Clifton Hill - "The Most Fun by the Falls!"
After shooting more pictures of both the American Falls and Horseshoes Falls then I would ever need but seemingly unable to stop taking "just one more" shot of the beautifully illuminated falls, I finally convinced myself that enough was enough and pointed my feet in the direction of Clifton Hill for the trek back up to my car which I had parked not too far from the base of Skylon Tower.
Formerly known as Ferry Road due to the fact that it provided access to the Niagara Gorge where the ferryboats docked (now the current docking site for the Canadian Maid of the Mist), Clifton Hill is one of the major tourist spots in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Traversing from Falls Avenue on the Niagara Parkway until it intersects with Victoria Avenue, Clifton Hill provides 2/10ths of a mile or 300 meters of family fun with a number of gift shops, two wax museums, five haunted houses, over a dozen restaurants, several hotels and numerous themed attractions. For visitors, particularly families with kids, it is a major amusement area and where everyone seems to flock to after they've seen the beauty of the Falls lit up at night.
So who is Clifton and why does he have a hill named after him? Glad you asked! Clifton Hill actually owes its name to Captain Ogden Creighton, a half-pay officer in the British Army who had served with the 70th and 81st Regiments in various parts of the world including the Far East. Half-pay meant that Captain Creighton went into semi-retirement from the British Army and received half of his original pay. The British Army did this so that while an officer's services were not immediately needed, he would receive half of his original pay ensuring that he would be supported while he waited to get recalled to active duty in the military. Half-pay officers could be called back at any time which restricted them from serving with any other military service or foreign army until jolly old England needed them again.
Around 1830, Captain Creighton came to Niagara Falls and in 1832 he acquired a sizeable tract of land from the Phillip Bender family on what is now the south side of Clifton Hill as well as the area just beyond the top of the hill. Naming the area Clifton after the Bristol, England inner suburb of Clifton located along the Avon River Gorge, Captain Creighton had the land surveyed and laid out streets and building lots. On the edge of the high bank facing the American Falls (where the Great Canadian Midway is now located), Captain Creighton built his own residence and named it Clifton Cottage. Despite its lovely setting, only a few people bought building lots and Clifton did not develop as Captain Creighton had hoped.
In 1833 the first Clifton Hotel was built at the base of the street but it was destroyed by fire in 1898. The ruins laid untouched until 1905 when the second Clifton House and Lafayette Hotel was built however, another fire broke out on December 31st, 1932 and the hotel was again a total loss. Sir Harry Oakes, an American-born British Canadian gold-mine owner, entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and Niagara Parks Commissioner purchased the site and then gave the land to The Niagara Parks Commission in exchange for another plot of land. Named in his honor, the Niagara Parks Commission built the Oakes Garden Theatre on the former hotel site with construction beginning in 1935 and the formal opening taking place on September 18, 1937.
Beginning in the 1920s there was considerable growth in the area as a tourist destination and though the area became part of what is now the City of Niagara Falls, Clifton Hill remained a reminder of Captain Creighton and his early community that was within sight and sound of the great Falls of Niagara. There have been constant changes to the area throughout the years and today it's reminiscent of a combination Atlantic City boardwalk in its heyday/smaller version of the Las Vegas strip ... or at least that's the way it seemed to me.
As I walked up Clifton Hill dodging in and out of the crowds of young and old alike I thought that it would probably be a lot of fun if I was with someone else but by myself it just looked like a good place to take a few photos on my way to the car. I briefly debated stopping somewhere to get something to eat as it had been awhile since I'd had lunch atop Skylon Tower but the lines were pretty long and I decided I'd find something somewhere else on my way back to my room at Kilpatrick Manor. Along the way to my car I passed a few of the more popular attractions:
The Great Canadian Midway is a 70,000 square foot entertainment complex containing fun classic games like Skee-Ball (I used to quite enjoy a good game of Skee-Ball!) and Roll-a-Ball as well as newer arcade games like Super 21 and Deal or No Deal. A lot of the games are the type that award players tickets which they can later redeem for one prize or another. There's also the Ghost Blasters Dark Ride which carries riders through a haunted house full of ghosts and spooks that can be blasted by laser guns and the Coaster Chaos movie in the spectacular FX Ride Theatre that gives riders the sensation of being part of the action.
