The Niagara Parks

Commission Preserving, protecting and promoting Niagara

Niagara Falls has long been a popular tourist destination. The spectacular Falls are an iconic symbol of natural beauty. The area itself, however, is a multi-faceted destination of beauty, historic sites and fun-filled attractions.

To that, the Niagara Parks Commission was established in 1885 to support, preserve and promote the lands surrounding the Falls. An agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism & Culture, The Niagara Parks Commission owns and operates a variety of attractions along the Niagara River, mandated to look after the property around the Falls and create a presence within the community, as well as for visitors to the Falls. It receives no government funding—revenue is generated through the attractions, gift shops, golf courses, restaurants, and parking lots. This revenue goes directly back into preserving and maintaining the parklands, historic sites and attractions operated by the Commission. Newly appointed Chairperson of the Commission, Fay Booker, spoke with The Canadian Business Journal about the agency, its features and attractions and its future aspirations.

Experience the wonder

The thunderous sound of the Horseshoe Falls tumbling down a 13-storey drop is the quintessential sound of Niagara. There are numerous ways to experience this phenomenon, from a stroll along the river’s edge to a thrilling rendezvous at Journey Behind the Falls. Entering the attraction you descend 150 feet behind the Falls—through bedrock—to tunnels that lead to portals one-third of the way behind the Falls. From there, you can walk to upper and lower observation decks at the very foot of the Falls. You can also take an exhilarating ride in the Whirlpool Aero Car, an antique cable car suspended above the rushing Niagara rapids. An amazing natural whirlpool occurs at the gorge—and you’ll have a front row seat. For a gentler view, stroll along the plaza and simply enjoy the breathtaking view.

Beyond the Falls

The Niagara Region also offers a variety of attractions for visitors to enjoy. Visitors often assume that once they have seen the Falls there is no reason to return. However, in speaking with Chair Booker, she indicates, “We want people to see that there is so much more to Niagara than simply the Falls.” There are beautiful natural parks to enjoy with substantial green space, bike and hiking trails, floral gardens, wineries, restaurants and numerous other attractions. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, as an example, is a magical oasis of over 2,000 butterflies, flying freely through tropical plants. There are spectacular golf courses that offer a great spot for that weekend tee-off. The newest attraction is Niagara’s Fury, a multi-sensory 4D experience that takes you through the creation of the Falls. There are fun-filled family attractions such as indoor water parks and romantic getaway spots like Niagara-on-the-Lake. The goal is to promote these other attractions and experiences, in particular to visitors from other Ontario cities.

Heritage sites

There is a rich history woven into the Niagara Region. An important mandate of The Niagara Parks Commission is to protect the heritage of the region, owning and operating a number of historic sites in the region. In fact, Niagara Parks is guardian over the greatest number of War of 1812 heritage sites in the country. Half of the battles fought during this War occurred on the lands now preserved by Niagara Parks. War of 1812 sites include McFarland House, which offers visitors a chance to experience an authentic house from the 1800s, complete with costumed tour guides. The Laura Secord Homestead offers another glimpse into the history of one of Canada’s most famous heroines. Old Fort Erie is also proudly part of the Commission. Preparations have already begun for the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and both Federal and Provincial grants have been secured for the occasion. This important celebration of 200 years of peace, shared by the United States and Canada, is sure to be a memorable event. Such a momentous occasion as the bicentennial is sure to attract interest.

International tourism

The other major segment of tourism to the Niagara Region is from international visitors. Recent global events such as 9/11 and SARS prompted a decrease in American visitors. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture of Ontario, however, is looking to replace those American tourists with international ones. In particular, tourists from China are becoming a larger market segment. Recently the government of Canada signed an agreement with the Government of China to designate Canada as a preferred tourism destination. Consequently, The Niagara Parks Commission anticipates many new tourists from China in the coming years and is strategically planning for the best way to accommodate these visitors.

Future goals

The Niagara Parks Commission has plans to further improve and invest. More money is going to be raised and invested into heritage sites, as well as into improving the park area overall. As well, there is particular interest in expansion into ecotourism. This sector is a continually growing market segment and environmental initiatives remain an important part of protecting the region.

Says Booker, “We must ensure that we are as environmentally friendly as possible.” This means everything from keeping hiking and biking trails clean and safe, to minimizing waste, to maintaining and protecting the green space of park areas. There is also an emphasis on improving public transportation in an effort to minimize the disruption, congestion and pollution caused by the millions of tourists who visit the destination each year. Ensuring that the Commission maintains a ‘green’ perspective is part and parcel of the mandate and there are discussions planned to figure out a strategy which can capitalize on the ecotourism movement. Overall, there is a busy future in store. The Niagara Parks Commission is there to support it every step of the way.