MARYANNE FIRTH/Tribune Staff
There are many reasons why Niagara is a great place to live.
Plenty to see, plenty to do.
And while the region offers stand-out wonders that attract thousands, if not millions, of tourists each year, it’s the hidden gems and historic hearts of the municipalities that truly make Niagara special.
It was quite the task to narrow down a list to only 50 places, “things” and community staples that make the region its uniquely-wonderful self.
Here’s the list, in alphabetical order, of things and places that help make Niagara pop.
The 9/11 Walkway, St. Catharines: A memorial to the 27 Canadians killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the pathway offers a place to reflect on the 2001 tragedy. Lined with 27 trees planted in memory of those who died, the walkway cuts through the park at the Happy Rolph bird sanctuary.
Ball’s Falls Conservation Area: A wonderland for nature lovers, Ball’s Falls is set within the Twenty Valley watershed and has long been a favourite spot for hikers and wildlife observers alike.
The Battle of Ridgeway: Often overshadowed by the War of 1812, the Battle of Ridgeway was a critical piece of Niagara and Canada’s history. The Fenian raids on June 2, 1866 provided some impetus for Canada’s Confederation one year later.
Beaches: Though the jury’s still out on which one deserves the crown, each of Niagara’s many beaches, found in St. Catharines, Wainfleet, Port Colborne and Fort Erie, are often packed with crowds soaking up the sun.
Diners: Every town has one, considered a staple eatery in the community. In Welland, it’s The Blue Star. Around for more than 60 years, this family restaurant on King St. is one of the most popular eateries in the city. In Niagara Falls, Simon’s Restaurant on Bridge St. has staked its claim as one of the oldest restaurants in Niagara, maybe even North America.
Cable wakeboarding facility at Sugarloaf Marina, Port Colborne: Opening in May, the facility will be the first of its kind in Niagara, allowing wakeboarders to hit the water with no boat required.
Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival: Classic tall ships fill the waterway, gigantic kites fill the sky and people crowd the streets during this annual summer festival celebrating Port Colborne’s marine heritage. Along with ships and kites, there is plenty to see with a sizeable car show, carnival rides and what seems to be an always impressive concert lineup.
Canview Drive-In, Fonthill: The only place in Niagara, and one of only a handful in Ontario, where you can sit back, relax and catch a flick from the comfort of your vehicle.
The Rainbow Tower Carillon, Niagara Falls: A hidden gem that often goes unnoticed by the many passersby, the tower is found at the Canadian entrance of the Rainbow International Bridge on Falls Ave. With a set of 55 tuned bells hung within, the music range of its carillon is one of the broadest in the world.
Carousel in Lakeside Park, Port Dalhousie: Beautifully-crafted horses, lions, camels, goats, giraffes and chariots brighten the smiles of both the young and young at heart as they hop on board for a ride at only a nickel a piece.
Comfort Maple, Pelham: Believed to be the oldest of its kind in Canada, with its roots holding ground for what’s estimated to be more than 500 years, the Comfort Maple on Metlet Rd. is considered Pelham’s most famous landmark.
Floral Clock, Niagara Falls: It’s hard to miss this gigantic timepiece while travelling along the Niagara Parkway. After all, it’s not every day you come across a meticulously-designed clock created with up to 16,000 carpet bedding plants, let alone one that actually offers up the right time.
Bandshells: Found in places such as Peace Park in Pelham, Old Fort Erie, Queenston Heights Park and Cummington Square in Chippawa, Niagara’s bandshells give a nostalgic feel, even while providing the stage for more modern performances.
Forts: History at its finest — up close and personal. Fort George and Old Fort Erie offer visitors the chance to travel back in time just by stepping through their once heavily-guarded gates. With the War of 1812 bicentennial at hand, Niagarans should all make an effort to take in these living history lessons if they haven’t already.
Trails: It’s impossible to compile a list of what makes Niagara great without mentioning the many trails scattered throughout the region. From the Friendship Trail in Fort Erie to the Greater Niagara Circle Trek, there’s no shortage of nature-filled paths to explore by foot or by bike.
