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Then and Now: Erie Beach Canada

Before there was Darien Lake, there was Crystal Beach, and before that there was Erie Beach. Just across the mouth of the Niagara River from Downtown Buffalo is a beautiful wooded plot of land hugging the water as it transitions into the Canadian side of Lake Erie.  I first discovered this beautiful wild patch of lake shore back in the 1970s, when I would ride my bike into Canada to do some exploring.  I found this place at the western end of Fort Erie’s Lake Shore Road, where  it dead ends into a wide dirt path through a forest, occasionally paved with broken slabs of concrete.  The forest had grown up around a scattering of water edge ruins.  These ruins are what remain of Erie Beach, the first lakeside resort destination for the people of Buffalo. It is a place of eerie (no pun intended) beauty.

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From an information plaque at the park
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Back when I was exploring in the 70s the long abandoned park’s massive, lake-water pool was still filled with water and the collapsed shell of the beach casino building still stood.  It was an impressive sight to come upon as you broke out of the thick woods into a clearing at the water edge.  I am sure it was great fodder for the imaginations of kids spending summers on the nearby beaches. It was a spooky even in the bright summer daylight.  Today, the ruins consist of left over fountains (now used as makeshift campfire rings), the foundations of various structures, stairways, walkways and the walls of a giant lake-water swimming pool now filled with a mini forest of its own.  From Buffalo you can still see the crumbled leftovers of the ferry pier jutting almost a 1/4 mile into the lake.  The old casino building is now cleared away leaving behind only the outlines of its foundations.
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From an information plaque at the park
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Courtesy of Albert Knobloch
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Courtesy of Albert Knobloch
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The Niagara Regional Government has extended the southern east west branch of its Niagara  Circle Bike Path through this forested plot of land (which I believe is now a municipal park).  Along the path they have added a series of information plaques showing various images of what the run-ins used to be.  The images are accompanied by a history of the mostly forgotten amusement park.  In 1885, people from Buffalo would sail over to have a picnic in what was then known as Snake Hill grove.  By 1930, the Park’s last year of operation, thousands of visitors a day would arrive by steamship.  You could ride a roller coaster as big as any in North America and the filtered lake-water pool was proclaimed as the worlds largest outdoor pool.  The park’s demise came at the hand of the great depression. It was simply abandoned to the elements and was reclaimed by nature over the next few decades.
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Courtesy Albert Knobloch
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Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( www.blurb.com ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

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