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Clifton Hill is one of the major tourist promenades in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The street, close 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, video arcades, restaurants, hotels and themed attractions. For visitors, particularly families and teenagers, it is a major amusement area and centre for night life.
Over the years, the various properties on the hill have been bought, sold and renamed frequently. The street is divided between two primary property owners: the Harry Oakes Company (HOCO) and the Niagara Clifton Group.
Comfort Inn, also part of Clifton Hill, closed in 2015 and was later demolished as part of a major development that would include the upcoming Niagara Speedway go-kart track, an extension of the Great Canadian Midway video arcade, a zombie-themed 4D ride, multiple snack stands, and a Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum expansion. The expansion began in early 2016 and is slated to be completed by Summer 2018.
Prominent attractions on the street include the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum and 4D Moving Theater, the Guinness World Records Museum, the Niagara SkyWheel Ferris wheel, and the nearby Louis Tussaud's Waxworks (which also operates under Ripley's). 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 and has since been moved to Victoria Ave is a common long-time landmark.
The first wax museum in Niagara Falls was the Louis Tussaud's Waxworks, which opened in 1949. It was the first of many wax museums to come. Its location on the Hill closed in September 2000 when its lease ran out, and it has since reopened just above the hill on Victoria Avenue. It is noticeably similar to Madame Tussaud's (Madame Tussaud was the great-grandmother of Louis Tussaud) due to how the figures are placed in the reach of visitors.
Another wax museum, Movieland Wax Museum of the Stars, showcases many famous celebrities from movies, music, and television, although this museum has all but a few of their figures behind glass or out of reach. At the end of the museum there is a hall of horrors and a wax hand studio. Within the past few years, the museum has relocated from what is now Wizard's Golf to a larger location close to the bottom of the hill that used to be the location of the now closed Circus World. Finally, there is also the Rock Legends Wax Museum featuring many musical (mostly rock and roll) icons from the 20th and 21st centuries, which is located near the corner of Centre St and Victoria Ave, at the top of Clifton Hill.
Each of these museums has its own interactive areas where visitors can pose with figures, appear to get electrocuted in an electric chair (this option is available at Movieland), or have your hands sculpted with wax (Movieland). There is also a wax hand studio located in the front display room of the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum.
Clifton Hill is home to Dinosaur Adventure Golf, Canada's largest mini-golf (70,000 sq. ft), located beside The SkyWheel, that features to-scale dinosaurs, sand pits, a river, and a 50 ft "active" volcano/waterfall. In close proximity to Dinosaur Adventure Golf is Wizards' Golf (formerly Cosmic Golf and Galaxy Golf), an indoor, 18-hole, glow in the dark mini golf course located directly next to Ripley's Believe It or Not!. There is also Wild Safari Mini Putt (formerly The Incredible Hulk Encounter) located inside Adventure City (formerly the Marvel Superhero Adventure City).
There are five year-round haunted houses on and around Clifton Hill: The House of Frankenstein (which is located next to the Ripley's 4D Moving Theater), Dracula's Haunted Castle (located next to Big Top Entertainment Centre), and The Haunted House (near the bottom of Clifton Hill) are on Clifton Hill, while Nightmares Fear Factory is located on Victoria Avenue. Two additional haunted houses used to be located on Victoria Avenue, Screamers House of Horrors (which was renamed Haunted Asylum shortly before its closure in 2014) and Creatures of the Night (which had the same owners and acted as a second part of Screamers). Following the closure of Haunted Asylum, the building became a hybrid haunted house/zombie paintball shooting range known as Screaming Tunnels (named after the famously haunted tunnel of the same name located in the northwest corner of Niagara Falls) but that attraction closed in 2018 and remains vacant. The Creatures of the Night attraction was followed by a 4D theatre known as Dino Rampage 4D but is now an Outback Steakhouse.
There are many restaurants on or nearby the hill. These restaurants include: Kelsey's, Ruby Tuesday, Dairy Queen, Wendy's, Burger King, Tim Hortons, Hooters, Montana's Cookhouse, Boston Pizza (one of the biggest of all the Boston Pizza locations in Canada and formerly the biggest), Rainforest Cafe (the only Canadian location remaining), Mama Mia's, Hard Rock Cafe, Pizza Pizza, Subway, and the privately owned "Clifton Hill Family Restaurant".
