When most people plan a visit to the Niagara region, they usually head to Niagara Falls. As the 8th natural wonder of the world, the spectacular beauty of the horseshoe falls attracts around 30 million visitors each year.
But those lucky enough to live, work, and play in the area know that the Niagara region also offers a multitude of cultural, entertainment and sporting events. This includes a bourgeoning urban lifestyle in Niagara’s largest city – St. Catharines. With more than $300 million in investment in its downtown core alone, Niagara’s only provincially designated urban growth centre has seen a flurry of economic activity in recent years. While cranes have been a regular feature of the downtown skyline, today they have been superseded by impressive, state-of-the art entertainment amenities that make it one of Ontario’s most promising urban centres.
This includes facilities like the recently built FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Opening its doors in 2015, the 95,000-sq. ft. complex is home to four state-of-the-art performance venues. The $60 million facility is a vital part of the renaissance of downtown St. Catharines, helping to redefine the historic core as a hotbed for the arts. As part of the city’s revitalization efforts, Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts relocated right next door to the performing arts centre. What was once an abandoned factory is now home to nearly 500 students and faculty.
“There’s a new vibrancy downtown with the students using our facility during the day and the performing arts centre events drawing crowds here in the evening,” says FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre executive director, Steve Solski.
The PAC is home to the Niagara Symphony Orchestra, a 9-week summer theatre festival celebrating the works of noted Canadian playwright Norm Foster, and a Film House with nightly screenings. That’s in addition to a packed year-long schedule of other concerts, plays, dance recitals, and various special events.
Adding to the excitement downtown is the Meridian Centre Spectator arena, which opened in 2014. The 5,300-seat arena is home to the OHL Niagara Ice Dogs, as well as the National Basketball League of Canada’s Niagara River Lions.
Brian York, Director of Economic Development & Government Relations with the City of St. Catharines, says the city’s investment in sports and culture is already making an impact. “Private and public sectors alike are contributing extensively to St. Catharines’ renaissance, more than 50 new businesses as well as several new multi-storey residential developments have come to the core in the past few years”, adds York.
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival is almost as famous as the Falls. Founded in 1962, it is the second largest repertory theatre company in North America and draws an audience of more than 250,000 each season.
“Our focus is on socially-conscious theatre, brilliantly expressed,” says Shaw Festival executive director, Tim Jennings.
The festival’s 2017 season will be the first led by new artistic director designate Tim Carroll. The lineup of 11 plays includes everything from two of Bernard Shaw’s most admired works to the North American premiere of a gothic-cum-feminist horror story.
“Coming to the Shaw Festival is about more than just seeing a play,” notes Jennings. Visitors also enjoy exploring the historic centre of Niagara-on-the- Lake, as well as the region’s vineyards and culinary offerings. “People come here to enjoy all those things that make for great culture,” he says.
Excitement always fills the air the Fort Erie Rack Track.
Built by the Fort Erie Jockey Club and inaugurated on June 16 1897, Fort Erie is widely regarded as one of North America’s most picturesque racetracks.
“With 119 years of history, the Fort Erie Race Track has deep roots in the horse racing industry and has hosted some of the greatest horses and jockeys that our sport has seen,” says Tom Valiquette, chief operating and financial officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium.
The track is home of the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second race in the Canadian Triple Crown series.
Live racing runs from the end of May through mid-October, with more than 70,000 people visiting the track each season. “Our patrons consist largely of Niagara Region residents and visitors from western New York, but we see many tourists from near and far who are awed by the history and beauty that our track provides,” says Valiquette.
Whether you choose to take in a horse race, live show, hockey game, or simply want to enjoy nature’s beauty, you won’t lose when you visit the Niagara region.