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The striking spectacle of Niagara Falls has been attracting crowds of visitors for many years, a trend supposedly started when Napoleon's brother came here with his young wife. Right beside the falls, the town of the same name is entirely devoted to tourism, and its downtown area is a series of nondescript motels, uninteresting museums and fast-food restaurants, accented by scores of colourful signs. These places have sprung up in a chaotic manner, and no one seems to have given a second thought to aesthetics. There's no denying that the Niagara Falls are a natural treasure, but the town has no real attractions.
The Niagara Falls were created some 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers receded, clearing the Niagara Escarpment and diverting the waters of Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. This natural formation is remarkably beautiful, with two falls, one on either side of the border. The U.S. Falls are 64m-high and 305m-wide, with a flow of 14 million litres/min, while Canada's Horseshoe Falls, named for their shape, are 54m-high and 675m-wide, with a flow of 155 million litres of water/min. The rocky shelf of the falls is made of soft stone, and it was receding at a rate of 1m per year until some of the water was diverted to nearby hydroelectric power stations. The rate of erosion is now about 30cm per year. There are observation decks in front of the falls, which can also be viewed from countless other angles. The Maid of the Mist (5920 River Rd., 905-358-5781) takes passengers to the foot of the falls, which make the boat seem very small indeed. Protected by a raincoat, which will prevent you from getting drenched during the outing, you can view the U.S. side of the falls and then the Canadian side, right in the middle of the horseshoe.
In 1885, Victoria Park was created, in order to protect the natural setting around the falls from unbridled commercial development. This beautiful green space alongside the river has scores of hiking and cross-country ski trails.
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