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Did you know waterfalls can make you happier?

The power of falling water deeply affects us all. Explore it at some near-by locations highlighted by Back Roads Bill Steer and Mark Harris, author of Waterfalls of Ontario

Waterfalls attract us any time of the year and for good reasons, they make us happy.

Falling water is considered to be one giant ion generator – the vitamins in the watery air give off negative ions, which we take in as positive energy. Once the negative ions reach our bloodstream, they are said to increase our bodies’ production of serotonin, which is the chemical responsible for relieving stress and depression, and for boosting our energy and happiness.

In some senses, a waterfall is nature at its most rudimentary, a simple case of physics. It is the same gravity that explains a leaky tap drip or raindrop but as winter wanes and spring emerges we wonder about and wander towards falling water.

Not all waterfalls have a straight drop, that is for sure. The Google classification of waterfalls says you will find about eight types including “plunges,” “horsetails,” “fans,” “punchbowls,” “cascades,” “ribbons,” “slides” and “chutes.” Take a look at the photos. It is like identifying cloud types.

Mark Harris is the author of ‘Waterfalls of Ontario,’ and he knows about falling water. The book describes 80 falls, each is listed alphabetically and organized by region in the province. Each waterfall is illustrated with a full-page colour photograph and a concise description that includes detailed driving instructions, relevant geological features, and a brief history. Regional maps are included for those who wish to visit the waterfalls. A sidebar features handy at-a-glance information such as the nearest settlement, walk time, trail conditions, size, and map coordinates.

He got started with waterfalls in university.

“I was a physical geography student at Brock in St. Catharines, and we took lots of field trips to the streams and gorges that tumble over the Niagara Escarpment. Not long after I graduated, I took a short course on web development, which was brand new in the mid-90s.

"I had also been learning about photography and databases and decided to combine my interests into my first web site, uploaded in 1999.

“A few years later I was contacted by Firefly books.

"They had a photographer that was preparing a coffee table book on Ontario’s waterfalls. They asked me to write captions, but I knew that I could offer so much more.

"The first book was released in 2003 and was one part guidebook, one part coffee table book. The book kept selling, not at huge volumes, but at a constant demand. They ran out of stock and so we did some modifications and released the second book in 2011.

“Shortly after, Facebook was really catching on, and so I started a group to support my web site. We are now close to 4,000 strong and there are now daily posts of photos, directions and questions about visiting waterfalls in Ontario. We have lots of members in Hamilton, which claims to be the 'Waterfall Capital of the World.' But we also have members from northern Ontario, where the waterfalls are often remote, but somehow people are able to get to them.”

Waterfalls are the centrepieces of many hikes, whether it’s a long rugged hike through the bush or a short walk down a dead-end street in small towns and villages.

“They have also allowed me to explore parts of the province that I otherwise wouldn’t have visited. I love the thrill of hearing the sound of the water on the rocks, whether it’s the thunder of a large spray-filled river or the trickle of a little woodland stream. They serve as an excellent subject for photography, especially how they change from season to season. Some people like to sit and relax next to waterfalls for hours. But I’m always too busy trying to get to the next one! I’ve identified more than 500 in Ontario to date, but there are no doubt many more hidden off the beaten trail,” Harris said. (Back Roads Bill appreciates “…the next one!” comment.)

He said the third edition came out in 2018. It includes a new chapter for waterfalls west of Wawa and on to Thunder Bay and a bit beyond. Called the 'Northwestern Ontario' chapter.

“Many readers and online Facebook groupies have used this area for a seven-day road trip. Online, I’ve been calling this the 'Thunder Run'… at least for southerners. The 3rd edition also includes an expanded roster of waterfalls in Northeastern Ontario. This includes waterfalls up to and around Timmins, like Grassy High Falls and Kap Kig Iwan Falls,” Harris said.

Here are four of Bill’s favourites in northeastern Ontario, yours to discover,

We know during this pandemic people are craving to go outside in record numbers and through the advent of the “staycation,” local destinations have become popular. Mark laments about the impact on the environment.

“Along with other outdoors people across the province, and my waterfall contacts across North America, we noted that the summer of 2020 was horrible for outdoor exploring. For some reason, many, too many people lost all appreciation and respect for the outdoors. Litter, public defecation, traffic jams, illegal parking, unruly behaviour and disrespect for fellow visitors and neighbours were rampant. This isn’t just waterfalls, but it’s what I can talk about. In southern Ontario, about ten waterfalls were closed to visitors for these reasons. This has never happened before. I believe that people couldn’t go to the mall or to the theatre, so they 'discovered' the outdoors. Also, in our Facebook (FB) group, we kept getting asked about where to go swimming at waterfalls. Our response has been that waterfalls are not waterparks.”

Visit his website and join the waterfall s community on FaceBook.

Here are four of Bill’s favourites, tell him about your own best picks; yours to discover.

When we see and hear moving water, we can feel a very real, often profound connection to the raw primal power of Nature. It affects all of our senses in a very real way; we are mesmerized by the sight and the sound alright, but when the spray or mist touches you, well there’s nothing else like it.