Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

This is my Niagara

I was born at Welland Hospital in1953. Of the two years we lived in the region, I have only one clear memory: looking out the kitchen window, screaming in terror, as a giant bear slowly lumbers back and forth on the horizon.

This, I later learned, taught my mother and grandmother a valuable lesson about injecting excitement into my life by telling me that the excavator in the nearby quarry was actually a large, carnivorous forest creature.

We moved to Windsor in ’55, but came back to Niagara in ’63, living on a sheep farm just outside of Wainfleet.

Despite its small population, Wainfleet had the best Centennial Year celebrations in Canada — including a Dominion Day parade that was longer than the village itself.

I read science fiction books under the lilac bush behind Wainfleet public school, watched the unfurling of Canada’s new flag at Winger public school and moaned with the rest of the students about the school board’s decision to install a huge outdoor mural instead of a huge indoor swimming pool at the newly-built E.L. Crossley high school.

We moved to Toronto in ’68, but by 1974 I was back — this time with a new wife and child — living in picturesque downtown Welland.

On occasion we’d drive up to St. Catharines for its charming eccentricity, year-round Christmas store and the best Diana Sweets shop on Earth.

All of this is part of my Niagara.

But the other part has always been its countryside, which is not just beautiful, it is artistically beautiful.

The gorge, while unquestionably natural, is also carefully tended, giving it the wild-yet-accessible look of a Constable landscape.

And it seems almost too good to be true that an old barge, grounded in 1918, has been lending its own romance to the scene ever since.

Due to the ever-present wine industry, even the Niagara croplands display an unusual degree of artfulness.

Vintner tradition, hailing from France, Italy and Germany, views the vineyard as more than simply a “crop.”

It is a place where you seduce customers with your wine, where family and friends gather for celebrations and where a quiet table for two can often be found nestled among the vines.

Vintners are expected to cultivate not only grapes, but also artistry — and their success can be seen in the fields.

And yet, just a short distance from The Falls, at the very heart of this blend of nature and art, is The Strip.

At first glance, this chintzy, garish collection of wax museums, freak shows and funhouses contains neither nature nor art.

In reality, however, its roots are planted in the ancient carnival tradition of offering up examples of nature in its most bizarre and mysterious manifestations.

Generations of spectators, coming from all corners of the Earth, have visited Niagara to be delighted and horrified by displays of two-legged dogs, eight-legged calves and fur-covered fish.

Meanwhile, deep within its wax museums, artisans of varying skills craft figures of human monstrosities, ranging from madmen and serial killers to politicians and teenage rock singers.

In retrospect, it was perhaps inevitable that the actual mummy of Ramses should find itself drawn into such a mystic conjunction of wonders and marvels.

Walking along the edge of the gorge looking down at a giant waterfall, or walking along Victoria Ave. being looked down upon by a giant Frankenstein; wandering through a quaint vineyard before a leisurely wine-tasting, or wandering through the House of Horrors before a quick lunch at Burger King — this is my Niagara.

And I’ve got to say, it’s nice to be back.

Originally published in the St. Catharines Standard , 2010

Notable Interviews

To the right are a few of the noteworthy interviews I've conducted.

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin

Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy

Astronaut James Lovell

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