Postcards from Niagara Falls with tour guide writer Craig Davidson

The landscape of Niagara Falls transforms in Craig Davidson’s new book The Saturday Night Ghost Club. The Canadian author, whose previous Giller Prize-nominated book Cataract City was also set here, took me on a tour of the hometown that inspires him and, like any visitors, we snapped some postcard shots.

Marineland

Marineland was the place everyone wanted to get a summer job.
Marineland was the place everyone wanted to get a summer job.  (Deborah Dundas)

Davidson started working at this sometimes-controversial attraction at the age of 14. “This used to be the job for all the kids. I got in as a sweeper. The cool garbage people are the dumpster guys because they can go everywhere — that means you can just disappear. Sweepers are kept in a specific area, such as adult rides … I (worked) eight years at this park. It was a fun job.”

Centre St.

Some of the most interesting places in Niagara Falls can be found in the nooks and crannies off the beaten path.
Some of the most interesting places in Niagara Falls can be found in the nooks and crannies off the beaten path.

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“Even among film people, there’s an interest in Niagara Falls as a setting and I feel that way too. I feel there’s an intersection of, obviously, the American and the Canadian, working class and tourists … This seems to me like a really interesting collision of all sorts of different things, I think, in terms of narratives and telling stories. We think sometimes of Niagara Falls as tacky, you’ve taken something beautiful and reduced it by surrounding it with all sorts of gaudiness. But whatever you feel about that, I feel there’s something deeply fascinating about this place that lives in all sorts of the nooks and crannies.”

The Haunted House

Fake cemeteries are nearly as scary as the real ones visited in The Saturday Night Ghost Club.
Fake cemeteries are nearly as scary as the real ones visited in The Saturday Night Ghost Club.

Davidson also writes under the name “Nick Cutter” — The Troop and The Deep are a few of his titles. Those books are more pure horror which Stephen King called “old-school horror at its best.” As we stop by The Haunted House on Clifton Hill, Davidson observes about Niagara Falls, “It’s got that interesting mix of family friendly but it’s got a very seedy underbelly as well. Something for everyone.”

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not

In and amongst the tourists, residents also frequent Clifton Hill.
In and amongst the tourists, residents also frequent Clifton Hill.

Another Clifton Hill fixture. “In and amongst this crowd you have people who live here. That’s the duality of the thing. At night too, it was cruising the strip. We would crowd into a car, and then you’d drive up and down. There’d be girls in other cars (as if) four high school kids in a beige Topaz was really going to entice them.”

Sammy’s Pizzeria in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Sammy's Pizzeria - because you can't leave without taking some home.
Sammy’s Pizzeria – because you can’t leave without taking some home.

“That was about the easiest $ 100 you can make aside from opening up a birthday card from your grandparents,” quipped Davidson. After gambling $ 100 in roulette at the casino in Canada, we take the money and cross the border to a place he has frequented for years. “This is not diet food by any stretch of the imagination. It’s some of the most, I think, delicious pizza and wings.” It’s a certain kind of Americana — “it feels like it’s carved out of the ’70s,” Davidson says as we happily chow down in the cocoon of rec room wood panelling.

Screaming Tunnel via Mountain Rd., Niagara Falls

Take the Mountain Rd. turn-off on the QEW, make a few turns here and there and you're at one of the region's best haunted spots.
Take the Mountain Rd. turn-off on the QEW, make a few turns here and there and you’re at one of the region’s best haunted spots.

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“This is our best haunted spot,” says Davidson. “The legend is that a young girl was chased down this hill over here and into the tunnel at which point she had been lit on fire. As she burned, she screamed. Legend is, if you come here at the stroke of midnight and you strike a match in the tunnel, the scream will pick up and it will blow out the match and in the afterglow of that you can see her.” Davidson tried to see her many times, but never did. She does make an appearance in The Saturday Night Ghost Club, though.

Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: debdundas

TORONTO STAR

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