Login   Sign Up 


There`s more to Ontario than Niagara Falls

by James Graham 

Posted: 09 April 2015
Word Count: 1700
Summary: Any faults or inconsistencies in this revision - just let me know.
Related Works: There`s more to Canada than Maple Syrup • 

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

There’s more to Ontario than Niagara Falls

A grand hotel with excellent food, evening entertainments, sports and keep-fit facilities, a pool and a beach: for some of us that’s the ideal holiday. I don’t mean to disparage those folks who repeat this formula year after year. It can be a real restorative, therapy for a stressful life. But strictly speaking it isn’t travel.

The grand hotel is virtually self-contained – a pleasure capsule. Unless the notion takes you,there’s no need to venture forth and experience the country in which it happens to be situated. I know people who have been several times to Eilat and have never visited Jerusalem, or Torremolinos without going the 50-odd miles to the exquisite Alhambra at Granada. It seems such a pity. So I would like to put in a few words for the idea of a travel holiday – not extreme travel, trekking in Patagonia or crossing the Himalayas,  just getting to know a perfectly accessible foreign place, its surprises and a little of its history. One destination that may not be high on your list but has much to offer, the small and delightful as well as the big and impressive, is the Canadian province of Ontario.

First of all, a little perversely, let me extol the maple tree and its product. If you have a sweet tooth maple syrup is seriously good. A few drops of the dark, mysterious High Strength go better than you’d think with your breakfast bacon. Maple is, I suppose, one of the Canadian clichés – like canoes, beavers and Mounties. The tree, too, is better than you might imagine: in late September you turn a corner somewhere in the vast suburbia south and west of Toronto, and behold a small wood at the edge of a public park: maples in gold, bronze and an intense scarlet you can hardly believe, mixed with the cool green of conifers. Manitoba maples too perhaps, their small, delicate leaves of the subtlest pale yellow, like jasmine or jonquil, trembling in the gentlest breeze. It takes your breath away.

Apart from all things maple, Ontario has much to recommend it. I want to tell you about the places and experiences that were personal highlights for me. If they push the right buttons with you, and you don’t already know the place, Ontario might just be a destination to consider for your next holiday.

Suppose, for example, you’re offered a week at a place in Ontario’s near north, called Bayview Wildwood. It’s a resort, but you might guess from the name and perhaps a mental image of Canada’s vast northern wilderness, that there may not be much razzmatazz. You’d be right – but here’s what there is. A luxury hotel overlooking Sparrow Lake, spacious comfortable rooms, and famous North American ‘all you can eat’ buffet breakfasts and dinners.

And after breakfast, what do you do? One thing I did was take a seaplane flight, over Sparrow Lake, Lake Simcoe and the amazing forest. There’s a kind of natural frontier that you can see clearly from the air: it runs in a zigzag line from west to east, and it divides the southern broadleaf forest from the conifers. This was in the fall, and the deciduous trees were in their fall colours; I looked through my binoculars at the pines, firs and cypresses to the north, and could see no end to them. Our crowded planet can still accommodate 3 million square kilometres of ancient forest, most of it without roads, towns or industry.

One of the little pleasures of seaplane flying is that there’s no thump when you touch down. The plane settles on the water like a swan. You step on to the quay, have a bottle of Upper Canada Ale at the bar, and decide what to do next. From the many alternatives one attraction was an absolute must: the Algonquin traditional tepee.

In line with modern values it was not made of animal skins, but it was authentically decorated with a white-spotted black band around the base, spearheads and stylised deer. Inside, a small audience gathered to hear Aaron Benson, an Algonquin raconteur, and his Quebecoise wife who was a very fine singer of unaccompanied traditional songs. Benson’s talk was enthralling. It wasn’t a parade of cosy folk-tales. He talked about the Indian residential schools first established in the 19th century and persisting until as late as 1960, run by both Catholic and Protestant churches. Children were taken from their parents, housed in accommodation varying from tolerable to squalid, beaten for speaking their own languages, and brainwashed – there’s no other word for it – into accepting European language and culture. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all as grim as this. Benson had a sharp sense of humour: in his opinion, if there were a Nobel Prize for whoever massacred the fewest of their aboriginal peoples, the Canadians would be easy winners. In spite of sometimes gross injustices, the history of the Canadian ‘Mild West’ compares quite well with that of other conquered lands around the world.

Afterwards, I  shook hands with Aaron and Marie Benson, and told them as best I could that their presentation was something I would never forget. I found myself recalling one of the entertainments on offer in a hotel – which shall be nameless – in Fuengirola: advertised as an evening of Flamenco dance and song, it was fake, the performers were third rate, and it was an insult to this fine Spanish Roma tradition. Aaron and Marie Benson had something first rate to offer, which was at times uncomfortable but was the real deal.

Another day, after breakfast (with maple syrup on the bacon), I walked deep into the forest, in the company of some Canadians and Americans and guided by Dave Hawke. Dave is a photographer and naturalist who knows the wilderness. He’s a man whose enthusiasm gets hold of you, even if you start off wondering what could possibly be of interest on the woodland trail. It turned out that even lichens can be interesting: he taught us to identify crustose, foliose and staghorn lichens, and told us they were the first life-forms to reappear after the Ice Age. ‘By the way,’ he added, ‘do you know how thick the ice was right here? See that little plane just flying over?’ I think he waited every day for this cue. ‘Well, the surface of the ice would be about there’. We saw an old beaver lodge, and an ‘old beaver’s lodge’ – which an old beaver who has lost his (or her) mate will build for his ‘retirement’, and once settled there fiercely repel any young beavers who dare to disturb him.

