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Niagara-on-the-Lake's carriage ride

© By Mike Keenan
 
       

During her Golden Jubilee, I watched the Queen leave Buckingham Palace, transported inside an ornate, gold carriage, waving to thousands of cheering Brits. However, it's a much different view from where I sit, perched beside Robert, my driver, facing the formidable rump of Jackie, a frisky, part Clydesdale mare, who transports tourists in a simpler coach. It's congested walking downtown in Niagara-on-the-Lake during tourist season which never seems to end. I decided on a clever change of pace.
     Our carriage was equipped with a hydraulic break and constructed from fiber glass by an Amish family in Indiana. Unlike Her Majesty's coach, used only once or twice per century, after 3-4 years of steady use, this cart will be sold.
     "Clip clop, clip clop," the sound of metal shoes from the 1600-pound horse transported me back in time. Jackie is regularly shoed, her considerable weight wearing out the metal every five weeks. There is no set commentary from the driver. "Some people aren't interested in history. St. Mark's church was built in 1805, the oldest building in town. They won't remember that, but they will remember it's the only building that survived the burning during the War of 1812, thanks to its stone base."
     Sometimes the questions are inane. A few ask directions to far-off locales such as Banff. (the same types who motor across the Peace Bridge in the summer, equipped with skis on their roof racks.) Comedians inquire, "Did you feed your horse beefarino?" relating to a Seinfeld program in which, Kramer's horse, Rusty, passes gas during the entire tour. Another popular question: "How do you people get your flowers to grow so well in this town?"

       

     Dressed formally with top hat, cravat, vested coat and black pants, Robert has command of detail and trivia. The rectory, built from 1820-30, is Italian villa style, featured in Steven King's 1983 movie, The Dead Zone starring Christopher Walken along with the picturesque gazebo adorning Queen's Royal Park. The gazebo featured a murder scene. Director, David Cronenburg, avoided the water, and filmed towards the park.
     Routes depend on time and horse speed. Jackie and Ebony are quicker than the other horses. The massive and powerful Clydesdales and Percherons are treated well. There is no food allowed on the street, but water supply is constant. "If horses are allowed treats, they get nippy," advised Robert. "They are fed before they come out and when they go back. Some locals are allowed to bring them apples. If the heat is bad, we don't go out." Robert has a cell phone handy in case of trouble. "Jackie loves to work; she has lots of energy."
     There are memorable buildings along the way such as artist, Campbell Scott's home, the five diamond rated Queens Landing Hotel where guests stay for $375 per night, Somerset B&B where actors, politicians and other notables pay $260-310 and the oldest golf course in North America (1875), constructed prior to titanium golf clubs and wimpy carts equipped with global positioning devices, which measure your next shot. Fortunately, the golf course was tastefully left intact with its basic narrow fairways and small greens.
     Jackie was well behaved. As we sauntered around town amidst traffic, a sudden, loud noise emitted from a truck backing up. She handled it well. Another activity that she handles well is filling the black leather diaper suspended at her rear. By the time we returned, it was packed with fresh, steaming manure, something Queen Elizabeth does not have to contend with during her infrequent excursions. Robert let me in on a secret. The fresh manure is placed in a box at the corner at their home base near The Prince of Wales Hotel. Astute local gardeners scoop up all of the bags by the end of each day and that's why the flowers grow so well in Niagara-on-the-Lake!

     


Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
Sentineal Carriages: http://www.sentinealcarriages.ca
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Niagara_on_the_Lake

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Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
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Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
 


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