Thursday, July 19, 2001

Day 11: Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie

This day was sort of "gravy". Although I was more than happy to have reached Niagara-on-the-Lake, I had set my official goal to be Fort Erie, so as to include a ride along the Niagara Parkway. The many times I had driven the Parkway over the years, I had always felt that I wanted to see it better by bicycle.

 

The "Waterfront Trail", which I had been following for five days came to its official end at the harbour of Niagara-on-the-Lake, right next to the motel where I was staying. From the same point began the trail I would not be on, called "The General Brock Trail"after the hero of 1812.

 

Our motel price included a continental breakfast, to be delivered to the room. Normally the breakfast would be for 08:30, but I had asked that it be delivered at 07:30 so that I could get my usual early start. I was up at 06:30 and all ready to go by 07:30, but the breakfast did not come. I finally phoned the office and reminded them, at which point it came right away. They brought muffins and yoghurt, to add to the coffee we were able to make right in the room with the little coffee machine that was part of the room's decor.

 

On my on my way at 08:45, I rode around to the trailhead, next door to the motel, and started out.

 

General Brock Trail was a beautiful, paved path that ran through parkland the along the length of the river, under trees, and mostly to the river side of the road for cars, which was called the Niagara Parkway. As far as Queenston, the trail would be flat, while across the road would be stately houses and wineries interspersed with vast open fields of grape vineyards. There was the river, which was at the foot of a small cliff, then the bike path I was on, then parkland, then the road, and finally the farms.

 

The Niagara Parkway stretches along the Niagara River from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie. See 1. Notes on The Niagara Parkway, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I made Queenston at 09:40. Queenston is the head of navigation on the Niagara River, and, as been an important port, was the scene of one of the major battles during the War of 1812.

 

Queenston is the head of Navigation on the Lower Niagara, and so was a strategic site during the War of 1812. See 2. Notes on Queenston, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

The bike trail ended briefly at Queenston and I found myself on the tiny streets of the hamlet itself. On the way into town, I rode past this big house up on a hill: Willowbank, built by Alexander Hamilton. I then rode past Laura Secord's homestead. Laura Secord was a heroine of the War of 1812, when she had travelled across open country to warn her husband of the landing of American troops. I made a ten minute stop at the homestead, which has now become a tourist attraction. The staff were just opening up, and the parking lot, large enough for many tourist buses, was still empty. I looked in the gift shop, but there was nothing interesting, so I rode on.

 

Outside of Queenston, I had to join the main road of the Niagara Parkway in order to climb up the Escarpment. There were a number of switchbacks as the rode ascended the 400 foot cliff.

 

The Niagara Escarpment stretches hundreds of miles across Ontario and New York State, but is most impressive at Niagara Falls. See 3. Notes on the Niagara Escarpment, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I stopped at the overlook at 10:10 and had a great vista of the tree-lined Niagara River snaking its way across the plain until it lost itself in the vast blue of the lake beyond.

 

At the crest of the hill was the Brock Monument, a huge tower built in 1854, to replace an even earlier one which had been destroyed in the 1830s. The monument commemorated the death of Sir Isaac Brock, who had been killed in the Battle of Queenston Heights. I had never realized that the tower was hollow and that one could climb the 261 steps that circled within the stone pillar. The admission was only $2, but I did not feel comfortable leaving my bike unattended. I set it in my mind to return, as I would the next day. I left the part at 10.40.

 

The role of Queenston Heights in the War of 1812 is told through the historic plaques.. See 4. Notes Queenston Heights, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

Queenston Heights and the Brock Monument is the northern terminus of the Niagara People Mover, a wonderful set of buses for ferrying tourists up and down the River, to all the major sights.

 

From the Queenston Heights Park, I picked up the bike trail again, as it led along the crest of the Niagara Gorge. The river, now 400 feet below, was already getting choppy. I could see the Zodiak boats coming up from downriver, probably from Queenston. I think these Zodiaks went upriver as far as the Whirlpool Rapids. I am sure tourists find it a great thrill to ride the lower rapids.

 

Upstream from Queenston Heights, the Niagara River goes through a spectacular gorge, which is spanned by several bridges. See 5. Notes on the Niagara Gorge, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I stopped off the see The Floral Clock, one of the "have to" tourist attractions of Niagara. It was put in place by the power companies, no doubt as a sort of peace offering for all the dams and reservoirs they had constructed in the area. The area was so thick with tourists that I could hardly walk, let alone see the clock.

 

I rejoined the bike trail and immediately passed underneath the freeway bridge linking Queenston and Lewiston, a bridge I had once been across this bridge in 1983.

