“As Niagara Falls”? More Like “As An Axe Grinds”…

As a Niagara Falls bellman I find myself answering a variety of queries from travelers but one always makes me smile – and no it doesn’t have anything to do with where a tourist can find a case of Cool Whip, a car battery and an escort who’ll literally do anything for money.

One question puzzles travelers more than any other:

“What’s it really like to live in Niagara Falls?”

My response (assuming the traveler in question tips me) is always the same:

“You want the real skinny on this city?  Spend some time in our true ‘city hall’, the one place where the people who keep the lights on in Niagara Falls share tales from the trenches and network over double-doubles.  In Niagara, the truth isn’t out there, it’s freely shared at booths and tables.”

And so I send people here…

Yes, the real story of Niagara Falls – and for that matter, any Canadian city – can be found at any of our six hundred Tim Hortons outlets. (It feels like we have that many anyway.) This week, for example, only one topic is one the public’s lips, in-between sips of java, that is. Four individuals have created a video which, according to them, tells the “true story” of my hometown. 

I’d like you to watch it and then return here for my response.

Wow, right? Every politician in the city of Niagara Falls is no doubt reeling from the crudest virtual colonoscopy they’ll ever receive. The young men behind this short documentary have already been informed by their school, Ryerson University, that the faculty does not endorse the spirit behind As Niagara Falls. And while the video was created as a school project, the school itself has already demanded its logo be removed from the end credits. Additionally, Ryerson’s president has apologized to the city for any “any negative feeling generated by their work.”

Niagara Falls mayor, Jim Diodati is far from impressed by As Niagara Falls, obviously. Then again, when your entire job is to be a city’s champion, you’re not exactly going to endorse a video that depicts said metropolis as a hellhole, are you?

But what do I think, you ask? (Okay, so maybe you’re really thinking, “When are you going to get back to interviewing hot Canadian actresses, adult film stars or writing about crazy travelers, Hook? But this is my blog, so we’ll stick to my feelings, thank you very much.) As for my feelings, they’re slightly more complicated but you have a life to get back to, so I’ll get right to the point.

The filmmakers behind As Niagara Falls claim the film reveals “what truly lies within the city” while highlighting the wide divide between tourism and the rest of Niagara.

I say that’s bull to the shit.

I have no doubt Christian Bunea, Taylor Ness, Valentin Bacalu and Justin Diezmo are decent guys but if they truly cared about this city they’d be trying to do more than simply showing one side of the story. And as for that side: I dare Christian Bunea, Taylor Ness, Valentin Bacalu and Justin Diezmo to visit any city anywhere on the face of the earth that doesn’t have dilapidated houses and boarded-up buildings. 

Sure Niagara has some serious problems, what city doesn’t? Ryerson, for example, is based in Toronto, one of the most vibrant, economically-powerful cities in Canada – that has some areas that would turn your shit white.

What strikes me most about As Niagara Falls is the fact one of the producers actually works in the hotel biz, just like me. Unlike me, though, this guy doesn’t see that Niagara’s greatest strength is its people, not it’s economic value.

I don’t blame Mayor Diodati and city council for all the rundown, abandoned properties. I blame the city’s slumlords and delinquent owners. (Though I do wish Mayor Jim and council would do a little more to hold such individual’s feet to the fire, but part of that responsibility lies with the province and federal governments.)

I don’t blame Mayor Diodati and city council for all the homes in this city that look like God threw up all over them. I blame city residents who refuse to clean up their property. Yes, some people genuinely can’t afford to fix up their homes fully, but trust me on this, a coat of paint isn’t that expensive and it costs nothing but time and energy to keep weeds and garbage off your lawn. 

I don’t blame Mayor Diodati or city council for the divide between tourism and the rest of the city. Niagara residents have always had a complicated relationship with the tourism industry. At one time people like Christian Bunea, Taylor Ness, Valentin Bacalu and Justin Diezmo would have called me a loser for working in tourism instead of the industrial core.

Then the industrial core vanished because some owners moved their businesses like a bunch of greedy cowards who refused to stay firm and weather the storm. Now tourism is all that remains. And yes, for the most part a tourism wage isn’t a living wage. And yes, I wish Niagara’s business/tourism operators would pay their employees better…

But that problem is a world-wide one.

“Things are tough all over” isn’t just a saying, Christian Bunea, Taylor Ness, Valentin Bacalu and Justin Diezmo, it’s a reality.

I applaud your effort, guys, but now you need to film a second edition that takes the effort further and adds more balance.

Mayor Diodati and council are on the right track. Niagara’s business people are doing all they can.  As for the rest of us, my fellow Niagara residents, what are we going to do now? Are we going to make our collective voice, our suggestions, our ideas, heard by our leaders or are we just going to bitch over a double-double?

See you in the lobby, friends…

About The Hook

Husband. Father. Bellman. Author of The Bellman Chronicles. Reader of comic books and observer and chronicler of the human condition. And to my wife's eternal dismay, a mere mortal and non-vampire. I'm often told I look like your uncle, cousin, etc. If I wore a hat, I'd hang it on a hat rack in my home in Niagara Falls, Canada. You can call me The Hook, everyone else does.
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26 Responses to “As Niagara Falls”? More Like “As An Axe Grinds”…

  1. We live in a recreational/tourist area. You can see whichever side you are determined to see.

    And these days being snarky and showing things in the most scandalous and brutal style is fashionable – so many “HA! We goth them! Now applaud us!”