There was more at Bayview, and much more elsewhere in Ontario. You can visit the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; they have a decent collection of European old masters, but if you’re in Canada you’re less interested in those than in the stunning (take my word for it) Inuit paintings, and the work of the Canadian Group of Seven – Thomson, Harris et al - who painted urban and country scenes much as Monet would have done had he visited Canada. I brought home six prints of their city, forest and sub-arctic landscapes.

In Toronto you can do something I bottled out of: the Edge Walk. At the top of the CN Tower there’s a ledge running all the way round; it’s just over a metre wide and there’s no handrail or barrier of any kind between you and a 256 metre drop. The good news is, you’re harnessed to a trolley that goes round with you as you walk. You go as close to the edge as you dare. Some visitors, usually the under-25s, try leaning right over until they’re horizontal, suspended above the city. Rollercoasters are tame after that.

If you like your holiday to include a shopping trip, the Dixie Mall at Mississauga (just outside Toronto) is the place for you. Or the more up-market Eaton Centre in Toronto city, where you can browse in dozens of fashion stores, health and beauty stores, gadget stores. You name it, it’s there – all under a glass roof so high it’s a wonder clouds don’t form beneath it. Below the roof a flock of sculpted birds sweeps along the length of the main avenue.

Or you can visit a vineyard in the Niagara wine region, and sample the product. These wines are not as high-profile as (say) Californian wines, but they’re seriously good. (Don’t take my word for it – go taste for yourself.)

Which brings me to another place in the Niagara region – the famous Falls. Why have I left it to the end? Because, as I hope I’ve convinced you, there’s more to Ontario than Niagara. But of course it’s a must-see; not to go there would be like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids. Having seen many a picture and movie featuring this place, I half expected to experience a sense of deja vu. Not at all: the sheer size, power and noise of the Horseshoe Falls transfixes you. You stand there mesmerised; you can’t tear yourself away. The promenade that runs along the smooth upper waters, past the falls and down to the churning rapids, is a good place to walk. There are no fast food outlets here, and no animated neon signs. On one side, an understated Canadian street; on the other, the great waters. If you like to view one of the natural wonders of the world in tasteful surroundings without glitzy tourist stuff, you’ll be content here. The secret is, the glitz is just over the hill, out of sight of the Falls: fast food establishments, including Tim Horton’s (Canada’s very own MacDonalds, but healthier) plus some fine restaurants and an Imax theatre.

So there it is. Visit in Autumn if you can, to marvel at the Fall colours, which surely rival New England, and taste the new season’s syrup. Have a two-centre holiday if you can, sampling the city and Niagara in the South and the open spaces of the North. Expect the extraordinary.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Jennifer1976 at 10:21 on 11 April 2015  Report this post
Hi James. Will have a read of this over the weekend.

All the best,


salli13 at 09:01 on 12 April 2015  Report this post
Hi James,
I presume this piece is a travel ad?  Well it certainly made me want to visit!  I will one day as I have a friend in B.C.
Your words painted a very realistic and alluring picture.  I couldn't find fault with very much.

Unless the notion takes you,there’s

Missing space between , and theres'.

 fashion stores, health and beauty stores, gadget stores.

This was a little awkward to read and sounded better to me when I read it out aloud as

fashion, health and beauty and gadget stores.

But that might just be me!
I like the fact that you left the falls until last which will hopefully emphasise that there is so much more to the area than those.



Jennifer1976 at 20:03 on 12 April 2015  Report this post
I enjoyed both versions of this article, though this one does seem more polished.

I think the title 'There's more to Ontario than Niagara Falls' feels better in some ways - more specific and less cliched, but I do feel it lacks something that 'There's more to Canada than Maple Syrup' has, if that makes sense, and I think it's that it gives more of an indication of the tone and the voice of the piece. I wonder if there is a middle ground? I'm not sure what to suggest, but maybe adding a short strapline? I'm not sure if that's the way to go, but I enjoyed the piece and I'm not sure if the title does it justice. Only my opinion though, so ignore me if you don't think that would work.

Apart from that, I liked your discussion of 'travel' at the beginning of this, and I think you've fixed the comparison to the treatment of Native Americans by making it more generic.

This is shaping up to be a really interesting piece, and I look forward to reading any revisions or articles in a similar vein.

All the best,



TassieDevil at 18:20 on 25 May 2015  Report this post
Hi James,
As a follow up to your other Canadian piece I found this to be much smoother to read. It enticed but did not overwhelm. In fact it felt like a comfortable ramble. I expected those lichens to appear at any moment.
The introduction was brilliant, making some of us feel a little guilty for our concept of hols. i have seen the Alumbra yet I can empathsise with your point. Going overseas to lay in the sun? I did my share in Australia for forty years and .like you. want something more.

Especially I would like to introduce you

I found this phrase awkward for it's placing of 'especially'. I'd drop it personally. As before, in your other piece, leaving the Falls to the end really does work. I felt you maintained a much better balance betwen the personal and the informative in this second version. It was more detached but you were still there, as a welcomed guide and companion.
As before your description does entice me to visit but sadly I've left it too late. Most of it does sound wonderful but as for the CH tower trolley ride - well I'd still give it a miss.
Good luck with placing it. It certainly deserves a good home.

James Graham at 20:12 on 26 June 2015  Report this post
Belated thanks for this very positive comment. You're right about that phrase, and I've changed it. As for placing the article, I haven't done anything about it yet, but your response to it has made me think again. I'll look into it.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .