Niagara Falls, Ontario
Falling for Niagara!
Head over heels for Niagara Falls, Ontario
By THOMAS LARK
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.––You might say it’s a barrel of fun.
People have been falling for Niagara Falls, Ont., for well more than 200 years now. It’s long been recognised as a romantic getaway, and countless people have honeymooned here since the late 1800’s. For long years, local folks boasted that it was “the honeymoon capital of the world.”
And according to Daredevils of Niagara Falls, since 1850, some 5,000 people have gone over the falls, either as purposeful stunts for fame and/or money or as attempted suicides, and only 16 have survived––all of them at Horseshoe Falls, located on the Canadian side. Over the years, many daredevils have used fanciful contraptions to survive the plunge, from glorified wooden barrels to metallic missile-like structures. The first successful such attempt was by schoolteacher Annie Taylor, who went over the falls in a barrel, back in the good, old days of 1901. Another chap (they’re often anonymous and kept deliberately so by authorities, who of course naturally want to discourage such potentially fatal foolishness), just a few years ago, miraculously survived the plunge, simply swimming nearly naked, without so much as a lifejacket. Authorities summarily found him calmly sitting atop a rock at the base of the falls.
We recently spoke with His Worship, James Diodati, the 23rd mayor of Niagara Falls. Diodati told us more about himself and the city (about 95,000 residents) that he loves so much.
According to Niagara This Week, Diodati was first elected to the mayorship in 2010, following seven years on the city council. Self-employed, he is well known for his volunteer work, including serving on the Niagara Catholic District School Board Accommodation Review Committee and its Vision 20/20 Advisory Committee. He also established the “Sleep Cheap, Charities Reap” fundraiser, which has brought in more than $1.8 million for local charity organisations. Diodati and wife Yvonne have three children.
“Niagara Falls is the number-one leisure destination in Canada,” the mayor said, “with 22 million visits per year. Some are multiple returning visitors, so we are used to and we count on tourism. And during COVID, we shut the taps of tourism right off. We closed the borders, and it was devastating. ‘Devastating’ is an understatement. The good news is this past season in 2022, domestic tourism was back to pre-pandemic levels, and that was very significant for us. Typically, 50 percent of our revenue comes to us from international visitors, and the majority of that is U.S. visitation. Now that is about half of what it used to be. The focus now is how we get the Americans to come back and how we get the international tourists to come back again. We’ve got a lot of plans and a lot of ideas. Now that tourists are able to cross the borders, now that we don’t have any more issues, I’ve been speaking with our provincial and federal tourism ministers around the idea of doing a grand re-opening of Canada. And I suggest we do that right here in Niagara Falls. We can cut a big ribbon and have the premier and the prime minister here and back it up with a major marketing campaign to the international markets to let them know we are open for business, and we can roll out that red carpet once again. The good news is we are well on our way. Tourism is rebounding in a big way. We just need to focus on the international piece.
“We are looking at special events,” Diodati continued, “and all these big events that bring people in here. Now Niagara Falls is the host to (TV show) ‘Canada’s Got Talent,’ which has been a very big success. And we have got other special events, such as the Winter Festival of Lights, which wraps up Valentine’s weekend and special events for Valentines. Typically, New Year’s Eve, we would have an outdoor concert. We had to quit doing that during COVID, but that event would typically bring 40,000 to 60,000 people to the live show, plus fill up all of our hotels and other venues. So we are doing more things and turning Niagara Falls into a music city location.”
He stressed the importance of working with such partners as the Niagara Falls Parks Commission, Niagara Falls Tourism, Hotel Association and Regional Tourism Organisation.
“I have never yet had a person look at me, not knowing what Niagara Falls was,” said Diodati. “We need to take it from the backburner to the front burner. Ten years ago, we had (acrobat) Nik Wallenda walk across the falls, which made international headlines everywhere. We had other groups coming to us, and now we are having more discussions about what we can do to take tourism to the next level.”
Diodati also spoke about infrastructure.
“We’ve got some very exciting and very significant projects,” he said. “This summer, we will be breaking ground on our new multibillion-dollar hospital. This will be the biggest provincial spending in Niagara’s history. Preliminary costs are pegged at about $1.5 billion dollars. But we know that––with major escalating prices of the supply chain, supply-chain management and with inflation––it’s going to be more. That will be huge, and it’s very much needed. Our hospital was built in 1958, and things have changed significantly since the ’50’s. We are really excited about this and the groundbreaking of our opening, which will of course bring us the latest equipment and the most modern hospital that will attract the best and brightest minds that will deliver the best health care for all the people here. And I think people come to a city like Niagara Falls and expect us to have quality health care, and we will.”
The mayor also cited a major announcement: the University of Niagara Falls.
“This is part of the Global University system’s network,” he said, “which is one of the biggest international universities in the world, and they are going to have their campus here in Niagara Falls. The first cohort arrives in 12 months. We are really excited, because when this is built, there will be upwards of 15,000 students, and it will be in our downtown area that we’ve been working to redevelop and revitalize, and it will be a focus on digital data, emerging technologies, bio-sciences––the kind of classes where they will be teaching people for jobs that maybe haven’t been created yet. I’m really excited to have that right here, because Niagara Falls is one of the very famous places to visit.”
And Diodati spoke about downtown’s Go Train.
“We’ve been blowing out the projection of Go passengers,” he said. “I call it an injected umbilical cord into the GTA. The traffic on the highways may be congested, but there’s no traffic jams on the train tracks! We are working with our partners at Metro Links to come up with faster ways and putting in extra track and more scheduled trains daily. That’ll be something, and that comes right into our downtown, which will be right where the university is going to be built, and this is going to come together collectively.
“And one other major piece of infrastructure that we’ll be working on is our airport,” he added. “The City of Niagara Falls, along with the City of Saint Catherine’s, collectively own the Niagara District Airport. And we are the biggest population in Canada without regularly scheduled daily flights. We are working to change that. Working with our partners, we are going to the market to find some partners that will work with us in the same way that Play Airlines is working with Hamilton and the Icelandic route to get people to Europe and from Billy Bishop Airport. We are looking for a similar type of arrangement that we can take advantage of, because a lot of people when they travel––they want to come here. Just going into Toronto, which is one of the busiest airports and most difficult to navigate, a lot of people are turned off when you have to do a two-stop to get to where you are going. If people could land right here and fly from here––we’re within an hour’s flight to almost half the population of North America. That would be a game-changer for us here in Niagara for economic development and for tourism. We’ll be looking to monetize the airport and turn it into a productive asset for the region and for the city.”
AT A GLANCE
Niagara Falls, Ontario
What: The dynamic city that is at the heart of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders
Niagara Parks Commission