    Big fish in small pond without having seen much else? Hopefully they film producers will get out more, meet people and grow to understand the person and their backstory – instead of just filming images. A little seasoning perhaps
    You are right about anyone can clean up, get rid of weeds and if they can’t afford to paint, can go for the “cared for vintage look”. Creativity counts make up for lack of coins many times. (I actually knew old people in old bare wood frame houses that would sweep the dirt yards, gutters and sidewalks in the community – keeping them neat. “No excuses for messes” they would say.)

    City could do a bit of encouraging and demonstration work there it seems.

    • The Hook says:

      I’ve tried to give the film’s producers the benefit of the doubt but the truth is, they’ve pissed off everyone who actually cares about Niagara.
      And that pisses me off…

  2. I always am suspect of the yellow journalism approach to issues. This film had the trappings of negative propaganda. Why the night (a la Blair Witch Project) filming. Over the top, in sensationalism and these youngsters should have know better. I applaud your opinion, Hook.

  3. Sad that they don’t see the beauty – just the gardens only are enough to go wow, oh and the falls of course. 🙂

  4. davidprosser says:

    Well done for sticking up for your city Robert. All cities have a part that is less than stellar and I know it’s very difficult for the City Governors to get individuals to put in an effort to clean up their properties. Maybe there should be penalties for not doing so but that’s for the voters to push the Mayor to do. It’s a lot easier to film the underside of a place for effect than to film the positive side which most will be aware of. Other than that it was a reasonably well done film, just very one sided.

  5. I’m from a rather unbecoming, rather grubby, industrial town in the north of England. I can see it has its downsides, but it’s my home patch. I am allowed to criticise it, but woe betide any other bugger getting on the case.

  6. nbratscott says:

    Did you ever go to the Caribbean and venture off the resort! Me neither. Never been on vacation there! But they tell me you can be taking your life into your hands at some of them. Like Niagara Falls, the tourists don’t go to see the “seedy” side there.
    Because of you we are planning our first vacation to your FAIR CITY. No date set yet.(I can’t wait to eat at Tim Horton’s.) Feel free to forward this to the city fathers(& mothers), so they feel your power over us down here!!

  7. I think that you could make a film like this about ANY city.. no matter how strong the economy is or what the size is. Tourism is your industry and it is what keeps the streets paved and the lights on, however, city council and the mayor could do more about the surrounding areas that need some clean up and help (as well as any mayor and city council of any city). The film is certainly one sided and doesn’t show the true spirit of people who live there and thrive. Like you! 🙂

  8. Tara says:

    Wow, a scathing video. But you’re right – there are places like this EVERYWHERE. And I can recommend a few neighborhoods in one of the 5 boroughs, if you need to see it up close in the USA. But seriously, tourists aren’t tourists to see the depression around their destination (well, maybe some are, but let’s not get off track here) and fortunate or unfortunate – tourists do contribute to the economies of many places around the globe. And I, too, have been intrigued enough thanks to you, to plan a trip to Niagara Falls (no date set, so no need to notify the authorities just yet).

  9. Doug in Oakland says:

    This is amusing to me, as I have traded on Oakland’s “scary” reputation for decades to keep it from being overrun by the sort of folks who wouldn’t stand for having the likes of me as their neighbor. Sadly (or not, depends on your agenda) many parts of Oakland have been gentrified past the point of recognition by their long-time inhabitants, many of whom can no longer afford the skyrocketing rents here.

    I don’t know for sure about your city, but just going by what I have seen here, that movie leaves out the most important part of poor neighborhoods: the people who live there. Having been a poor musician-with-a-day-job since I moved here in ’84, I have lived in pretty much all of the “worst” areas, and have come to understand my place in the larger economic scheme: we are the shock troops of gentrification. We move into the poorest (read that cheapest) neighborhoods, establish communities there that are fun and livable, which become attractive to the hipper among the newly affluent, who in turn attract the developers who come in, tear everything down, and build “lofts” and condo farms with names taken from the old neighborhoods., They have them in Dogtown now, fergawdsakes.

    Also, those shots of run down housing don’t look that shocking to anyone who has lived in a ghetto, and if those neighborhoods were actually bad, they wouldn’t be there at night with all of their expensive camera equipment.

  10. Rosemary says:

    Oh, brother. I live in a berg known as Council Bluffs, Iowa. Southwest end of the state, right across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska. What is my town called by the Cornhuskers? Council-tucky. I feel your angst and pain. My attitude is that it is youth, and such lack of vision that holds a place down. Rather than offer much in the way of “here’s what we would like to see,” or “here’s some of the great stuff,” we are left with a myopic view of a city with an interesting history, a wealth of cultural activity brought in by tourism, and a populace that has been sold out by these college nerds.

    All I can tell you is to keep on writing your great pieces about your home. I tell those who call my home town Council-tucky that I never heard of that place. I live in Council Bluffs, Iowa: Ground zero for the Mormons’ trek west, designated railroad center of the United States by President Abraham Lincoln, camping grounds for Lewis and Clark where they met with the local tribes, and so much more. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_Bluffs,_Iowa

    Good stuff again, Hook. One of these days I have GOT to get to a Tim Horton’s. 🙂

  11. You tell ’em Hook! Every city across the land has its faults, just like its residents. I agree that the time and creative juices of these men would have been better served to produce a broader picture of Niagara. Maybe they need a wider lens when they’re looking out into the world.

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