It is always a plus when a mid-week vacation day also results in beautiful weather. So taking advantage of this, the family and I packed up and headed to Niagara Falls. While we did stick to the more tourist-oriented area, this stunning area is home to a lot of history and a natural wonder of the world, the titular Niagara Falls.
It all began at the end of the last great ice age. The retreat of a glacier formed the Great Lakes and reveiled Niagara Escarpment. A river connected Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and ran down the great cliffs of the escarpment at Queenston. The limestone quickly eroded over the millenniums carving out the gorge as the falls retreated further along the river. By the time the first humans settled in the area, the trio of waterfalls had formed near its current location. The earliest peoples were members of the Niagagarega Nation, a part of the Neutral Confederacy. These were the ones who made contact with the French, with members of Samuel Du Champlain’s party who passed through the area in 1604. The Neutrals were driven out and killed in the 1650s, and the Haudenosaunee and Seneca settled the area until the Mississaugas also chased them out. Although it was not until Father Louis Hennepin passed through in 1677 that Europeans got a complete description of the great falls in detail. The conquest of New France by the British resulted in the area falling into the hands of the British almost a century later, and a British captain, Thomas Davies, is noted to make the first visual depiction of a watercolour of the falls in 1762. The colonisation of the area began after the Niagara Purchase in 1781. Surveyed at Township No. 2, Philip Bender purchased a 200-acre lot near Casino Niagara. Other farms and small settlements grew throughout the area, renamed Stamford Township by John Graves Simcoe in 1791. The region saw action during the final American invasion of the Anglo-American War of 1812; in the summer of 1814, American forces engaged the British twice, once above the falls at Chippawa (and American Victory) and again at the Drummond Hill Cemetery (Lundy’s Lane) a costly British victory. Around Drummond Hill, the first settlement started forming, naming itself Drummondville in 1831. A year later, British Army officer Captain Ogden Creighton purchased the Bender land and proceeded to have a townsite surveyed, naming it Cliffton. Still, he was soon transferred to York, and upon his death, his wife sold the land to Samuel Zimmerman. Zimmerman began to develop the area, laying out a small townsite along with a second townsite, Elgin, in 1842. Zimmerman’s other business, the Great Western Railway, began building a rail line between Sarnia and Cliffton. At Cliffton, a great suspension bridge crossed the gorge in 1855. The arrival of the railway allowed Clifton and Elgin to join and form the town of Clifton in 1856. It also started to bring tourism to the area as the train allowed travellers to enjoy nature’s grandeur. Clifton adopted the name Niagara Falls (Town Of) in 1881, and Drummondville took the name Niagara Falls (Village Of) a year later. Development of the great falls as a power source began on the American side of the river in the late 19th century and on the Canadian side in 1895. While smaller power stations were designed initially to power local interurban railways, a large-scale plant began construction in the early 20th century. By the time both the Town of Niagara Falls and the Village of Niagara Falls merged to form the City of Niagara Falls in 1904, four power stations operated, Rankine, Toronto Power Company and Ontario Power Company. In addition to tourism, Niagara Falls played a significant role in the golden age of rail travel, industrial production, and fruit production. Of course, through the rest of the century, all these began to decline sharply through the 1970s, when most industries vanished from the region. Today, Niagara Falls is primarily a tourist destination with big hotels, bigger casinos, and a tonne of a tourist draw for people from across Canada and beyond.
When going through the images, I wanted to capture the area in two pieces. The first is Clifton Hill, looking for tourist attractions, the bright, glitzy or kitschy places along the street. What is astonishing is that while many new attractions are present, some of the older ones that have been there for decades are still standing. Dracula’s Haunted Castle and Frankenstein’s Monster eating a Whopper in a Burger King. Once we get past the hill, we get down to the falls themselves. While I don’t have much connection to the falls, my wife does. Her father and grandparents grew up, so the inclusion of the gardens was a vital part of this post. And finally, we get to the falls themselves; yes, I only got a workable shot of the American falls. But I also wanted to include the former OPG plant at the base of the falls to show the area’s hydroelectric heritage. But also the beautiful Park building and Victoria Palace that once housed the commissioner.
Because I had some lovely weather this time, I shot the film at the box speed of ASA-100. And I had a full range of focal lengths with the lens, as I could get both suitable apertures and shutter speeds. For the developer, I went with the last bit of my first bottle of Compard R09 Spezial, a modern version of the classic Agfa Studional developer. Massive Dev Chart gave me a time of ten minutes for sheet film with constant agitation. Sadly I forgot to compensate for using my B's Processor on the slow rotation setting; I should have cut it by 10% and run the film for nine minutes. So the negatives were relatively dense when I pulled them out of the tank. But when held up to the bright overhead lights, I could see some detail so that recovery would be possible during the scanning process. And I could pull out almost all the images with varying levels of success. Are these perfect? Far from that! They have far more visible grain, low contrast, and other problems resulting from over-development and pulling stuff back in the post. But I certainly see the power of R09 Spezial and will try it again with an adjusted time.
Despite the mistakes made in development, I'm good with these images. It was nice to have a break in the cold and grey skies that so often blanket Ontario during the winter months, and being able to get out with my wife and son as a break during the work week was also lovely. So with the weather getting warmer, we're heading into the sugar bush for March as we celebrate maple syrup season here in Ontario!