Back on the Grand Again

All Ontario campgrounds are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So plans for a back country camping trip had to be shelved. Fortunately, just before the weekend, the premier announced the first phase of easing of restrictions, including the opening of marinas. The weather forecast promised welcome sunshine and warmth after a long, cold, wet winter and early spring. It was time to try out the new canoe on one of our favourite stretches of the Grand River, as it flows through Waterloo and Kitchener.

We were thwarted in our intention to put our canoes in the water at Kaufman Flats in Waterloo because the access point was still closed by the city. However, the informal access point on Sawmill Rd in Conestogo was available, so we parked by the side of the road and hauled the canoes a short distance to the river. Afterwards we were glad of the change in plans because we had multiple sightings of wildlife between RIM Park and Kaufman Flats: a deer, high on the bank; a wild turkey performing his mating dance; a muskrat; a beaver; mergansers and other ducks; and Canada geese with their babies. Surprisingly, the one species of bird that we didn’t spot was the great blue heron, which is almost always to be found on any trip along the river.

In addition to some fishermen and a few other paddlers, many people were out along the trails beside the river, walking their dogs or children, or biking, keeping a safe distance from other groups. A small indigenous group were singing and drumming as we passed by, reminding us that the river was a highway and grocery store for their ancestors and the early pioneers.

As we passed between Kaufman Flats on the right, and Snyder’s flats on the left, we remembered that this was the location of a ford linking the village of Bloomingdale to Waterloo, enabling farmers to get their grain to Erb’s mill in the village of Waterloo. Abraham Erb was one of the original group of Mennonite settlers in Waterloo Region. He is rightly regarded as the founder of the city of Waterloo, because his grist mill and sawmill at the corner of King St and Erb St were essential to the early settlers, attracting other businesses to set up nearby.

From Kaufman Flats, the river flowed easily to the historic Bridgeport bridge, with only the occasional rapid to keep us alert. This is one of five unique concrete bridges with bowstring arches that were built along the Grand River. The number of arches gradually increased as the river widens, from a one-bow bridge in Fergus, to an impressively photogenic 9-bow bridge in Caledonia.

As we approached the Victoria St bridge over the Grand, we pulled into the right bank and hauled the canoes out of the water. There is a short portage around the ponds which were created in an old gravel pit. We were accompanied by a chorus of frogs singing their courtship songs. Just before the parking lot we were rewarded for our efforts by the sight a painted turtle sunning himself on a partially submerged log.

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