Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Five Explorer Questions with Karen Dubinsky

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It?s not too often someone refers to Niagara Falls as The Second Greatest Disappointment (Between the Lines), but Karen Dubinsky has done just that. Her book, featured in our Niagara Parkway Biking Tour, begs the question of why honeymooning is used to promote a natural wonder of the world? The answer may surprise you, and Open Book Explorer is pleased Karen took the time to answer our Five Explore Questions.

Open Book:

The book title, The Second Greatest Disappointment, refers to an Oscar Wilde quote. Can you explain its significance for you? Did you have the title in mind from the start?

Karen Dubinsky:

Niagara Falls is the second greatest disappointment of American married life. So said Oscar Wilde. There are many levels to this joke of course, my favourite being the sweet sarcasm about heterosexuality, coming from one of histories most famous — and of course persecuted — homosexuals. I guess I come from a long line of gay people who have turned up at the falls and stared rampant heterosexuality in the face!


How did you want to distinguish it from other books on the same topic?


There have been some great books on Niagara, covering various angles. I was interested in two things that hadn?t really been covered before. One was the honeymoon story: why and how it gained its reputation as a honeymoon destination. At the same time, an not unrelated, I was interested in the history of the local tourist industry, the ?bricks and mortar? so to speak, i.e. all those hotel owners and tourist promoters and service industry workers who helped shape the reputation of the place ?as a honeymoon destination or as a tourist destination in general.


The research was likely considerable. How did you go about compiling information and were there any surprises?


At the time I was researching this I was teaching at Brock University in St Catharines, so I was close by. I spent months in and around the Falls, especially in the public libraries in both Niagara Falls New York, and Ontario. The local history collections of both public libraries are really good, better than many local history collections. I hope people continue to support those institutions.

Probably the biggest surprise was just how many people have wanted to express themselves about their experiences and feelings at Niagara Falls over the centuries. It is truly one of the world?s most cherished icons.


What is the importance for you in documenting Niagara Falls? history?


I love Niagara Falls even as I join in the chorus of people who lament what commercialism does to nature. My point is that people have been lamenting that for centuries. It is too easy to lay blame at the feet of greedy hotel owners here or money-grabbing tourist operators there. There is NO end of people who have profited from Niagara, from tourism to industrial concerns to government. I don?t believe there is a ?right? or a ?wrong? way to appreciate a waterfall, except destroying it. People have treated Niagara Falls as a great aquatic toy, and other people have treated it as a shrine, someplace to worship silently. I think its important to see the range of ways people have been at The Falls, the many many meanings it has held over time.


If there is one thing for a reader to take away from your book, what would you like it to be?


I suppose I?d like to encourage people to look below the surface when thinking about the history of their community, or any community that interests them. History isn?t just about the political or economic elite; they may be the ones who are written about in the newspapers but dig a little deeper and expand your notion of what a ?historical event? might be.

Karen Dubinsky teaches in the Departments of Global Development Studies and History at Queen's University. In addition to her work on Niagara Falls she has written books about various topics including international adoption, Cuban music, and the global 1960s.

For more information about The Second Greatest Disappointment please visit the Between the Lines Press.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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