Grape and Wine Parade: Though it’s now known as the Niagara Wine Festival Grande Parade, the event that has been filling St. Catharines streets for more than 60 years is still known in the hearts of many as the Grape and Wine Parade. The September celebration is a tradition for many of the thousands of spectators who flock to the city’s downtown core for the procession followed by festival-fun in Montebello Park.
Greaves Jams: While now available at countless retail locations across the country, the ever-delicious Greaves Jams have been made in Niagara-on-the-Lake since 1927. The original shop on historic Queen St., where all Greaves products used to be made, still acts as the company’s main retail store.
Happy Rolph’s: This petting farm and bird sanctuary on Read Rd. in St. Catharines is a favourite spot for Niagara’s youngsters. After nuzzling with goats, rabbits, horses, and, yes, even a donkey, there’s plenty of space for families to picnic by the lake in the scenic setting.
Horses: These majestic animals have long been a part of the fabric of the Fort Erie community, often spotted grazing in the fields of local farms or at the historic Fort Erie Race Track.
Hydro plants, Niagara Falls: The Niagara River is one of the world’s greatest sources of hydroelectric power. It provides the driving force for almost two-million kilowatts of electricity that travel from a number of power plants, including the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station, where tours are offered.
IlluminAqua concert series, Welland: An event series like no other, top-notch musical performers share their gift on a floating stage in the Welland Recreational Canal as burning fire pods light the waterway.
Incredible shrinking mill, Port Colborne: Driving east on Lakeshore Rd. W. toward the mill will produce a neat optical illusion. As you near the gigantic building, the mill begins to shrink right before your eyes as the road curves uphill.
Jaycee Park, St. Catharines: Ideal for both garden-enthusiasts and history buffs, the park, located in scenic Port Dalhousie, is home to some of the area’s most beautiful flower beds. The park’s west end is filled with the remains of the historic third Welland Canal, including the exposed remnants of one of the stone locks of the canal found near Martindale Pond.
Jordan Village: Found in the heart of Niagara’s Twenty Valley amidst the many wineries along the Niagara Escarpment, this quaint rural village is filled with unique shops, restaurants, museums, galleries and trails all waiting to be explored.
Kissing Rock at Lock 7 Park in Thorold: The rock is said to provide everlasting luck and happiness for those who meet and kiss a sweetheart on site. The practice began long ago by Great Lakes mariner Charles Snelgrove, and annually draws hundreds of couples to the site to lock lips.
Laura Secord’s home, Niagara-on-the-Lake: Travel back in time and touch a piece of history by visiting the homestead of Canada’s most famous heroine. This was the starting point of Secord’s long journey to warn the British of an impending surprise attack by the Americans during the War of 1812.
Lock 8 Park, Port Colborne: Situated along the Welland Canal, this peaceful park is the ideal spot to stop and watch as ships of all sizes pass by. It’s soon to be home to a nautical-themed skate park designed in part by the city’s youths.
Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum, Niagara-on-the-Lake: Filled with 500 years of printing technology, the restored home of rebel publisher William Lyon Mackenzie is a must-see. Included in the museum’s rare collection is the Louis Roy Press — the oldest in Canada and one of the few original wooden presses left in the world.
Maid of the Mist: If you’ve never experienced the iconic boat tours beneath the falls, better make haste. This spring will mark the beginning of the second to last season for the Maid of the Mist, which has been operating on the river since 1846.
Marcy’s Woods, Fort Erie: Home to many plants, animals, birds and reptile species, Marcy’s Woods, a protected private nature reserve, is a haven for those who love wildlife.
Sweet treats: There’s no shortage of places in Niagara to satisfy your sweet tooth. Marshville Chocolates in Wainfleet, Nigh’s Sweet Shop in Stevensville and the Crystal Beach Candy Co., featuring Bob Steckley’s famous suckers, have all been giving Niagarans their sugar fix for decades.