Located right next to the Great Canadian Midway is Boston Pizza, a combination sports bar - restaurant chain that was founded in Edmonton, Alberta in August of 1964 and has absolutely nothing to do with Boston, Massachusetts! I believe I read somewhere that the location in Niagara Falls is the biggest in all of Canada. They offer a wide variety of gourmet pizzas, pasta, appetizers, meal-sized salads, entrees, and desserts as well as a large selection of beer, wine and spirits.
Strike! Rock n' Bowl, which opened in 2009, is part of the Boston Pizza complex and offers 14 full-size bowling lanes with an automated scoring system that come complete with special bumper-rails that can be raised or lowered for each player to avoid those embarrassing gutter balls! If you aren't into bowling or want to have even more fun, there are also tables for billiards or 8-Ball, pinball machines, high-tech arcade games, and racing simulators. Once you wear yourself out you can order from the full Boston Pizza menu and relax with some good food and drink until you're ready to go again!
If you'd prefer fast food there's a very large Burger King across the street from Boston Pizza located next to the House of Frankenstein and Ripley's Moving Theatre - a 4-D state-of-the-art live action theater that combines mist, snow, and wind effects with digital dynamic surround.
Sweet tooth got the best of you? Then by all means stop in at The Fudge Factory where you can watch candy cooks whip up fudge, candy apples, sponge toffee, brittle and even beernuts! That not enough? How about strawberries, marshmallows, pretzels and cookies dipped in chocolate and covered with delicious toppings. Still not enough? No doubt you'll be able to find something in one of the 50 wall-mounted dispensers that offer choices too numerous to list. And if that's still not enough there's maple syrup, Maple or Ice Wine chocolates, lollipops, and more.
At the top of Clifton Hill is Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum which really ought to win some sort of award for architectural design! The museum is one of Clifton Hill's most popular attractions with over 500 displays of the truly odd and downright bizarre. Having been to one of Ripley's other museums in Saint Augustine, Florida with Jamie I know that it isn't the type of place that is exactly my cup of tea but I did enjoy looking at the outside of the building as I walked past and made my way towards the giant SkyWheel.
As far as I'm concerned, the coolest thing at Clifton Hill is the Niagara SkyWheel which first opened in May of 2006. The 175-foot wheel has 42 climate-controlled enclosed gondolas that provide riders with a spectacular aerial view in pretty much every direction with the ride lasting from 8 to 12 minutes. The SkyWheel is open year-round and runs both day and night though hours obviously vary by season. I'm actually rather disappointed with myself that I didn't take the time to go on the ride as I'm sure I would have loved the view even though I'm really not a fan of ferris wheels at all. Still, it may have been as close to the London Eye as I'll ever get!
Another attraction that looked like a lot of fun stood at the base of the SkyWheel - Dinosaur Adventure Golf. Covering just about 70,000 square feet of playing surface, Dinosaur Adventure Golf offers two different 18-hole courses with a combined population of 50 pretty realistic and life-sized dinosaurs -- many which loom over 30 feet high. The "Raptor" and "T-Rex" courses have three decorative ponds with fast-moving rapids and bubblers as well as a "50-foot high “active” steam-erupting volcano that lets golfers play directly through a realistically eerie, cavernous volcanic interior on their way to the 18th hole." To add to the fun, the dinosaurs are all pretty "talkative" too emitting quite the series of dinosaur-like grunts, groans, and rowrs as golfers play or folks like myself just walk past!
All in all, the Clifton Hill area seemed like it contained a lot of people having a really good time and I was glad that I'd had a chance to walk through it and see what it was like. I'm sure that there are those who might find it to be rather garish and out of place with the beauty of the Falls just down the hill but personally I think it's far enough away not to cheapen the experience of going to Niagara Falls and it gives the rest of the family something to do if you happen to have kids that don't want to stand and ooh and aah at water going over a cliff all day. I'm pretty sure it's not exactly what Captain Creighton had in mind back in 1832 when he was planning out his little town of Clifton but overall I don't think he'd really be displeased either. Matter of fact, I bet he would have loved a ride on the SkyWheel!