By: Steve Nadon
The iconic Horseshoe Falls have become more than a tourist attraction for Niagara, it’s become synonymous with Canada and the “Canadian” experience. But those who stand awestruck by the brink, watching the six million cubic feet of water that crests over the falls every minute are often unaware of the fact that the water itself is merely traveling through Niagara – in fact, 20 per cent of the world’s water supply passes through Niagara Falls. The water itself, therefore, calls attention to its transcendence of geography in Niagara – a region, which in and of itself, is remarkably grounded in internationality and diversity.
Just like the cascading water, the unique cultural history of Niagara is anything but homogenous. The region was defined by war with the United States in the War of 1812; Niagara also attracts and depends on ten million tourists each for a major slice of its economy.
Since the War, Canada’s attitudes towards the United States have changed dramatically and positively, however, the local-tourist binary does not account for the nuanced and multi-faceted relationships between land and people. Instead, the Niagara Region is still being invaded in the eyes of many locals, although this time, by friendly visitors rather than an impending military force. Problematically, this understanding of Niagara as a destination for tourists, ultimately dismisses those that are not from Niagara, as consuming the Region, rather than actively and passionately contributing to it.
This fusion is not economic, despite the $400 million dollars annually that is produced by Niagara tourism. Instead, this is expanding and accommodating the international community within our conceptions of what we consider to be “Niagara”.
Cuba, like Niagara, is a massive destination for vacationers. Similarly, Cuba relies on tourism to bring in an annual $2.6 Billion, from 3 million visitors – 40 per cent of which, is derived from Canadians. The growth of the tourist sector in Cuba, especially in its capital, Havana have resulted in a development boom that has transformed its economy and influenced the growth of the country in a service-based, resort direction.
In fact, in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Raul Rodriguez, a researcher with the Centre for Hemispheric and United States Studies at the University of Havana said, “There should be a Tim Hortons in Varadero.” This, however, cannot be what cumulative cultural diversity looks like. Indeed, this is far more capitalist than cultural, and is based on only a shallow understanding of the way in which Canadians influence the identity of Cuba.The history, the culture and the physical space of Cuba and Niagara are remarkably and meaningfully intertwined.
The millions of visitors between both Niagara and Cuba leave more than economic development in their wake, and this is epitomized in the cuban poet, José María Heredia. In 1824, Heredia visited the brink of the Horseshoe Falls – which at the time was one of the new world’s most popular destinations – and was inspired by the power and the size of the natural formation. In fact, the sight inspired a poem, Heredia entitled NIÁGARA. The poem spoke to the cathartic nature of the falls, and was as much a response to the inspiration of the Falls as his exile from Cuba – a ballad to being caught between two nations.
Heredia has since been coined the “first poet of the Americas”, and even has a dedicatory plaque hung along the guardrail of the Horseshoe falls in front of the central hub for the Niagara Parks Commission, Table Rock. Heredia as a visitor, has changed the landscape, both physically and culturally even hundreds of years later. This speaks to the power to affect 10 million individuals have as they pass through our region, which culturally, historically, economically and socially, is just as much their region.
The beautiful depiction of the Niagara Falls described in the poem is a momentous reminder of the power relationships possess to defy borders, boundaries and divides. Heredia’s writing was a chemical reaction between places both past and present, spaces both explored and awaiting, as well as experiences and between many national boundaries. In 1824, and furthermore so in the modern age, whether homogenous or not, the Niagara Region and the triumphant power of its waterfall is as much an embodiment and reflection of Latin America, as it is for Niagara residents and the rest of Canada.
“May my verses shareYour immortal glory! May a kindTraveler on contemplating your faceOne day sigh, remembering me.”–NIÁGARA, translated by Keith Ellis