Merritt Island, Welland: Nestled between the Welland Recreational Canal and the Welland River, Merritt Island is one of the Rose City’s hidden gems that plays host to hundreds of joggers, bikers and dog-walkers taking in the scenic views along the waterways.
Montebello Park, St. Catharines: Found in the city’s downtown core, the park acts as the staple setting for many festivals and events held throughout the year.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Cakewalk Parade: Every Canada Day, a local baker creates a giant cake that is paraded down Queen St. as hundreds of children and residents follow it to a nearby park. There, it’s sliced up and handed out until every last person has a piece. Such a fun and quirky tradition!
Niagara Escarpment: One of the world’s natural wonders, the escarpment is filled with sweeping scenic views, streams, wetlands, waterfalls and countless wildlife habitats.
Niagara Falls: Words cannot do justice to this natural wonder — it’s something you must see for yourself. As millions of people have learned over time, it offers a view like no other.
Niagara Parks Commission: This government agency is dedicated to preserving parkland and provides Niagara Falls with its botanical gardens — a hidden gem within the city.
The “Pirate Ship”: The rusted-out carcass of what was once a floating restaurant has been parked next to the QEW in Jordan Harbour since 1997. It’s seen better days, but Niagara residents and visitors alike still pull over at the side of the road to snap photos.
Lighthouses: Standing tall in Point Abino, Port Colborne, and Port Dalhousie, these navigational aids add to the already pristine settings provided by their respective waterways.
The QEW: A uniquely named 400-series highway in the Niagara region.
Queenston Heights: This historic park is home to the unique memorial Brock’s Monument, which pays tribute to Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, a hero of the War of 1812.
Recreational waterways: Whether it’s rowing, kayaking, canoeing or even fishing that floats your boat, Martindale Pond in St. Catharines and the Welland Recreational Canal in Welland have got you covered.
Roselawn Centre, Port Colborne: This architectural masterpiece, straight out of the Upper Canada Victorian era, has operated for many years as an arts and cultures centre for the city. It’s home to the popular Showboat Festival Theatre.
Running events: There are many opportunities to hit the ground running in Niagara, whether for a charitable organization or for a healthy dose of friendly competition. The Rankin Run in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls International Marathon and the Welland Triathlon each get thousands of people lacing up annually.
Safari Niagara: Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! There are no shortage of animals to see up-close and personal at this Stevensville zoo.
Short Hills Provincial Park: Countless trails weave in and out of this popular attraction for hiking, horseback riding, fishing and mountain biking.
Skydive Burnaby: There’s no greater rush of adrenaline than plummeting thousands of feet from a plane, especially with view of Niagara’s scenic landscape below.
Street food: Jake’s Chip Wagon has been an institution for decades in Niagara Falls, filling the city’s downtown with the unmistakeable, and often irresistible, smell of cooking oil and vinegar since 1945.In more recent years, St. Catharines has also seen a boost in gourmet truck cookin’ with the introduction of el Gastronomo Vagabundo, providing fine-dining eats.
Veterans memorials: Niagara takes time to honour those who fought for their country. Along with veterans sections found in many cemeteries across the region, such as Victoria Lawn Cemetery in St. Catharines, Niagara has many monuments, including the Welland-Crowland War Memorial at Chippawa Park, that recognize the sacrifices made by the men and women of war.
Wainfleet Bog: While not attractive in appearance, nature lovers will rejoice upon seeing the different wildlife that live in the bog, which runs along Feeder Rd. in Wainfleet.
Welland Canal: Beyond it’s rich history, which is unique to Niagara in itself, the Welland Canal is certainly a sight. Where else can you see a canal run right through the middle of a city? Panama?
Welland Courthouse: The historic, restored building has a tiny surprise museum upstairs, where visitors to the courts can kill some time learning how much rope an executioner would require to hang someone based on their height.
Wineries: It’s critical to raise a glass to Niagara’s many award-winning wineries. Not only have they put the region on the map in the world of viticulture, but they’ve also created picturesque landscapes with their vineyards spread throughout Niagara.