There are three prominent video arcades on Clifton Hill. The largest video arcade on Clifton Hill is called The Great Canadian Midway.
It has hundreds of video games where players can redeem earned tickets for prizes at the ticket counter. In this arcade complex, there is a Wild West coaster and a Ghost Blasters ride where the object is to shoot lasers at ghosts. The Boston Pizza and Great Canadian Midway both are connected to the Strike! Rock and Bowl (established in 2009), a video arcade with a rock n' roll themed 10-pin bowling alley. This used to be the Sports Zone; which was an adult bar/video arcade. Across from the Great Canadian Midway is a video arcade called Adventure City. This is attached to the Rain Forest Cafe. Inside the attraction is a motion ride which is similar to Ghostblasters, a black light go-kart shooting game, a play area for kids, a putt-putt golf and video games. Adventure City used to be called Marvel Superhero Adventure City, but it lost the rights to Marvel and was forced to change its name, remove the animatronic Spider-Man and Green Goblin figures from the front entrance, and change all the Marvel themed ride names.
In 2009, a three-floor Dave & Buster's video arcade and restaurant was added to the street where a motel formerly stood. Dave & Busters no longer occupies the space and the arcade is now operating under the name Captain Jack's Fun Centre (originally Captain Jack's Pirate Cove) and the restaurant space is now an IHOP. A convenience store is located towards the rear of the building.
A fun house is located lower on the hill, next to a Ruby Tuesday restaurant. Fantasy Fudge Shop moved up the hill on the other side to their own building, right next to the Midway. A variety of gourmet fudges are offered here. On Falls Avenue, the street bordering the Falls walkways, includes a Hershey's store and a Coca-Cola store.
Through the years, the attractions on Clifton Hill have changed frequently. Brick City, a Lego associated attraction, used to be located in the building of the former Adventure Dome, an IMAX presentation (fire damage sustained in 2014 led to it moving further up the street). A new development is currently underway that will transform the space into a go kart attraction. The Great Canadian Midway used to be called Dazzleland, and was much smaller and outdoors. The Niagara SkyWheel took the place of the lobby and Golden Griddle restaurant of Quality Inn Clifton Hill. The Quality Inn was torn down within a few years of the Golden Griddle, for reasons currently unknown. The restaurant moved on to Victoria Avenue, but has new owners. The current location of the Wizard's Golf (formerly Cosmic Mini Golf and later Galaxy Golf) and the neighbouring gift shop used to be the home of the Movieland Wax Museum, until the museum relocated to the bottom of the hill for more space. Another location is farther out on Lundy's Lane. Adventure City used to be known as the Marvel Superhero Adventure City. The owners lost the ability to use Marvel logos and characters, as noted above, thus the more generic name. Most recently, WWE Niagara Falls closed at the end of March 2011. The Pile Driver ride (above the store) remained but was left unused until mid-2015 until the building was sold and became home to the Niagara Brewing Company brewery, bar, and patio. A trip to Clifton Hill does not require too much planning, because the attractions are all side to side. This area has become a major tourist attraction, mainly in the summer months, because of all the new additions added almost every year.
Throughout the years, there had always been a delicate balance between preservation of the waterway in its natural state and commercial development or access. While this area is in a constant state of change, some[who?] had viewed the recent development of tourist attractions on the Clifton Hill area as an uncharacteristic distraction from the natural serenity of the Niagara Falls region and viewed them as "cheesy."
The land 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 United States 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 (210,000 m2) 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. 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. In addition a fountain was created in the centre of the property.
Zimmerman was killed on March 12, 1857 in the Desjardins Canal railway accident. He only lived to see the foundation for his $175,000 "Clifton Place" mansion built. Only the fountain remains to this day, located at the northern end of Queen Victoria Park.
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 State 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 first Clifton Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1898, and the ruins laid untouched until 1905, when the second Clifton House and Lafayette Hotel was built. Another fire broke out at the Clifton on December 31, 1932, and was again a total loss.
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 Government of the United States as a site for a new American Consulate however the offer was never acted upon and the land was later sold (Niagara was home to US Consul from 1899 to 1959). Two hotels still in operation today opened in the 1950s: The Park Motor Hotel and the Quality Inn Fallsway Hotel.
Beginning in the 1960s, Clifton Hill began to see various museums built, including the Houdini Hall Of Fame, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, Hollywood Wax Museum, House Of Frankenstein and Guinness World Records museum.
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