A Nice Place to Visit...

Niagara Skyline BridgeYesterday found us at the Skyline Inn in Niagara Falls, taking advantage of its connection with the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark. The one night stay (with waterpark privileges up to 3 p.m. the following day) was a Christmas gift from Wendell and Judy, and is much appreciated. It's strange how the ability to go to an indoor waterpark seems the perfect thing to do in the dead of winter... actually, it's not strange at all. I think it's called "giving Winter the finger".

The waterpark itself is an active place, and no wonder. They've got slides galore, and direct, climate controlled connections with just about every single hotel in the surrounding blocks. It's located at the top of a multi-story garage, so the connection with our hotel is odd. Ours is really a two-storey classic Niagara motel (albeit one that's been decently renovated). The waterpark sits above the roofline of this hotel. So, you go as high as the stairs can take you in the inn, and then walk into a glass tube and head up an incline. It makes you quite aware of the height. It also provides quite a view of the City of Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls, Ontario has come a long way. There's no doubt that the two casinos and -- more importantly -- an assortment of family-friendly attractions that have been built alongside it, have helped keep the city on the tourist map. The fact that this hotel is busy in winter speaks volumes, in my opinion. But it still feels temporary -- not real. Niagara Falls feels like a city that could be blown away by a strong gust of wind.

As Toronto and Waterloo Region debate whether or not to build casinos on their own, I can only offer these cautions: one, the city is going to be hard-pressed to have its casino compete against what Niagara Falls has available. Niagara Falls has successfully branded itself as a Las Vegas type of tourist town. Toronto is not Las Vegas. Kitchener is less so. There's no sense of "what goes on in Toronto, stays in Toronto". I have difficulty seeing a Toronto casino or a Kitchener casino finding a way to stand out.

And, two: casinos don't build communities. Neither do theme parks. Tourist dollars may bring in jobs and associated money, but they don't bring permanence. And that, I think, is what makes a city worth living in. Toronto is more than just a nice place to visit. Let's focus on building a place that people want to live in.

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