 

The path then led across the tops of the two power generating stations, with the big, analogous American one on the opposite shore. These descend the whole height of the cliffs. Water is taken upstream at Chippawa. This is done the night so as not to disturb the tourists' viewing of the Falls viewing. The water taken is used to fill up giant reservoirs, from which it is released in a controlled fashion all day long.

 

In harnessing the power of Niagara Falls around the turn of the 20th Century, modern electrical generation and transmission was born. See 6. Notes on Niagara Power, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background. Included is a detailed article on the various power plants

 

Past the Power Station, the bike trail left the Gorge and crossed over to the landward side of the Niagara Parkway, to go by the Botanical Gardens. It then returned once more to the river side, where I was much happier.

 

I came to Niagara Glen, where there was a huge park. I left the trail there and rode down the twenty foot embankment and out to the lookout point. There I could see upstream as far as the Whirlpool Rapids, and downstream all the way back to the power houses. There were stairs descending from the cliff down to the water's edge. I presume one would find there lots of paths for hikers along the Devil's Hole Rapids. I'd have to save that for another trip, though. I did not have the time and it would have been impossible to negotiate the stairs with my bicycle. I passed 10 minutes altogether at the Glen, from 11:15 to 11:25.

 

Just a short way down the trail, still along the crest of the Gorge, was Thompson Point, the northern anchorage of the Spanish Aerocar over the Whirlpool Rapids. I stopped for 5 minutes to watch the Aerocar, upon which Sheryl and I had ridden in 1996. Down along the shores of the River, I could see hikers and fisherman along the rocks of the American side.

 

From Thompson Point, the trail leads around the bend of the Whirlpool Rapids and one loses sight of the water for a while. The trail continues along the Parkway, with deep woods to the left. Lots of trails headed off in that direction, so I presume one could hike down to the water, or at least to the crest of the Gorge. At each trail head was a sign indicating that the Niagara Parks Authority absolved themselves of all responsibility for anyone taking the trails.

 

As I came around to the far side of the cove, climbing the hill towards the parking lot for the main Aerocar anchorage, the separate bike trail vanished. From that point on, to past The Falls, I would be sharing the often quite-narrow sidewalk with pedestrians.

 

There was a huge crowd at the AeroCar. Lines were already stretching out into the parking lot. Sheryl and I had learned in 1996 the trick to seeing these touristy things: One bought the "3-in-1" pass for the main sites, and an all-day ticket for the People Mover. First thing in the morning, one had to visit the Tunnels under the Falls, as these were the first to develop a line. Then one took the People Mover directly to the AeroCar, beating the crowds this second busiest attraction. The Great Gorge Adventure, the third attraction, is always less crowded, for few know how spectacular it is. (It is actually the most interesting of the three.) Finally, one walked across to the American side to take the Maid of the Mist from there, where it is always much less crowded.

 

For an account of this visit, see 1. Visits to the Niagara Region, in the Supplementary Notes section of the previous day's notes.

 

I dismounted and made my way on foot past the crowd of pedestrians at the Aerocar. Once past, I was again able to start riding again, although only along the very narrow sidewalk on the Gorge wall side of the Niagara Parkway. What had been open parkland on the far side of the road gave way immediately to a line of motels and B&Bs. As I rounded the corner, just across from the Great Gorge Adventure, there was a huge Buddhist Temple: The 10,000 Buddha Temple.

 

Not too many people were waiting for the Great Gorge Adventure, which is really one of the nicest sights. An elevator goes down through the rock to water level, where there is a boardwalk right along the fierce whirlpool rapids. I had come this way with Sheryl in 1996.

 

Just past is the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge. The top deck is a railway bridge, with a deck for cars underneath, and pedestrian walkways on both sides of the lower deck. I wanted to walk out on the north side to get a good photo upriver of the rapids, but was unable to do so.. The southern walkway was open and unguarded all the way across for Canadians, with the opposite being true for Americans. I would have had to cross and come back in order to walk on the north side.

 

I was lucky to catch an Amtrak train crossing the bridge, and watched it stop at U.S. Customs. Just next to the first bridge is another old and rusty railroad bridge.

 

Past the bridges, I continued up along the sidewalk along the Gorge rim until I came to the Rainbow Bridge at around 12:00. I stopped under the Rainbow Bridge to call Sheryl, who was still back at the motel studying. I took the opportunity to have a lunch of Wasa whole wheat crackers and cream cheese. It was interesting passing underneath the bridge, on the special pedestrian walkway.

