Come to Niagara, Try the Whine!
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Come to Niagara, Try the Whine!

Niagara Parks’ depiction of a typical Torontonian running (probably away from a mugger) to catch up with some newfangled horseless carriage contraption.

In the past twenty-four hours there’s been considerable fallout regarding the Niagara Parks Commission’s recent tourism campaign, which sets up the picturesque, postcard-pretty landscapes of the Niagara Peninsula against the graffiti-laden, bike-stealing, urban decay of Toronto (or rather, a city that is not specifically named but shares a harbourfront skyline with Toronto). We first caught wind of it from the Post late yesterday morning, and since then, the NPC has pulled some videos from their website, and is working another one out of TV circulation. George Smitherman even wrote a letter to the Niagara Parks Commission, urging them to “Do the right thing and immediately abandon your ill-advised, immature advertising campaign which serves nobody’s interests” [emphatic underlining sic].

Despite not being, in any conventional sense, funny, these ads seem to be in good fun. What’s obnoxious, besides Niagara’s whiny, neglected-kid-brother attitude, is how these ads expertly glean over what exactly the Niagara Region is. The NPC would have you believe that the Niagara Peninsula is some slowed-down bucolic Anytown from days gone by; the kind of place where you can sip on expensive ice wine (which is way too sweet, and if you drink anything but the highest end stuff, tastes quite literally like piss) and take in all the natural beauty.

In the Niagara Region you can just run free, unfettered by worries of getting stabbed or mugged or murdered. They have park benches there.

A fact about Niagara’s “natural beauty”: of the handful of protected areas in the region, many have names like Mud Lake Wetlands, the Wainfleet Bog, and Ball’s Falls Conservation Area. Chances are if you take your family for a weekend getaway to Ball’s Falls, you’re probably not going to hear the calming chirps of indigenous terns and robins over the sound of your kids snickering.
The ads seem to conflate the entire Niagara Peninsula with the wine delta region encompassing parts of Vineland, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls. We won’t even get into the fact that Niagara Falls has built the tackiest tourist destination ever around a legitimate wonder of the world (anyways, The Star already beat us to it). What’s more interesting is the culture of crippling boredom Niagara breeds. Take Niagara-on-the-Lake, the former Loyalist holdout that carries the self-applied nickname of “Loveliest City in Canada.” Lovely? Perhaps. It depends how much you’re into looking at lavishly filamented trestles, basking under the boot heel of former British rule, and the combination of bed & breakfast. Even their McDonald’s is designed to look adorably quaint. The town is almost eerily dull, like something out of a David Lynch movie or a Stephen King book. To wit, David Cronenberg’s 1983 adaptation of King’s The Dead Zone was shot in NOTL.

For the best views of Buffalo in the province of Ontario, come meditate on Niagara’s famous parkway.

These ads also skirt around Niagara’s many burgs that don’t share the self-styled snooty refinement of ice wine country. There’s no mention of Welland’s Seaway Mall, with its excellent arcade (Wizard’s Castle) and rows of stores selling those air-brushed half–Bob Marley/half–lion of Judah T-shirts. No love for Port Colborne, with its annual Canal Days festival and well-trafficked Market Square band shell either. (If you haven’t seen David Wilcox, Hedley, or the Smudge Fundaes play Port Colborne, you’ve never really seen them.) Plus, Port Colborne is also home to the Belmont Hotel and its “world famous” chicken in a basket—a tourist destination all on its own. And what about Fort Erie, with its Leisureplex, racetrack, and one sushi restaurant? What about countless chip trucks and back alleys filled with teens smoking pot and a string of bingo halls and half-decent bowling alleys? There’s more to Niagara than sipping wine amidst a bunch of trees, riding rented mountain bikes through largely unexciting trails, and trying to snap a family photo in front of the Falls while being hassled by a human being in an anthropomorphized Hershey’s Kiss costume.
These ads prove that Niagara can’t sell itself without digging on some cartoonish idea of Toronto. (Sure, we may have a bit more crime, but it’s only because people here own stuff that’s worth stealing.) The upshot of this is a view of Niagara that is not just stupid, boring, and inaccurate, but equally cartoonish. Niagara Parks does the region a vast disservice in broad-stroking it as some getaway destination for boring middle-aged white viticulturists whose idea of a good vacation is a wine tour, some light antiquing, and bringing back a jar of homemade marmalade as a souvenir. Stop being so petty, Niagara. Your prize vino smacks of sour grapes.