Niagara Balls

by Rachel Gertz

Day 225

Niagara is a commercial whore. She started out as a piece of pristine nature. An overwhelming testament to the raw power of water and rock and the distance between basin and ledge. But lo and behold, in the 1800s European settlers moved in, peed their chemicals on her, and painted her up like a clown. In a mere 300 years of human contact, Niagara has been transformed from a gem to a turd.

Opportunistic humans and their greedy punch to her solar plexus, are heartily to blame. First these curious humans began a ferry service and then inserted roads, canals, and the Clifton Hotel. Human admiration for the falls turned to spectacle. Dare devils tested Niagara with barrels and tight rope walking, luring crowds and turning the eye from the beauty of the water itself, to the feats of the bold and stupid. In 1846, they even introduced a boat ride for tourists to scope out the falls up close. It’s still running today, and you can check out the timeline if you’re interested.

Next came the industrial boom of the early 1900s, which continues today. The flow from the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Eerie to Lake Ontario, became a slurry of Industrial waste, raw sewage, and even dead animal carcasses (not to mention “toxic contamination through heavy metals and pesticides, overdevelopment of the water’s edge, runoff from agriculture and urbanization, and air pollution” — Seems that folks at the time believed in the ‘dilution factor’ which is basically the idea that water has the power to dilute and thus eliminate any environmental irritants it encounters. So, if I pee in the pool, the water will make like a white rabbit and disappear. Well, with so many ‘pool pissers’ having a blast in the lakes, that waste keeps adding up. And that water flows right over the falls, right into the upturned faces of those curious little tourists getting misted by a toxic cocktail of chemicals and effluent. Free chemical peel included. Also, note that the toxic foam that snuggles against the Maid of the Mist tour boat as it pulses through the churning waves has not been added to intensify your ‘fun’ factor. 

Manufacturing continued and so too, did the chemical dumping. As if that wasn’t bad enough, people started getting bored with the monotony of tight rope walking and barreling over the falls (plus it became illegal). On to the next thing. Wouldn’t want anyone spending too much time thinking about the following chemicals that have been freely dumped into the Niagara river since the fifties…

  • 37 million gallons of radioactive waste courtesy of “The Manhattan Project”
  • 110 million gallons of untreated waste water (don’t worry, SCA Chemical Services had a permit for that)
  • Tons of VOC’s: volatile organic chemicals like formaldehyde, paints, CFCs, that irritate and cause major health problems

And on and on it goes. Here’s a shattering account of all the other pollutants in the area if you’re interested. 

Experts estimate that even if all chemical and waste dumping were stopped immediately, it would still take 200 years or more to get old Niagara back to her pre-chemical disposition. Hope you plan on living for a long time. Wait, does that all sound like bad news? There is some good news. People do care a little. I know I do.

Anyway, the chemical companies want you to forget about all that…Instead: tourist attractions!!! Monetizing the falls actually began as early as the 1800s, when tourists prevented from seeing their austere beauty were charged a few coins to get a closer look. True to form, this spurred on a whole gamut of ridiculous tourist traps that have since floated to the surface like toxic toluene particles. Oddly enough, you’ll find an assortment of wax museums, outlet shopping, haunted houses, poor poor food choices, and souvenir shops looming eerily along the Canadian side of the falls. At night it’s Las Vegas, except you can’t get an escort. Wait, you can do that in Niagara, too. Never mind. The kids love the overpriced crap (ice-cream cones, stuffed ‘mascots’, and photographs with you in a barrel in front of a green screen). They just don’t realize that mommy and daddy have to pay a shit ton of money so little Clara can ‘experience the wonder and beauty of mother nature’. 

What really gets my goat, if I can use that expression, are the attraction packages. These are decidedly the top four things to do while in Niagara (and of course it’s cheaper to get the package than even pay for two of the four tours). The tours are overpriced and packed to the gills with overweight tourists and fanny packs. I would say “just skip ‘em” but it’s the only way you’ll get close enough to the falls to feel the thud of the water hitting the rocks below. A caveat, the park says that all of the money for these tours goes directly back into preservation of the park. If you happen to look down and see the hurricane of plastics bottles laying beside the falls, or smell the briny foam kicking up beside the shore, it’ll make you wonder what part of Niagara is actually being preserved. Again, none of this money is likely going to chemical clean up. Please tell me I’m wrong. 

Warning… if you don’t wanna listen to me rant, stop reading now (and probably forever)

Tour Package ($34.95)

Niagara’s Fury ($17 on its own)

This was a lame 4D movie about the ‘history’ of the falls. Ironically, the history was so murky, no dates were really given, and approximations by a white cartoon owl were vague at best. The actual ‘fury’ part consisted of standing in a room where you got to witness the ‘creation of the falls’. Special effects and loud noises were moving, but again, we learned absolutely nothing and the scenes often didn’t make sense. You’re given a yellow disposable plastic poncho with the fury logo on it to wear during the show because you get wet.

Maid of the Mist ($14.50 on its own)

You pop onto an old boat for a six minute close-up gander at the falls. The spray will cover your face and any other exposed limbs. Knowing what you know now about the chemical daiquiri spiralling around above your head, bring some towels and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. WORST THING EVER: You’re offered another poncho, even if your wearing one from your last tour. You can recycle them if you notice the signs…. but do the math. One million visitors a month x 3 000 000 ponchos = a shit-ton of plastic waste created within a nature preserve. There’s no number inside the recycle triangle which as far as I know means you can’t really recycle them. At least not here in Canada. Disappointing.

Journey Behind the Falls ($12.75 on its own) 

Oh look, another flipping’ poncho. Even if you’ve got two on now. I can’t believe the waste here. Absolutely ridiculous. Anyhow, this time you go down an elevator into some grimy tunnels and peer into the mist from behind the falls. Apparently the flow of the river is actually 50% of its normal flow as water is diverted through the hydroelectric plants and spat out down river. Damn dams. Overall: really neat, extremely loud. Wet. Fun. Damn the extra ponchos.

White Water Walk ($9.00 on its own) 

Umm, you go down an elevator and then walk one kilometre beside the raging Niagara river on a dilapidated wood bridge. I am dismayed that they charged money for this. The life threatening class 6 rapids are impressive, but should only privileged gawkers have the chance to view them? I think not. This should be a free attraction. Especially since the attraction requires zero upkeep.

The above tourist traps especially seem to attract doe-eyed honeymooners lustful for a unique waterfall experience and overpriced hotel ($300 CAD a night). Luckily Trav and stayed in a parking lot for a total of $15 the first night and $5 the second, so we did pretty well. The first night we’re pretty sure the parking attendant pocketed $5. Dick.

Niagara has seen a great deal of change in her life time. She’s seen peaceful First Nations settle around her, wars spill young blood on her, opportunistic chemical companies pollute her, and idiots try to ride her. A very high pain tolerance, if you ask me. If Niagara has done anything for us, she has ripped our eyelids wide open to the sad usurping of a thing called nature that is only around for as long as we don’t eff it up. Travis and I are not environmental zealots, but we are definitely rethinking our carbon footprint and our legacy. We’re no longer going to sit back and watch things happen when we know we have a voice to challenge them. If Niagara could speak, we’re sure she’d agree. Until then, she’ll chew you up and spit you out if you get too close.

You still want to visit, eh? Well, in case we haven’t ruined the hype for you, here’s a complete list of other stuff you can do while there. Leave your barrel at home. Stunters are fined up to $10 000 for their idiocy. 


Interesting Facts:  Did you know you could see turds floating in the Niagara river in the 50s? Apparently sewage treatment is a rather new concept… 

Niagara on Wikipedia

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