 

Past the Rainbow Bridge, I got caught up in the huge tourist structure built around the Maid of the Mist. There were myriad walkways and lookouts, complete with an underground mall. A sign at the entrance had indicated "No Bikes, but I had ignored it. It was only on the far side that I would discoverer that I could not get out, on account of long flights of steps, and so had to backtrack through the thick throngs of people to the beginning.

 

All of this was new since my last visit of 1996. Indeed, many new, tall buildings had been build up along Clifton Street, so that one would never recognize it from 1996. There was the huge Casino, for example, and the new Planet Hollywood building. Up over the Falls themselves were new high rise hotels, la Las Vegas. There was a new incline railway to bring people from the hotels on the ridge right down to the Falls. All of this was brand new.

 

Niagara Falls is the centerpoint of the Parkway, and has been a key tourist site since the 1820s. See 7. Notes on Niagara Falls, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I stopped and got some photos of the American Falls, right across the river, and of the Horseshoe Falls, from a distance. I did not end up going right to the edge of the Canadian Falls, for it was far too wet on account of the mist. It was like being in a rainstorm! Besides, as the crowds got ever thicker, it became more difficult for me to manoeuvre my bike, even when walking it.

 

Thus, I gave the Table Rock Complex a wide pass and came back to the river's just past the Falls. The separate bike trail broke out again at that point and I no longer had to share the right-of-way with pedestrians. I was quickly clear of all the people. It was about 13:30 when I was clear of the Falls.

 

I went by these historic turn-of-the-century powerhouses, first the one across the road and then the one alongside the river. These powerhouses were beautiful, masterpieces of architecture for their day. It was this cheap power which had built up Toronto. The trial kept me right by the water's edge, leading me over several small bridges and crossing the various water intakes for the power plants.

 

I do not recall having come this way, venturing so far above the Falls outside a car, since 1972 when my parents had brought me here. At that time we had had to park well above the Falls and had walked down.

 

I came to the International Control Dam, a structure which goes out into the River as far as the border, and is used to control the flow of water over the Falls. I then went by the two giant intakes for the big powerhouses and reservoirs downstream. According to the indicators, these are at the head of giant 13-metre wide pipes. One could feel the force of their vibrations, even though they were underground.

 

Across the mouth of the Welland River, where it came out to meet the Niagara, was a special bike bridge. It was at this point that boats could come back onto the River. In fact, as I looked on from there, a small boat come up the Welland River and went out into the Niagara. Huge signs below this point read, "Warning! Very Dangerous Navigation"

 

At the mouth of the Welland, I was near the town of Chippawa. The bike path bypassed the built up section of the town however, which was a bit inland and up the Welland River. The bike trail crossed over at this point to the inland side of the Niagara Parkway. The River became very calm and one would hardly know that there were giant waterfalls just downstream.

 

Chippawa is just upstream from Niagara, and in the early days was a much more important center. Explore Chipawa's historical role through the historic plaques found along the Parkway.. See 8. Notes on Chippawa, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

The American side was blemished by huge industrial complexes, but they were soon hidden by Navy Island (ours) and Grand Isle (theirs).

 

It was 13:45 when I had made the Chippawa town line and 14:15 when I passed the site of the "Battle of Chippawa", where there was a commemorative park and a huge golf course in the making. The Battle of Chippawa was fought on 5 July 1814. 4000 American, Canadian, and British troops, along with Indians partook, and four hours later some 800 dead of them were dead.

 

Once past the battlefield site, the nature of the trail changed. It was made up of a number of small frontage roads, each a block or so long, and each connected to the Niagara Parkway by one, single driveway. These frontage roads each had a few houses along them. The trail went along these short, isolated roadways. Where each would stop, the trail would go on through the trees until it met the next one.

 

I came to Slater's Dock where, according to the information plaque, people around 1892 would disembark from the Buffalo to Chippawa steamboat. They would board the trams of the Electric Railway, to go past the Falls, stopping at Victoria Park, and then on to Queenston, where they would board a lake steamer for Toronto.

 

An elecric trolley descended from Black Creek to Queenston, and descended into the Niagara Gorge.. See 9. Notes on the Great Gorge Railway, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I stopped at 14:35 and took a ten minute break while putting on my rain gear. I could both see and hear the storm approaching from the southwest, from over Lake Erie. While changing, I met a cyclist who was going the other way and he asked me about campgrounds. It turned out he was on day 59 of a Florida to Wisconsin trip.

 

Sure enough, it soon started to rain. It was really pouring down in buckets! I kept on for a short ways, expecting it to be a quick shower, but when it seemed like the heavy rain would continue for a long time, I decided I should stop and check the waterproof packing of all my gear. Anyway, I was cold and my socks were soaked.

