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Sweet Reward on the Grey County CP Rail Trail

Owen Sound to Chatsworth (21 km each way by bicycle on a multi-use rail trail)

The Grey County/Dufferin County CP Rail Trail runs between Owen Sound and Orangeville. Between Owen Sound and Holland Centre the trail is stone dust, which is comfortable for most bikes. From Holland Centre to Orangeville it is rough gravel, best used for hiking. The trail is used by snowmobiles in the winter. ATVs are permitted outside the city of Owen Sound.

Because the Grand Trail meets the CP Rail Trail in Dundalk, it provides an additional link between the Grand Trail and the Waterfront Trail. Upgrading the entire trail to stone dust would create a multi-day round trip cycling adventure.

We spent the week of the July long weekend at a cottage in Owen Sound and took the opportunity to explore the first section of the CP Rail Trail between Owen Sound and the village of Chatsworth.

Chatsworth is at the top of the Niagara Escarpment from Lake Huron. However, rail companies always choose a route that minimizes the grade to reduce fuel consumption. The CP Rail Trail is no exception, taking a circuitous route that climbs gently almost all the way. The stone dust surface is in good condition. The trail wends its way through small forested areas and farmland. The meadows beside the track bed were blooming with summer flowers.

After an hour and a half riding uphill in the heat, we were happy to find Chatsworth Honey, right at the intersection of the trail with Highway 10. There was a choice of several varieties of honey, depending on the location of the beehives: spring flower, autumn flower and basswood. We bought some honeycomb for the grandchildren, some jars of different honey to taste test later and a jar of local maple syrup. From there we cruised back downhill into Owen Sound.

Nature Close to Home

We have been instructed not to travel far from home. Fortunately, in the Grand River Watershed there are many trails that are open and easily accessible. We need only to look a little more closely to see the natural world all around us. Instead of running around to a different activity every weekend, when we walk the same trail repeatedly we can see the succession of spring flowers unfolding over time in the same location.

Trout lilies are common in the forests of Southern Ontario. However, the woods beside the Health Valley Trail were carpeted in unfamiliar white trout lilies. I thought that perhaps they were an unusual variety of the yellow species, but they are actually a separate species, Erythronium albidum. A few days later, Ontario’s provincial flower, Trillium grandiflorum, was in full bloom.

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, are less conspicuous but no less interesting (see if you can spot one hiding with the trilliums above). Although they look like the carnivorous pitcher plant, they don’t consume the insects that are attracted to their flower, but merely use them as pollinators.

Marsh marigolds, Caltha palustris, are another common woodland plant tha tis blooming prolifically in local wetlands.

Of course, with spring come insects. The first mosquitos have appeared in the last few days and given our wet spring they are likely to be plentiful. Staying even closer to home, this native common eastern bumble bee, Bombus impatiens, was busy visiting all the blossoms on a non-native azalea in our suburban garden.

Memento Mori

The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us all of the fragility of human life and the inevitability of death. Renaissance artists would often slip a human skull into the background of their paintings as a “memento mori”, or reminder of death amidst life. This spring, as we spend more time in our backyards and local parks, we can find numerous reminders of new life and death.

A pair of robins set up their nest above the downspout beside our dining room window. As I dug my vegetable bed in preparation for planting, the robin parents followed me around, ready to dart in and grab any unlucky worms turned up by the spade. Then they rushed home with their prize, to feed it to their fluffy pair of babies. Within a few days, the last one was teetering on the edge of the nest. A few hours later, he was gone.

I was lucky enough to spy him later, clinging to a branch, with one of his parents nearby looking for fresh worms to feed his insatiable appetite. Close by were a pair of baby starlings, calling loudly for their own parents to come and feed them.

In the last few years a pair of red tailed hawks have patrolled the skies above our neighbourhood. Sometimes they can be seen perched on top of one of the student residences near Wilfrid Laurier University. A raucous racket from a group of crows and starlings attracted my attention from my vegetable garden. Looking up I saw one of the hawks perched on a telephone pole at the end of the garden, dangling a fluffy grey tail from his talons. He was being dive-bombed by the other birds, whether to scare him from the neighbourhood or perhaps to distract him into dropping his lunch. The hawk flapped into a nearby fir tree, which gave him some protection from the attackers. Then he proceeded to ignore the other birds, who continued to squawk noisily, flapping around behind him and even flying into his back. He held tightly onto the branch and the dead grey squirrel and proceeded to eat his lunch, undeterred.

And finally, we discovered our very own memento mori: this almost perfectly preserved fox skull was sitting in the bushes along the Walter Bean Trail near the Humane Society.

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.