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Niagara Falls 2024 A.D.

Visitors to the Niagara Falls have been charged admission since before the Civil War. Straddling the border of the United States and Canada, the three waterfalls of the Niagara River have spent more time in each nation’s history as a paid attraction than as an unadulterated natural wonder. In all those years, the appeal hasn’t changed much. Visitors have always stood in awe of the same vista, as depicted in nineteenth-century daguerreotypes, paintings from the Hudson River School, a pivotal scene in 1980’s Superman II, or today’s countless social media posts.

In the past, you may have had to hike to the majestic crest of the Falls, while now you can drive to a visitor’s center within steps of it (where you can buy a bag of Peanut M&M’s for around 3 CAD). Around the Falls, the past and present of tourism pile on top of one another. There are historic inns that claim to date back to the 1830s; a boat tour that was founded in 1846; and an abundance of souvenir shops, roller coasters, haunted houses (five total on the Canadian side), and wax museums of various vintages. (Save for a stretch in the 2000s, Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks has been open in one form or another since the early 1900s.) Meanwhile, the Falls themselves stay constant, quietly observing the strange man-made formations evolving along their edge.

Growing up, my family had very few inherited customs we observed. Instead, most of our traditions were taken directly from the American vernacular that precipitated between my parents’ time and mine: Hollywood, the family road trip, theme parks, and natural landscapes that you could park your car right in front of. Consequently, I feel most connected to past generations as a tourist. Think about it: the fleets of cars, past and present, pulling off the same stretch of highway to take a picture of the same scenery for more than a century. Legions of families, mine included, searching for food, souvenirs, and lodging along the same tourist corridors that our ancestors did.

Niagara Falls was formed in the Ice Age and is expected to erode in about fifty thousand years. Civilization’s history may be brief in comparison to such a lifespan, to say nothing of the history of North American leisure travel. However, part of me sees the world that we’ve constructed to entertain ourselves alongside this natural wonder as just as important, if not as majestic, as the Falls themselves. The eventual ruins of these structures will be a memorial to our time as tourists on this planet, however short-lived—the only legacy that I’ll truly be a part of.


An aging building sits in a parking lot, with faded red and blue paint that includes directional symbols for restrooms and restaurants, and the words “PARKING” and “ATTRACTIONS.”


A longhaired man sits on a bench indoors with a painted mural of Niagara Falls behind him. Vending machines are in the background.


A landscape photo of a street in Niagara Falls at sunrise includes a white, stretched SUV limo.


Four tourists zipline over the Niagara Falls.


Another street photo captures signs for tourist attractions, including Louis Tussaud’s WaxWorks, Applebee’s, a wood oven pizzeria, and a hotel. The cars on the street are mostly black and gray, except for a blue slingshot roadster.


Another street photo depicts the front of a “Super Discount Souvenirs” store with bright yellow signs and black and red lettering. The signs advertise swimwear, plush toys, caps, maple syrup, magnets, keychains, and fashion. There are clothing racks with t-shirts on the sidewalk in front of the store.


A life-sized animatronic Abraham Lincoln rests inside a dusty display case.


A photo of Niagara Falls at night shows blue lights shining on the falls.