Niagara Falls: a ghost town during the day, a beacon of hope during the night

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On any typical day, Niagara Falls is a booming metropolis that never sleeps. At the start of this year, it was full of life as usual, with thousands of visitors lining its streets and thriving businesses on every corner. Now, the place is so empty that it is almost unrecognizable.

With the coronavirus pandemic in full force, Niagara Falls has shut down its businesses, closed its public spaces, and dimmed the lights on its tourism district. People are staying indoors in accordance with protocol while the city fights to keep its number of confirmed cases low.

The sights left behind are quite unnatural: the Skywheel is motionless, the Speedway is muted, the casinos are bare, and the Hornblower ships are nowhere to be found.

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Clearly, these have not been typical days for the legendary city.

Photo by Jake Williams

City officials said the closures are in line with recommendations given by Niagara Region Public Health, which has urged residents to participate in social distancing and crowd control measures as much as possible. Considering how desolate the area is during the day, it seems that everyone is doing their best to cooperate.

"I went to Niagara Falls today to get some B-roll for an upcoming video, but wow, Niagara Falls was unbelievable," tweeted Jake Williams, creator of Bright Sun Films. "I have never seen it this dead out. [It's] like a quiet ghost town in one of the world's most busy tourist destinations."

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Williams provided BLUE MATTER with photos he took during his short drive through Clifton Hill on Tuesday. Despite the good weather, tourists were nowhere to be found.

"I saw maybe 15 people downtown," he added.

The streets remain deserted as day turns into night, but the mood is a little different in the dark. Everywhere you look, there are signs of hope lighting up the skies.

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Photo by @ad19

"Our hotels and casinos in Niagara Falls are lighting up glowing hearts as a sign of hope and solidarity," reads a post by Niagara Falls Tourism. "As a community, we are united on the fight to stop the spread of the virus."

In these times of uncertainty, it is little gestures like that which lift our spirits and keep our faith alive.

While the city is taking all of the necessary precautions, it is still not sure if it will declare a state of emergency. The Ford government made the declaration for the province last week, and so did a number of cities for their own municipalities. But Mayor Jim Diodati believes there is "no benefit" for Niagara Falls to follow suit. The last thing he wants is to create more unnecessary panic and anxiety in the community.

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"If we've already got our executive authorities and we've already approved all the measures we can do, what's the benefit? What's going to change?"

Photo by @lukeincanada

Other council members disagreed with the mayor, making the point that these are unprecedented times and that declaring a state of emergency would send the right message.

"They say perception is everything, and that leaves a strong perception. It is not to make your residents panic or to create chaos or anxiety. We are well past that," said Coun. Carolynn Iannoni.

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"For our mayor to state at the council meeting (Friday) that other local mayors are telling him they don't know why they did that for their city is ridiculous and doesn't give the other mayors much credit."

For now, the Niagara Falls will remain shut down until April 6, unless an extension is necessary. HOCO Entertainment is taking advantage of this time to conduct a thorough cleaning of its attractions and facilities.

"Our businesses are fully prepared to meet the tourism needs of those who visit during this time, and when the situation is normalized, most definitely ready to host visitors with proven experiences," said Janice Thompson, president of Niagara Falls Tourism.

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"As a destination with experienced business owners with decades of managing businesses through changing economic times, weather patterns and unusual issues such as SARS and COVID, we are well-positioned to deliver to full potential."

Photo by Jake Williams

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