Clifton Hill is the major tourist
promenade in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The street, close in proximity to Niagara
Falls and the Niagara River, leads from River Road on the Niagara Parkway to
intersect with Victoria Avenue. The street contains a number of gift shops, wax
museums, haunted houses, restaurants, hotels and themed attractions. For
visitors, particularly families and teenagers, it is a major amusement area and
centre for night life.
The popular Clifton Hill (Niagara Falls) on the Canadian side lite up at night
Over the years the various properties on the hill have been bought, sold and
Prominent attractions on the street include Ripley's Believe It or Not! and 4D
Moving Theatre, the Guinness World Records Museum and the nearby Louis Tussaud's
Waxworks. Tussaud's has long been a staple of the area, and a model of
tight-rope walker Charles Blondin that formerly hung above Clifton Hill is a
common landmark. The Waxworks opened in 1949, the first of many wax museums in
the area. Its location on the Hill closed in September of 2000 when its lease
ran out, and it has since reopened just above the hill on Victoria Avenue.
The land where Clifton Hill now occupies was acquired by the Phillip Bender
family in 1782 as part of a United Empire Loyalist land grant. In 1832 the
property was purchased by British Army officer Captain Ogden Creighton, a
half-pay officer who had served in the 70th and 81st Regiments and had served in
the Far East. Creighton laid out streets and building lots on the land, naming
the future settlement Clifton, presumably after Clifton on the gorge of the
River Avon in Bristol, England. The officer built his residence, Clifton
Cottage, on the edge of a high bank facing the American Falls (where the
present-day Quality Inn is located).
Creighton was involved in suppressing the uprising of the Rebellion of 1837.
Following a clash between William Lyon Mackenzie and an Upper Canada government
militia north of Toronto, the rebel leader took his forces to Navy Island on the
Niagara River to form a provisional government. In mid-January 1838 Mackenzie
and his followers evacuated the island. At the time Clifton Cottage became the
headquarters for a military detachment assigned to guard the border ferry. The
Creighton family left the Niagara area in the early 1840s, moving to Toronto and
later Brantford, Ontario. Captain Creighton died around 1850.
The street now called Clifton Hill was then Ferry Road, named due to its
proximity to the rowboat transportation system that ferried people across the
Niagara River between Canada and the USA prior to the completion of the Niagara
Falls Suspension Bridge. Ferry Road provided access to the Niagara Gorge where
the boats docked.
In 1833 the first Clifton Hotel was built at the base of the street by Harmanus
Crysler. Following in 1842, financier Samuel Zimmerman created a 52 acre estate
property along the south side of the road. Dubbed Clifton Place, Zimmerman
planned to create many gardens, large fountains and a mansion that was to be his
residence. The estate occupied the entire south side of what is now Clifton
Hill, bounded by the Niagara River, Murray Hill and Ferry Road (Victoria
Avenue). Among the buildings constructed were four large gatehouses (the last
was completed in 1856) and a $18,000 stable constructed of imported English
yellow brick. Zimmerman was killed on March 12th, 1857 in the Desjardins Canal
railway accident. He only lived to see the foundation for his $175,000 "Clifton
Place" mansion built.
The Zimmerman estate was taken over by the Bank of Upper Canada, which went
bankrupt in 1866. The estate was put up for sale and purchased by US senator
John T. Bush of Buffalo, New York for 25 cents on the dollar. Bush acquired
Clifton House, the adjoining properties, and went on to complete the lavish
Clifton Place mansion. Bush and his family lived in the building for the next 50
years, with his daughter Josephine residing there until 1927. In 1928 the Bush
estate was sold to Harry Oakes of Welland Securities.
The 1920s saw considerable growth in the area as a tourist destination. In 1925
Howard Fox opened the Foxhead Inn on Clifton Hill at Falls Avenue. On the north
side of the hill the Niagara Falls Tourist Camp was opened by Charles Burland.
Earl McIntosh opened two campgrounds, the Clifton Touring Camp on the south side
of the street and Clifton Camp to the north. Reinhart's Riverhurst Inn was built
between the Niagara Falls Tourist Camp and the Foxhead Inn.
In the 1950s the land on the south side of the street was offered to the US
Government as a site for a new American Consulate however the offer was never
acted upon and the land was later sold.