At the start of college, I learned my life had been a little different.
Growing up in Buffalo, we don’t really think twice about that other country we can stare at across the Niagara River. It’s second nature that we sing the Canadian national anthem, as well as the American one, at hockey games (I really don’t know why that’s not custom everywhere else; a year and a half interning with a hockey team and I’m still confused). Toronto is a fun place for a class trip – just remember your birth certificate/passport/enhanced license! Every visitor wants to see Niagara Falls, even though we’ve all been there enough times to last us a lifetime. We cross the border for a day at the beach or good Chinese food, and our 19th birthdays are a big deal.
I was unaware any of this was worthy of much wonderment. I sighed as I explained Tim Horton’s and Niagara-on-the-Lake to my new-found friends in Boston. I knew all the words (some in French) to the Canadian National Anthem, and I got CTV at home, and they were in awe. Canada may not be Europe or Australia – but I could still just up and decide to go to a different country any time I wanted.
They clearly didn’t understand that Canada is passé, nothing new, nothing special. That I swore years ago that if my parents made me visit the Falls one more time with a family guest, I’d probably throw myself over the edge in a barrel. Yeah, I cross the border all the time – and your point is?
I will admit, however, that I felt just a teensy bit cool on my 19th birthday explaining that I could wait to go home and go party in a different country.
My freshman year roommate found this excessively cool, and she made me promise that when she came to visit me that summer, we’d spend a day across the river. Yup, fine, whatever. I picked out the barrel for my plunge.
So visitation time came, and I dedicated an entire day to the wonder that is Canada. It began simply enough, where every Buffalonian’s Canadian tour starts – the Canadian side of the Falls (because, really, what is there to see on our side?).
Actually, it began when we didn’t take the Robert Moses Parkway exit and ended up driving into Canada. There were squeals of joy (i.e., shrieking phone calls to friends that, likeomigod, we were officially in Canada) from my friend as we passed the American and Canadian flags on the bridge, and squeals of worry from me, as I realized I had no clue where we were, we didn’t get cell phone service, and my friend who was driving up in a different car was no longer behind us.
Fortunately, my uncanny sense of direction (read: “OK, well the river is that way, and the Falls is that way…so let’s follow this street that sort of, maybe, kinda goes that general direction, and we’ll see where we end up.”) led us back to my friend and the Falls. After a quick stop and promises to return (to my chagrin), we drove along the river up to Crystal Beach — and, again, some time spent lost. GPS companies rejoice that there are people like me in the world.
We found the beach, “Canadian lemonade” (not sure what makes it “Canadian,” but that’s what the menu said) was bought, Tim Horton’s was eaten, and waves were played in. And I still did not understand how living by Canada was so great – minus Tim Horton’s.
But then my fellow Buffalonian friend let us in on a little secret. It’s a little secret, mind you, that has become a secret weapon to impress out-of-town friends on our side of the Falls – the Three Sisters Islands.
The American side of the Falls has one thing on the Canadian side, and that’s the Niagara Falls State Park. It’s good for a nice walk along the river and pretty views of the Falls. But if you venture over to the Three Sisters Islands and do a little “exploring,” you can find yourself ankle deep in the Niagara River, within view of the mist at the edge of the Falls.
I’m not in any way advocating wading into the river, because the currents are strong. Even dipping our toes into the tiny bit of water among the rocks we were on felt dangerous enough for us. But there were other tourists doing the same thing, so we figured, why not? And now my Bostonian friend could say she had stood in Niagara Falls, so she was happy.
Okay, and I thought it was pretty cool, too.
But we weren’t done yet. Back over to Canada we went, to see the lights on the water, watch fireworks in the giant Ferris wheel, and visit all the tourist-trap-y things on Clifton Hill. Our Canadian adventures concluded about 12 hours after we’d first headed to the Great White North. My friend was exhausted and giddy that she’d finally seen Canada. I was just exhausted. And maybe slightly amused and perplexed that we’d managed to spend an entire day in Canada/Niagara Falls – and I’d enjoyed it.
Living across the river from Canada still doesn’t thrill me the way it does out-of-town visitors. I don’t get giddy when I cross the border, or when I see the Falls – or when I see the land across the river and realize, yes, that is, in fact, another country. I would never willingly head up to Clifton Hill for a night to hang out in the wax museums and arcades, and now that I’ve hit the magical age of 21, Clifton Hill’s main use (bars) can be found and entered on this side of the border. And I still don’t think it’s strange that I’d rather go to Canada for Chinese food and the beach than just go in my own country.
But now I can realize that living here gives me the unique chance to do all those things if I want to, whenever I’d like. And it’s nice to see that people really do see Niagara Falls as one of the Wonders of the World, not just something they’re dragged to with visitors. I was beginning to doubt it.