Stay Safe in the Wilderness

If you enjoy time in the wilderness, you will probably enjoy this book, North Shore Rescue – If You Get Lost Today, Will Anyone Know? by Allen Billy. He has been a member of the North Shore Rescue team for twelve years and has participated in over 700 search and rescue operations in mountain, wilderness and urban environments. The North Shore Rescue Team is the busiest volunteer search and rescue team in Canada and averages 135 missions per year.

The book contains personal stories of many of the volunteer missions, along with the safety lessons to be learned from the experience.

To order the book go to:

Finishing the Speed River Trail

4.6 km hiking trail: Click on map below for interactive map of trail

The Speed River Trail runs beside the Speed River from behind the Guelph Humane Society to Blackbridge Rd, just north of Hespeler. From there, Cambridge hiking trails lead to the confluence of the Speed River and the Grand. The trail is maintained by the Guelph Hiking Trail Club. We hiked the first 2 sections in 2019, but the guidebook warned against hiking in the fall during hunting season and that it can be wet and mosquito-y. We left the final section to a nice spring day, before the mosquito season. We wore our waterproof boots just in case. However, although the trail was damp in sections, the Guelph Hiking Trail Club has put boards over the muddy sections and built a boardwalk through the wettest part of the swamp, so we could have hiked the entire section without getting our shoes wet. The trail is well marked with orange blazes on the main trail and blue blazes on side trails.

The trail starts on the south side of Speed River bridge on Hwy 132. The bridge is very narrow with no pedestrian facilities and there is a lot of traffic, including large trucks, so it is best to park beside the road south of the bridge. From there, the trail follows close to the river, winding through woodlots and wetlands. Early spring flowers were in full bloom and the birds were courting noisily in the trees. Unfortunately, there is an enormous gravel pit with noisy trucks and machinery on the other side of the river for much of the first half of the trail, which spoils the illusion of being far from civilization. Hiking on a weekend would probably be much quieter.

Numerous fiddleheads of indigenous ostrich ferns were poking their heads above the ground. One unusual native plant that we spotted was the large-flowered bellwort.

The Speed River Trail ends at the historic Black Bridge, where eager kayakers were putting their craft into the water.

A “Grand” Winter Day

After a few cold, blustery days, the wind calmed and the sun emerged from the clouds to create a perfect winter day to get outside. It was time to visit the Grand River as it flows through the middle of Cambridge. Despite the recent cold snap, the river was still flowing smoothly and rapidly.

A patch of red osier dogwood glowed in the sunshine against the snow.

A large flock of geese and some mallards were diving for food in the river. Suddenly my eye caught sight of one brightly coloured interloper–a common goldeneye that had migrated from the northern boreal forest to winter in our mellow climate.

The double-arched bridge is one of a series of iconic bowstring bridges along the Grand River. Its simple concrete contrasts with the ornate Victorian brick buildings in downtown Galt.

The new pedestrian bridge exudes modern, industrial chic.

On the other side of the river, the deconsecrated Romanesque-style church occupied by the Cambridge Arts Theatre positively gleamed.

My last stop was across the river from Galt Collegiate Institute, founded in 1852 as a boys’ Grammar School. It is one of the oldest still operating schools in Canada.

The railway crosses the river next to the school. Today it was paired with a shadow bridge on the ice below.

The Grand River in Winter

Exploring the Grand River is not just for the warm months of the year. After a recent snowstorm I headed out to Fergus, Elora and West Montrose on a cold Sunday morning, to view the river in its winter coat.

First stop: Fergus, built of stone by Scottish immigrants to the area. Without the leafy green of summer, the lichen-crusted limestone banks of the river stood out, set off by some red berries and a frozen miniature waterfall.

Between Elora and Fergus, the Wellington County Museum and Archives overlooks the Grand River. This is the oldest remaining “House of Industry and Refuge” building in Canada, otherwise known as the dreaded 19th century “workhouse”.

My next stop was Elora, another quaint stone village built by Scottish immigrants. The Elora Mill Hotel and Spa, built in a former grist mill, towers over the river and presides over the village. In summer, the town bustles with tourists, but today it was almost deserted except for a few people walking their children and dogs. The Elora Mill has harnessed the power of the river in partnership with Shaman Power, building a new green hydro station on the footprint of an old power station, tying the mill to both the past and the future.

A reminder of the old industrial past of Elora can be seen on the banks of the river, opposite the mill. Converted to black and white, the photograph of the old foundry seems timeless.

At my next stop downstream from Elora, these red berries overlooking the river caught my eye.

Balsam Grove Parochial School is a century-old one-room schoolhouse, still in use.

The West Montrose Covered Bridge is the star of any visit to the Grand River in Waterloo Region. It is photogenic in any season, but a mantle of snow sets off the dark red timbers.

As I stopped beside the bridge a group of local Mennonites drove past in their horse drawn buggies.

Beside the bridge stands a beautifully preserved old stone cottage.

My final stop was at the one-lane buggy bridge in Conestogo. Here a large group of Canada Geese and mallards were feeding in the river, oblivious to the ice.