An iconic landmark
Every year, millions of visitors to Niagara Falls, Ontario delight in the spectacle of one of the most wondrous waterfalls on the planet. From afar, viewers see lofty plumes of mist rising high above Canada’s Horseshoe Falls. Closer in, they hear a thunderous roar, as billions of cubic metres of water a year surge over the edge of the Niagara escarpment down toward Lake Ontario. As the largest in a trio of falls that collectively form the famous Niagara Falls, it is one of the most iconic natural attractions in the world, and has been a celebrated tourist destination in Canada for over a century.
A new commission
In 1885, Ontario’s third premier, Oliver Mowat, introduced the Niagara Falls Parks Act and founded the Niagara Parks Commission with the mandate to preserve and protect the natural and cultural heritage of Niagara Falls, and the whole Niagara River corridor. Over the past 135 years, the Commission has expanded to own and maintain over 3000 acres of land that stretches 56 kilometres from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Today, Niagara Parks, as it is commonly known, operates like a city within a city, providing police services, waste collection, and road maintenance.
The economic impact that Niagara Parks has in the region is tremendous. Last year, the Horseshoe Falls and the many other attractions that are managed by Niagara Parks helped bring in $1.2 billion in tourism spending and supported over 15,000 jobs. During the height of the tourist season, they employ over 1,700 people, making them one of the region’s largest employers. As a self-funded agency of the provincial government, Niagara Parks plays a significant role in the economic growth and vitality of the region and the province.
Niagara Parks is one of Ontario’s original environmental organizations and has an enviable record of natural habitat preservation and land stewardship. In 2018, it created an official environmental stewardship strategy, focusing on areas such as urban forestry management, conservation of the Niagara River shoreline, and supporting endangered species. Its Chippewa Grassland Bird Habitat Project is converting 120 acres of fallow fields into tallgrass prairies that will provide essential habitats for bird species and pollinators. The Niagara River Coastal Wetland Restoration project is using felled trees to restore 75% of the wetlands that were lost in the ecosystem due to development. Niagara Parks collaborative approach has led to the partnerships with 65 organizations, including the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre of Brock University. The Commission’s environmental plans include the pursuit of innovative conservation practices as they continue to build an organization that is itself sustainable in its policies, plans, and activities.
The Commission’s 10-Year strategic plan reaffirms its historic mandate while setting ambitious goals for the future that will see the organization continue to be an innovative example of sustainability, a welcoming and inspiring place offering a world-class experience, a source of national pride and identity, and one of the most spectacular parks in the world. Visitors from near and far will continue to explore the region’s remarkable cultural heritage, and they will continue to be awestruck by one of the planet’s greatest natural marvels. The Horseshoe Falls will capture the world’s imagination for centuries to come.
In the south of Ontario lies one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Niagara Falls holds mythic status for people well beyond the borders of this province. With its presence here comes great responsibility.
Niagara Parks has created an ecosystem of support that allows it to flourish and innovate. It’s molded by a history of leadership that recognized its unique potential.
When I visited the City of Niagara Falls in August 2019, I participated in a roundtable discussion with staff and members of Niagara Parks. The mayors from the surrounding communities joined as they all serve on the Board of Commissioners. I was impressed to learn about their collaborative approach to governance, which has allowed them to work across jurisdictions to achieve common goals. Their efforts to plan in 10-year cycles has enabled the organization to think long-term and connect the dots between environmental stewardship, social cohesion, and economic prosperity for the benefit of the region and our province. With this guidance and vision, Niagara Falls will remain a beloved icon for decades to come.Sustainability