Niagara Falls, Canada, became a major tourist attraction in the mid-1830s. By this time, roads, canals and railways were able to bring people from urban centers, like New York and Boston. However, the chance for big profits attracted dishonest businessmen. One hotel in the 1860s was popularly known as the “Cave of the Forty Thieves.” There were many complaints from tourists about tricks that were used to get their money. Some businessmen tried to put up fences around the Falls, so that all visitors would have to pay them to see the Falls.
In time, these complaints reached the ears of important people. In 1873, Lord Dufferin, the Governor-General of Canada, proposed that the government buy all the land around the Falls. On the American side, New York State bought 412 acres around the American Rainbow Falls in 1885. In the same year, land was bought near the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and named Queen Victoria Park.
A commission was formed to obtain control of all land along the Niagara River. This was made easier because a narrow strip along the river was already government land. However, the Commission wanted to preserve all the beautiful scenery along the river and near the Falls for the general public. The first commissioner of the parks was Sir Casimir Gzowski, a distinguished engineer of Polish birth. Before the Queen Victoria Park Commission began to buy up land besides the Falls, tourists had to pay for everything. There were no public washrooms, no drinking fountains, and no safety barriers around the Falls.
As a result, it was not uncommon for tourists crowding close to the Falls, or hypnotized by the flow of the river, to step too close and fall in. The commission took care of these problems and also set up parks and picnic areas. In 1927, the Commission’s name was changed to the Niagara Parks Commission. It now supervises numerous attractions and parks from Niagara-on-the- Lake on Lake Ontario, down to Fort Erie on Lake Erie.
Each section of the 56-kilometer stretch of Niagara Parks has its own places of interest. These are joined by the Niagara Parkway, a road that runs the whole length of the river. Sir Winston Churchill called the parkway, “The prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” The Niagara Parks Commission operates restaurants, parks and gardens, rides, museums and historic houses, golf courses, native sites and gift shops. Near the Falls are restaurants, parks, greenhouses, the “Journey Behind the Falls” and the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride.
North of the Falls, at Niagara Gorge, are the Spanish Aero Car Ride and the Great Gorge Adventure. The Commission also operates a School of Horticulture, with large gardens. Queenston Heights is a park commemorating one of Canada’s heroes, General Isaac Brock. In nearby Queenston are historic houses connected with two other important Canadians, Laura Secord and William Lyon MacKenzie.
The Commission also operates two historic forts, dating from the War of 1812 – Fort George and Old Fort Erie. The Niagara Parks Commission has played a major role in making Niagara Falls and the Niagara River one of the leading tourist areas in the world. The Commission shows how governments can work to make visits to natural wonders like Niagara Falls a good experience for the general public.