With gas prices soaring, many now choose to remain closer to home for a vacation. Thus, I visit the resurgent waterfront of a nearby city that promotes itself to Canadians as, "The Nearest Faraway Place - Buffalo." "Buffalo got its start because of the proximity to water; it's finding new life once again because of that proximity," explains Brian Heyden, communications manager for Visit Buffalo Niagara. "Canalside is an exciting place with hundreds of events and activities each year."
The revitalized Canalside district is a mere 20-minute drive over the Peace Bridge, and parking is free at the Erie Basin Marina, 329 Erie Street. Lot parking is also available at reasonable prices.
My wife, Ellen and I were blown away with what has happened at this historic site on the edge of the Inner Harbour of the Buffalo River. In the decades following the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo's position as the western terminus of the canal transformed it into one of America's most important cities, the "Gateway to the West." There was endless traffic of Great Lakes ships, canal boats and railcars. The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 dramatically changed this scenario because boats now readily by-pass Buffalo.
Since 2008, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has put new life into this once barren and blighted district. The original western terminus of the Erie Canal serves as centerpiece for the area.
Just walking along the lovely boardwalk on a bright sunny day was invigorating. Scattered colourful Adirondack chairs invite one to sit. If you have children, try one of the free daily programmed children's events and games like ping-ping, football and giant Jenga. Arrive on a Thursday, and stay for the free top-notch weekly concert series. Gord Downie of the Canadian rock band, The Tragically Hip, wowed our crowd.
During the day, we enjoy a 1.5 hour boat ride aboard the Buffalo River History Tour boat, the River Queen. Captain Ric Hillman gives an educational, entertaining
narrative of the harbour and grain elevators. We sail by "Silo City," a collection of 15 abandoned grain elevators and learn about their impressive history.
Another highlight is three de-commissioned naval ships
(one of them a submarine) in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park Museum moored along the Buffalo River. Retired Vietnam vet and park tour guide, Mike McCullor, 70, advises, "People have greater appreciation of what sailors had to endure after they visit the ships." I agree.
We wait for a seat at the water-side Liberty Hound but it's worth it. We sit on the patio and people watch while enjoying our oversized plates of fish and chips.
If you stay over like we did, I recommend the Courtyard by Marriott, a five minute walk from Canalside. This chic new hotel opened in May and offers a magnificent 360 degree view of Canalside and surrounding area. Outside our hotel is Buffalo's Metro Rail. You can hop aboard a free above-ground train that takes one to Lafayette Square. The service operates daily. We jump aboard early in the morning and have a coffee at Tim Hortons at the square.
From our room, we see the new $170 million Harbor Center Complex being built. The center is slated to open this fall and will feature 2 NHL-size rinks, a one-of-a-kind Tim Hortons featuring displays honouring the chain's founder, a two-story sports bar called (716) Food &Sport and coming next year, a 200-room full service Marriott. You can feel the energy here.
Gord Downie & The Sadies
Canalside Buffalo: Welcome to Summer
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.