In 1846, the very first Maid of the Mist steamed away from the dock and headed into the jaws of Niagara Falls. Since then, millions of tourists – including presidents, royalty and movie stars – have flocked to experience this iconic attraction for themselves. Including me, on several occasions. But in less than a month, all that will change, drawing to a close a piece of history stretching back well over one and a half centuries.
Or so I’d been told…
When I first heard the Niagara Parks Commission had taken away Maid of the Mist’s contract to ferry boat-loads of excited tourists to the base of Niagara Falls, I have to admit, I was horrified. Not because I think Hornblower, the San Francisco-based company to whom the new contract has been awarded, will do anything but a professional job. I was just really saddened by the break in tradition. After all, closing the door on a successful run that’s lasted 167 years is a big deal. Once the streak is broken, you can’t go back.
So a week ago, I headed down to ride the original Maid of the Mist one last time, an experience made doubly special by the fact it would also be the first time for my friend Penny. At 80 years old, she has lived in Southern Ontario for the last half century, including two years in Niagara Falls itself back in the Sixties, but had never before braved the waters of the Niagara Gorge.
During our visit, I got the chance to speak to some of the people who’ll be most affected by the coming changes… current Maid of the Mist employees. This is what I learned (unofficially, of course):
1) Maid of the Mist has indeed lost the Niagara Parks Commission’s contract.
2) From 2014 onwards, Hornblower Canada will be responsible for ferrying tourists to and from the base of the falls.
3) Despite what it might say on the Niagara Falls Tourism website, I was assured that Hornblower will have its own boats in service by the start of next year’s season, and won’t have to borrow them from Maid of the Mist.
4) Hornblower’s brand new, super-swish boats will each be able carry up to 750 passengers, compared to the 600-person capacity of the largest Maids of the Mist.
And this is an important ‘BUT’!
Anyone who’s been to Niagara Falls will know there are two embarkation points for the Maid of the Mist. The main dock is on the Canadian side, at the bottom of Clifton Hill. But there’s a second, smaller landing directly across the gorge on the American side, just north of the American Falls.
And it turns out that everything I’d previously heard about the demise of the Maid of the Mist only applies to the Canadian side of things. Because, I was delighted to discover, Maid of the Mist will continue to operate from their American location in 2014, their 167-year heritage unbroken!
This means from next spring, visitors to Niagara Falls will have two options. If they want to be part of something shiny and new, and sail beneath the waters thundering over Niagara Falls on large, modern boats, they’ll be able to choose Hornblower on the Canadian side of the gorge. If, however, they want to ride a piece of history into the deluge, then Maid of the Mist on the American side, will continue to be the one for them. This surely represents the best of both worlds.
So there you have it. Being a sentimental Giraffeses, I know I’ll always have a soft spot for the historic Maid of the Mist. But having said that, I’m also looking forward to experiencing what Hornblower has to offer for myself.
Which would you pick?
By the way, if you’d like to read about our actual visit to Niagara Falls, including what Penny thought of her first voyage on the Maid of the Mist, be sure to check out my weekly article over on Bucket List Publications next Monday. I’m thinking of calling it something like Maid of the Mist: Down, But Not Out, but that my change between now and then…