Niagara Gazette

October 18, 2013

HAMILTON: Rethinking tourism strategies in the Falls

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — On a rainy day in late June of 2011, some 40 or more same-sex couples came to Niagara Falls to take advantage of the state’s legalization of same-sex unions.

Proponents, who arranged for the free parking and the additional police security on Goat Island to facilitate the exchange of those wedding rings, also claimed that it would increase tourism in what was once the Honeymoon City. The 40-or so partners, most of whom struck a remarkable resemblance to each other, have not seemed to have made a noticeable impact upon the city’s coffers.

But there was a couple that I noticed some 28 months later when I was in city hall on Wednesday and they seemed to have been a great deal like the tourists that always either came to Niagara Falls for their weddings, or they return for their honeymoons.

This couple, Barty Jean Pinkham and Herbert W. Courtney, Sr., though heterosexual, seemed to resemble each other too. The bespectacled Herbert, with his peach-colored shirt, his dark vest adorned with a peach-colored rose boutonniere pinned onto it, sat with his arm draped over the shoulders of his soon-to-be bride. And Barty Jean sat effervescently alongside of him, as giddy as a school girl, just as bespectacled, and holding a bouquet of six or more peach-colored roses grinned at everyone that passed them as they sat on the bench in the building’s atrium awaiting for Nadine Wasson from the clerk’s office to announce them husband and wife.

There was a strong resemblance in their similarly aged and wrinkled skin, wrinkling that was absolutely necessary; for without it, the light of joy that was contained within their souls would have flooded out of their every pore and have blinded anyone entering the room.

What made this couple special to me?

Barty Jean was a spry 86-year-old retired interior decorator; and Herbert was eight-years her senior at 96 — and they were just as happy and excited as any engaged 20-something couple that I had ever encountered as they were entering into this life-changing experience with each other.

Virgin Active, a health club conglomerate with 1.2 million members across 266 clubs globally, released an advertisement whereas the granddaughter of a very elderly man who silently sat and gazed at the nothingness that remained of his life. She happened to notice a photograph on his dresser of his friends and him mounted upon bicycles with huge smiles on their faces.

The young lady returned with a bicycle helmet and dropped it on the old man’s lap and then led him out to the yard where she had a new bicycle waiting for him. You could feel the joy in both of them as they rode together in bliss along with a group of other cyclist. The joy of his life returned. The advertisement ended with the words, “Live happily ever active.”

Barty Jean and Herbert fully well expect to do just that, but not by cycling the 2,800 miles between our hometown and theirs in Snohomish Washington. Instead, Barty Jean said that while they always wanted to come to Niagara Falls, and that it was Herbert’s first time, they intend to tour the entire northeastern United States and — get this — “... that will complete our bucket list.”

Barty Jean and Herbert were indeed married in Niagara Falls; and they joined the legacy of perhaps millions of others who had already done likewise.

In our attempts to open new markets for tourism, let us not overlook that beautiful and dedicated stalwart group of aged tourist that got us here in the first place — regardless of how slowly they now turn, they are still alive and active.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.