared and there was barely any traffic. I noticed maple leave on the wet pavement as I walked. It was peaceful, the river beautiful and wide. The water was shallow and moved gently, you’d never know the force of what it was leading to. Do all waterfalls begin like this? Apparently one fifth of the world’s water goes over these Falls. I paddled in the quiet shallows, studied the stones of the waterbed, and remembered the waters of the River Danube in Braila in Romania, the straits of the South China Sea around Hong Kong, the Pacific Ocean at San Francisco. Some fish can swim up waterfalls apparently.

I was staying the night at a B&B run by a lovely man called Lee in a quiet part of town away from the glitz. The road was lined with lovely old houses, several were B&B’s, all facing the river as it continues downstream to Lake Ontario. I’d chosen it because it was away from hotel/casino heartland. It was halfway up the road to the original town of Niagara Falls and that evening I preferred to head up there to find something to eat rather than back downtown. Spookily I saw no one on my walk up there, barely a car drove past. When I got to the main street it seemed deserted, a ghost town. It was a Sunday (which makes a difference there) which may have explained some of it. But it seemed like tourist development down the road has almost destroyed the old town. No restaurants were open and the one bar open didn’t do food. I couldn’t face walking all the way back down to tack-land. Eventually I found a sandwich shop that was closing but when I pleaded the woman made me a sandwich which I ate with some chocolate milk while she finished cleaning up.

The next day I walked to the Falls again for one last gawp, before getting the Greyhound Bus to Toronto. My Dad crossed the North American continent by Greyhound Bus – Toronto from Vancouver where he landed from Hong Kong 51 years earlier. Toronto was my final destination too, for now. I’d booked a B&B ahead. By chance it would seem to be in the gay part of town and within blocks of the hospital where I was born. Home from home again!

Funded by Arts Council England

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