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Sunday, January 29, 2023
Ross’ Ravings: Awe and shock at Niagara Falls OPG Winter Festival of Lights

Ross Robinson
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

Do yourselves a favour, and enjoy an incredible evening drive to Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls. Trust me on this one.

The pleasant enjoyment of an evening drive along the lower Niagara Parkway from Niagara-on-the-Lake to locally world-famous Betty’s Restaurant in Chippawa came to a sudden and unexpected halt as we waited at the Clifton Hill traffic light.  

What a treat. A surprise COVID-19 highlight.  

Effulgent, brilliant, dazzling. It was a truly overwhelming spectacle, looking south toward the illuminated falls. So many lights. So many creative displays.  Trees trunks and branches lit up with thousands and thousands of glittering lights.

From 1996 to 2008, I volunteered as a director of the this annual attempt to bring visitors to Niagara Falls in the “off-season.”  Each year, the festival got a bit better. Glistening, gleaming, glowing. Tour buses from Ontario and “the four border states.” Three of us even took a overnight road trip to Pennsylvania and West Virginia to look and learn at three other similar events, one sponsored by Yuengling, America’s oldest brewery.

Year after year, we made progress, offering a more luminous and lengthier visual smorgasbord. I don’t know what happened this year, but Niagara Falls Tourism has hit a major league home run. I’ll bet there are 10 times as many lights as last year.                                    

Last Saturday evening, tears welled up in my eyes. We were so fortunate, such a treat.

Unfortunately, I had not anticipated such Saturday evening congestion. It took us 40 minutes to creep along the Parkway, finally passing Dufferin Islands.

Frustrating, but perhaps fortunate. We were treated to display after display, creative, unique, and some stereotypically Canadian, eh?

Three very large moose and the requisite Mounties saluting us and our American neighbours across the river. Scintillating, shimmering and along the slope under the lustrous Skylon Tower, twinkling lights created the illusion of thousands of fireflies.

For some reason, the historic Canadian Niagara Power building was dark. Were they, inconceivably, out of power? Joe Miszk, my pal at Betty’s, asked me anxiously if the arch under the Rainbow Bridge was at long last a magnificent rainbow, perhaps fabulous, showing a special, prideful welcome to our LGBT visitors. No, I muttered, still a major missed opportunity.

The Saturday night gridlock kept me from taking the Dufferin Islands loop. Fish and chips and friendly, physically distanced service were patiently waiting for me at Betty’s. I arrived there 25 minutes late, to enjoy yet another wonderful meal.

We are working to get through this global pandemic together. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity, so luckily local. Be wise, though. Take the short cruise from Sunday to Thursday evening. Avoid Friday and Saturday. “Nobody goes there now. It’s too crowded,”  Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said about a saloon in Manhattan.

This OPG Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights is a joyously positive, feel-good evening.

May I suggest you take 10 or 20 bucks as a fair per vehicle donation. Thank Niagara Falls Tourism president Janice Thomson and her co-worker, Winter Festival of Lights maestro Chantal Suthons.

Truly a magical evening, with the backdrop of our world famous, illuminated Niagara Falls.

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