How many people, at any given moment, are on the move around the world? This was a question posed by Trevor, my brother in law, while waiting for our train in Kings Cross station to take us back to Durham. We had just observed a group of people who were standing in front of screens displaying train information begin to move towards their train because the platform had just been posted.
We began musing, Kings Cross, St Pancras, Euston, Victoria, Liverpool Street, Paris, Munich, Rome, Florence, Venice, Vienna, New York, Toronto, Chicago and on and on and on. All would be busy moving people, just by train, never mind by planes and automobiles. When my friend Anne and I walked home from Wearside Girls Grammar School back in the 70’s we passed three pubs called The Travellers Rest, and no they were not a chain. They were old local pubs, and I guess at one point, inns. We humans move around, but when did it speed up to the rate it is today? Certainly not too much when I was a kid. Going to “the continent” was a big deal back then, at least for our class, or strata of society, and much less for the solid hardworking working class. A week in the same boarding house in Blackpool or Scarborough each year, or perhaps, if they were ambitious, a week at Butlins Holiday Camps. How I wanted to go there as a kid!
Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland are a stones throw from each other, in a rough triangle, I would say less than 15 miles apart, but each has a distinct accent, language even, indicating a certain insularity or isolation of the population. Now people from the north east travel the world, frequently. Since I have been part of the pilates class, the knit and natter group and the gym girls I have lost count of how many holidays I have heard about. To Thailand, Mexico, Finland, New York, a 26 day cruise including Mauritius, Jordan and Petra, and through the Suez Canal to Venice. Also skiing in Switzerland, the Canary Islands, and more I can’t remember. Many of them have travelled to visit friends in Canada they are very happy to tell me. All taking planes, had to work that in somewhere.
I really enjoy Niagara Falls, both the Canadian and the U.S. side. Years ago I devoured Pierre Burtons book about Niagara and remember reading about the development of tourism there. It began with the Erie Canal, which was more comfortable than stage coach, but it picked up tremendously with the advent of trains. All of a sudden people could come and see the awe-inspiring cataract and cascade (terms used back then to describe the falls) after a relatively quick train ride from Toronto, Buffalo, New York and it became the honeymoon capital of north america. It also became a side show to the taverns, brothels, hotels, fun houses, wax works museums, and gambling houses that lined the Canadian side of the gorge. Hotels paid off horse and carriage operators to bring tourists from the train to their establishment where they would then be charged for going through the hotel to see the falls. An early tourist rip-off. Something had to be done. The Ontario premier asked for proposals from the railway companies to develop the area and clean up the less than respectable establishments. Yes, he asked the railway companies, because they were the ones that were bringing the people. It became a political debacle and eventually he had to back track. He asked Casimir Gzowski, great grand father of the much loved CBC radio presenter, Peter Gzowksi, to come up with a plan to get him out of hot water. He suggested making the area into a public park. The premier was aghast. Spend tax payers money to provide public space for Canadians and tourists to enjoy, pay for its upkeep and make no money from it! He initially resisted, but the issue was such a hot potato that he eventually agreed. So now the whole gorge side space is part of the first (I think) Canadian park, The Niagara Parks Commission, and he was the first commissioner. All the side shows have moved to Clifton hill, out of sight of the falls.
The American side of the falls was a different story. The water was seen as sources of power for industry, and it was siphoned off upstream for manufacturing. Aluminium, which needs a lot of energy in its manufacture, was produced there, creating a whole world of cheap aluminium product. Other industries flocked to the area to take advantage of the cheap power, and most of them poured their industrial wastes into the gorge. The scars are still visible on the sides of the gorge. The only area not developed was Goat Island, the large island separating the American and Horseshoe (Canadian) Falls. The owner refused all offers and it still grows the native fauna and flora of the region, and is a great place to see the full sweep of the Horseshoe Falls. All kinds of canals were built to siphon the water, and one became infamous, Love Canal. Houses were built on top of it, and it was full of all kinds of chemicals. It poisoned the people who lived in the houses. What a mess!
This is a bit long, and not many pictures, but I hope you are still reading along. Sally, Trev and I did our own little jaunt on Saturday afternoon, a sedate pub crawl, not like the days of our youth. We went to four pubs, all old when I was still a kid, and still in operation. The Shakespeare on Saddler Street, The Half Moon on New Elvet, The Dun Cow on Old Elvet
and The Victoria on Hallgarth Street. Half a pint in each. The biggest difference now – instead of Double Diamond bitter, and Vaux breweries producing crap beer they now offer local craft ales, cask conditioned (among other commercial beers). Yea.
Just five days ’til I get on the boat. After all the planning and talking about it as a future event it is upon me, upon us. The first week: Sally, Trev, Lucien, my nephew and his girlfriend Dani, the second week, my first Canadian friends, Sue and Katherine of moving day fame. Can’t wait, but also nervous.
p.s. If you ever want a guided tour of Niagara, bring your passports and I will show you around, Canadian and US side.
p.p.s. Casimir and Peter Gzowski are famous Canadians. Worth a look up in my humble opinion.