Thursday, July 25, 2019

Biking in Canada

It's been a little while since I've had any new posts, but I'm just wrapping up a family vacation in Canada. I brought a bike with me on the trip, so I've been able to do some riding while we're on our visit. Let me share a little from my first Canadian stop.

We made the drive from Ohio up to Buffalo, New York - about 4 hours - and crossed into Canada at the Peace Bridge connecting Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario. After sitting for a good half-hour at the customs checkpoint on the Canadian side, I unloaded my vintage red Mercian from the car and headed straight for the Niagara Parkway which follows the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, with Niagara Falls being roughly half-way between. My family continued on in the car to drive to the Falls and then on to the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake where we'd be lodging for the night.

The Niagara Parkway is a great bike ride - a little over 30 miles from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and mostly flat. I've done it a few times in the past and I always stick to the road almost the entire ride - but if someone is not happy sharing the road with cars, there is a separate walking/biking path that follows beside the parkway for most of the distance. 

Of course, the day I made the ride was probably the hottest day of the year - breaking records in many places. It was easily in the upper 90s with ghastly humidity. But I'd been planning and looking forward to the ride for long enough that I wasn't about to let that stop me.

A few miles north of Fort Erie, I got my first glimpse of the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Way off there in the distance, you can see some of the skyline and towers. Still got a ways to go!
A couple miles before you get to the falls, the river starts getting a lot rougher. Up to this point, traffic on the parkway is surprisingly sparse. I guess most people driving to the Falls take the Queen Elizabeth Highway (the QEW) though I cannot imagine why. But once you get near the Falls, traffic picks up tremendously - and suddenly there must be half a million people milling around trying to get photos. However, I have to point out that a bicycle here is at least as fast as any car - if not faster.
Yes, I stopped and snapped a couple of pictures.
There's the American side - and a rainbow.
My family and I had planned to meet up at the Falls, but finding each other would have been nearly impossible with the massive crowds. Worse still, parking the car was going to be a nightmare - so they just drove on by. They'd all seen the Falls before.

I suppose everyone should experience the madness of Clifton Hill in the city of Niagara Falls at least once in their lifetime, but . . .
. . . So we all skipped it.
Once I got past the Falls and the major tourist trap, I was making some great speed. At one point I came up behind a very British-looking double decker tour bus making the trek from the Falls to the botanical gardens a few miles to the north. I tucked in behind and drafted it at somewhere around 25 miles per hour. Some people in the back of the bus looked out the back window, saw me, and did a big "double-take." I'm sure they were thinking "Holy crap, this guy's nuts."

Not so "pretty" but still impressive - a little ways north of the Falls is a massive hydro electric plant.  When it was built, it was the largest hydro electric plant in the world. This one replaced the original hydro plant in Niagara Falls which had been designed by Nikola Tesla and built by Westinghouse in 1895 - that one was the first such plant ever built.
When you start getting closer to Niagara-on-the-Lake, you start seeing lots of vineyards and wineries. That has become a huge business in the region. When I first started visiting the area about 25 years ago, there were a couple of wineries and the farms were more "diverse" with things like apples, cherries, etc. Now it's almost all grapes. And there are more wineries every time I visit. Even hockey legend Wayne Gretzky has a winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
There are some gorgeous homes in the region - which was mostly built up in the early 1800s. Most of the architecture would be described as "Victorian" - but occasionally one will find some impressive "Colonial" and "Colonial Revival" - like this example from the 1830s. This historic home, called "Willowbank," is just a little off the beaten path in the town of Queenston. It was built for Alexander Hamilton - but not THAT Alexander Hamilton - this one was a prominent official in the Niagara region in the early 1800s, years after that "other" Hamilton was killed in a famous duel.
The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is almost impossibly quaint. 
Everywhere you look, you'll see a burst of colors from all the flowers.

A couple pictures by the famous Prince of Wales hotel. Great hotel, I'm sure, but way out of our price range.
Greaves on the main drag has some of the best jams and jellies around. Definitely worth a stop.
Is this the only bike pic I got? Oh well. The red Mercian was a fantastic choice for the ride - light, smooth, and fast. For the non-English-majors reading this, that's a statue of George Bernard Shaw - whom many consider the greatest British playwright since Shakespeare. Niagara-on-the-Lake is famous for their Shaw theater festival. We didn't take in a play for this visit, but it's usually part of our itinerary.
We spent the night in town and got breakfast in a nice bakery on the main drag in the morning before heading off to our next stop - Montreal. Got to brush up on our French.

More to come. . .


  1. Retro, I'll help you brush up on your French : Bon courage! That's a compliment you'll hear from Francophones when you take a difficult ride. You might hear it if you ride up Mount Royal. Your Mercian would be a great bike for that ride.

    I haven't been to the Niagara region in a long time, and you are tempting me with Niagara-on-the-Lake.

    1. Thanks, Justine - as a matter of fact, I did ride up Mount Royal. It was awesome. I'll have something about that in the next post!

  2. Welcome to my town (although I do share it with about 15,000 other residents).I'm glad you and the family enjoyed your stay especially as you chose to ride the Parkway in the down hill with a tail wind direction. I look forward to your Montreal installment.

  3. I thought it was busy when I visited an unbelievable fifty years ago. Sadly for my summer with them my bike mad uncle thought a heavy single speed with back pedal brake would be an ideal ride for a kid who spent a large proportion of their cycling drafting local double decker buses round the town.

    Bernard is looking quite impressed with your beautiful ride...