 

I stopped at Black Creek, nipping into a small coffee shop at the marina. There was an overhang under which I could park my bike. I sloshed in and ordered myself a coffee. The hot coffee warmed my sould. The tiny coffee shop was filled with locals who were taking shelter from the rain, including a couple of policemen. They all got a kick out of watching as I went outside and re-packed my stuff to make sure it would stay dry. I took off my socks and wrung them out before putting them back on. Thank heavens they were woollen socks, the only kind to wear, for they keep one warm when they get wet.

 

It was 15:05 when I stopped at Black Creek. I found that I was on the Fort Erie town line, with only 11km to go before reaching my goal. I called Sheryl and we agreed she would continue shopping until I actually got to Fort Erie. Travelling on the QEW, it would only take her half an hour to come and meet me.

 

Black Creek is today just the site of a small marina, but it had a much more important role in earlier history.. See 10. Notes on Black Creek, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

Refreshed and somewhat drier, I set out once again into the rain. All the cops now gathered at the restaurant continued to be amused at seeing me heading off in the pouring rain.

 

I came into Ft. Erie proper around 16:00, stopping briefly at the entrance to town to get a photo of the International Railway Bridge. It was hard to get the picture in the pouring rain, but I did my best. The far side of the river, a maze of factories, was shrouded in mist.

 

As I rode through the streets of the old part of Fort Erie, it seemed like there was a whole district dedicated to nothing but Chinese restaurants. It was very strange.

 

Fort Erie is the southern terminus of the Parkway. It was a key battleground of the War of 1812. It was also the site of the world famous Crystal Beach amusement park.. See 11. Notes on Fort Erie, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I parked under the shelter of the Peace Bridge at 16:35. The structure of the bridge gave me a dry space, so I was able to unpack my camera, change film and take some more pictures. I had a good view of Lake Erie, although it was very hazy on account of the rain and I could not see too far. Here at the lake's edge, I could see the strong current leading into the Niagara River.

 

I spent about ten minutes under the shelter of the bridge before riding along the riverside park that last couple of kilometers to Historic Fort Erie itself. By the time I got to the fort, the weather was beginning to clear up a bit, and I was able to get a few photos. Alas, I missed a great shot of some re-enactors in period red coat uniforms. I was only able to peer in at the gate, as one had to pay admission to get inside.

 

It was 17:00 when I called Sheryl, who said she would be starting out soon. I then rode back up to the bridge area and got a photo of the Peace Bridge customs area from the overpass. Many times had I passed over this bridge.

 

I checked out the business area close by. There was one main street, with businesses and malls on both sides. I went into Zellers and bought some more film (I was on my last roll) and some dry socks and a Thank You card for Sheryl. I stopped at Tim Horton's and got a coffee and a whole wheat bagel. On a hunch, I called Sheryl. She had just gotten off the QEW in Fort Erie, so using my city map I gave her directions to Historic Fort Erie. I then set off, my coffee in hand, to meet her there.

 

When I got to the Fort, there was no Sheryl. It seemed odd. I had expected her to get there before me. Then she phoned. She had gotten a bit turned around. Together, I located her position on my map, and then gave her new directions. She came on a few minutes later.

 

We took a few photos in front of the Fort Erie gates, and then she followed as I rode down to the waterfront parking area where We took some more photos. We spent about an hour down there as Sheryl went plant exploring while I did the final unpack of my bike and securely loaded it onto the car.

 

It was 18:30 when we were ready to go. We decided to eat there in Fort Erie. We were hungry already and felt no need to drive all the way back to Niagara-on-the-Lake where we would then pay double for whatever we ordered. We scoped out the local restaurants and settled into the Black Creek Tavern. I had a great roast beef dinner and Sheryl had liver and onions. The whole ceiling of this bar was hung with these cheesy party decorations, one hanging about every six inches.

 

After dinner, we took a leisurely drive back to Niagara-on-the-Lake via the Parkway, and I gave Sheryl a running commentary of my day, in reverse. She had a chance to look out on the Falls as we drove by.

 

Daily Report

According to a later, detailed study of the kilometrage, based on map readings and my hourly log:

        I travelled a forward (towards my goal) distance of 58 km, for a total cumulative forward distance of 784 km, for the whole trip.

        Total distance travelled this day was the same, for a total distance travelled of 834 km, for the whole trip

        I rode for 6 h 35, with an additional 2 h 10 in breaks, for a total of 8 h 45 on the road.

        My average speed was 9 km/hr

[See the Kilometrage Study for details]