However, whether it’s your first time visiting beautiful Niagara Falls or your tenth, there is probably one area you’ve never even heard of. Welcome to the Niagara region’s best kept secret: Dufferin Islands. About a half mile south of Horseshoe Falls, in the middle of the rushing Niagara River, sit 10 acres of secluded and serene wilderness made perfectly for exploring.
Using Early Dufferin
In the early 19th century, a small chain of natural islands, named Clark Hill Islands, were beefed up by a couple Canadian entrepreneurs interested in using the property for a profitable set of iron mills. While these mills were burned by Americans in the War of 1812, the wilderness on the islands began to flourish, and a descendant of those early entrepreneurs renamed the chain Cynthia Islands and built bridges to the islands to allow the public access to this unique nature.
Creating Contemporary Dufferin
The Niagara Parks system was granted ownership of the islands in the early 20th century, and they diligently began restoration efforts and improvements to make the islands’ wilderness healthier and more attractive. They renamed the islands Dufferin after the Canadian Governor-General at the time, Lord Dufferin, who made it his legacy to protect the natural landscape around the river and falls and beat back the intruding tourist attractions.
The parks system allowed construction of a generator upstream from the islands to provide hydroelectric power to the surrounding Niagara region. This diminished the rate and power of the water flowing around Dufferin Islands. The power company dramatically increased the size and number of the Dufferin Islands. At first, their changes were too organized and “out of place with the surroundings” for the Niagara Parks’ taste, so even more islands were added to create a more natural look.
Seeing Modern Dufferin
Since the augmentations by the power company in the first decade of the 1900s — even since the bridges built to the Cynthia Islands — Dufferin has been open to public access. Only during World War II, when the islands were barricaded to prevent runaways from taking up residence in the wilderness, were visitors not welcome to stroll around the parks.
The Dufferin Islands have been home to all types of indigenous wildlife, from moose to wolves to beavers. Plus, there are signs of the past residence of Niagara’s natives as well. However, it is pleasant enough to stroll around the grounds and experience nature in all its simple, beautiful glory.
Every year starting in November, Dufferin Islands hosts Niagara Falls’ Winter Festival of Lights. Hundreds of thousands of lights are wound around trees and line pathways, leading tourists through a winter wonderland. Displays of Canada’s wildlife come to life in bright Technicolor, and educational scenes about Canada’s storied history are sure to amaze.
Dufferin Islands, as well as the Festival of Lights, are free to anyone, but the parks system does ask for donations from those able to contribute. Visitors’ money goes to maintaining the parks and creating the illuminated displays for the Festival of Lights.
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