Oscar Wilde, Richard Nixon, Pierre Trudeau, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Shirley Temple, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Charles Blondin, Wild Bill Hickok, Laura Secord, H.G. Wells, Charles Dickens, Helen Keller, Sir Harry Oakes, Jimmy Stewart, Princess Diana …
Bit characters all – in a story in which the main character has always been and will always be: the Falls.
Those famous names, with one notable exception, were all as impressed in their day by Niagara Falls as will be the millions of visitors who come this year to stare in awe at one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Helen Keller, who could not see and could not hear, experienced the falls through her hands. She was so moved by the vibrations she could feel on a hotel windowsill that she told her mother: “One feels helpless and overwhelmed in the presence of such a vast force.”
Strapped into articulating yellow chairs and wearing 3D glasses, riders on the new XD Theater ride on Clifton Hill don’t know what they’re in for.
But as the lights dim and the massive screen in front of them comes to life, they’re suddenly aboard a futuristic roller coaster hurtling them around huge rocks, above bottomless pits and through lava-filled caverns.
The adventure is the latest attraction inside the Great Canadian Midway on the south side of Clifton Hill. The buildings and businesses on that side of the street are owned by HOCO Entertainment and Resorts.
The Oakes family has been around in Niagara Falls since the 1920s, when mining tycoon Sir Harry Oakes built and moved into what is now known as Oak Hall. Today, his grandsons Harry and Phillip Oakes run HOCO and its portfolio of tourism-related businesses.
The brothers have long believed that to be successful, they must stay current.
“Our basic business philosophy is you have to continually get better,” said Harry Oakes. “If you stand still, you get steamrolled. That continual improvement applies to any business – whether it’s tourism or manufacturing.”
If you’ve been to Niagara Falls more than once, you’ve probably noticed the name Oakes on a lot of things. There is Oakes Garden Theatre, Oakes Park, and more. These are all named after Sir Harry Oakes. He was a prospector who discovered gold in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, and then bought some property in Niagara Falls. At one point he swapped the parcel of land where Oakes Garden Theatre now stands with another parcel of land. The name lives on with HOCO Entertainment & Resorts (Harry Oakes COmpany).
Anyway, yesterday I came across a video that the Museum of Northern History (housed in the Sir Harry Oakes Chateau) posted to YouTube. It is only a couple of minutes long, but talks a bit about Harry Oakes’ early years. You can see the video below, or on YouTube.