Spectacle at the Falls

It’s the season for winter wonderlands, and Niagara Falls delivers its own unique twist with its annual CAA Winter Festival of Lights. It’s not a small undertaking — over one million visitors come each year, injecting enthusiasm and much-needed tourism dollars into the area. Here’s what there is to see.

The five kilometre route along the Niagara Parkway — known as the Niagara Parks Winter Wonderland — includes nearly two million sparkling tree and ground lights and over 100 lighting displays. Fill the car or minivan with the family and it makes for a delightful evening drive. There is no admission fee to see the many displays, but donations are accepted — $5 to $10 per car is suggested. The proceeds go back into the festival to purchase lights and design new displays.

LED lights are used for many of the displays, consuming less energy than their incandescent counterparts.

Beginning at the south end of the drive, visitors find the Dufferin Islands. Numerous displays highlight Canadian wildlife — both modern and prehistoric — that include moose and buffalo, howling wolves, charging rams, bears, beavers, deer and dinosaurs that roamed te land millions of years ago.

North along the route, visitors are met by lighting displays that provide a snapshot of Life in Niagara. These feature the award-winning Niagara grape and wine industry, historic battle scenes and golf and horse race scenes. Winter activity displays also include the popular Snowman Band.

Another innovative design is the “T’was the Night Before Christmas” display. It offers visitors a unique audio-visual experience — and is a memorable way to re-introduce grandchildren to this Christmas classic poem. It is located directly across from the American Falls. Visitors need to park and step outside to appreciate the audio components

A Menorah display has also been added over the years, in celebration of the Jewish festival of lights.

Delight the grandkids

Continuing the journey along the Parkway, you’ll find the results of a partnership with Disney Canada — 19 Enchantment of Disney® animated lighting displays. These depict long-loved Disney Classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Tinker Bell. There are also displays from more recent films such as Toy Story and The Lion King.

Next along the Parkway, visitors will find Mountie displays located in front of the Parks Police building to the Mowat Gate area, and a burst of illuminated trees. If visiting on a Friday night, spectators can enjoy fireworks over the falls themselves (there are additional performances during the Christmas break).

Finally, just beyond the Rainbow Bridge, homes and B&Bs sport their own private displays, and Christ Church sports a nativity scene.

And if driving around the rest of the City of Niagara Falls, tourists will find other areas also take part in the Festival on a less formal basis.

Lights not the only feature

Although the lighting displays give the festival its name, there are a variety of other events taking place. Disney shows, choral concerts and the concert series can round out a visit. Hop out of the car for some ice time at the TD Rink at the Brink — an open-air, outdoor ice skating facility just snow ball’s throw from the “brink” of the Horseshoe Falls. (Visit the festival website (http://www.wfol.com) for more.)

Other events in the area

If the flash and fireworks of the Niagara Falls displays create nostalgia for the simpler events of holiday seasons past, try combining a night at the falls with a night in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Located in the northwest corner of the Niagara region, this town known for its beauty and the home of the Shaw Festival is home to one of Canada’s National Historic Sites. From the Chamber of Commerce website:

“The Niagara-on-the-Lake historic district conveys a remarkable sense of time and place through a combination of well-preserved historic buildings of compatible scale and design, an original colonial street plan and alignment of buildings to the streets, and landscape features that include views of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. In fact, Niagara-on-the-Lake possesses the best collection of buildings from the period following the War of 1812 (1815 to 1859), especially houses designed in the British Classical tradition as well as vernacular buildings with features derived from this tradition.”

The town takes its Loyalist heritage seriously, with candlelight walks available throughout the season. And as part of the heart of the ice wine region, there are also a variety of wine tasting and epicurean events. Visit www.niagaraonthelake.com for more details.

Reviewed November 2012.