GVT Day 23: Across the Finish Line!

Muddied but Unbowed!

Map 1 Dunnville:  10.6 km mostly on our bicycles

Click here for a map of our journey along the Grand Valley Trail.

Most of the trail from Dunnville to Lake Erie is along the towpath beside the old Feeder Canal, built to take water from the Grand River to the Welland Canal system.  We assumed that this would be bike-able.  After leaving Dunnville along the busy main road, the GVT soon moved onto the towpath.  Part of the towpath consists of coarse gravel private lanes leading to houses.  The rest is a dirt track that has been badly chewed up by ATVs.  Some of the mud-holes were so deep that they had become little frog ponds and the trail was barely passable on foot.  However, we managed to ride parts of it and drag our bikes across the worst sections.

Along the way we passed remnants of the old canal, including a rusting lock.

The trail finishes in Port Maitland, where the Feeder Canal enters the Grand River.  This was formerly a busy fishing port but is now a derelict industrial shipping terminal.  Here again are reminders of the area’s rich history.  The original massive lock is still in place, without the lock mechanism.  A cairn explains that this was the site of the first naval depot on Lake Erie, built in 1814 to protect from the risk of invasion from the United States.

The southern terminus of the Grand Valley Trail is an unimposing cairn in a small park beside the Grand River.  Unfortunately, access to the lake is blocked by a private cottage development.  We had to settle for a view of the lighthouses and Lake Erie in the distance.

Fortunately, there is a side trail of the GVT through nearby Rock Point Provincial Park, which is on the shores of Lake Erie.  We were able to complete our journey at the lake.

Lake Erie

Mission Accomplished!  We have hiked or biked the entire Grand Valley Trail from Alton to Lake Erie, all 279 km.  What is next?  There are many other trails in the Grand River watershed.  We are currently mapping the entire Trans Canada Trail as it passes through the watershed and connects us with the Waterfront Trail.  Next year we plan to start canoeing downstream from Elora.

We are a lot fitter than we were in April when we started our journey.  We have learned a lot about the history, geography and ecology of the area in which we live.  By moving at a human pace we have become more connected to the land under our feet.  We have developed an appreciation for well-maintained and well-marked hiking and biking trails and better understand the challenges of trail development.  We hope to bring many other people back to the Grand River in the coming years as we develop the Grand Watershed Trails Network.

GVT Day 22: A Canadian History Lesson

Map 3 Cayuga to Map 1 Dunnville (5.1 km hiking and 29.9 km biking)

After a good night’s sleep at Jay’s Motel (a basic but clean, quiet and comfortable motel in the middle of the countryside between Jarvis and Cayuga) we started hiking from Townline Rd to Ruthven.  The trail starts beside a field and then enters a woodlot.  In places the trail was blocked by fallen trees and at times it was obscured by meandering side trails.  However each time we thought we were lost, we spied a blaze in the distance and were back on track.  At one point the trail circumnavigated a field, which is often a challenge as there is nowhere to put blazes, but we spotted a little boardwalk over a wetland and found the blaze leading back into the woodlot.  After a very short walk along Highway 54, the trail enters Ruthven Park.

David Thompson was a prominent local businessman who became a politician when Upper and Lower Canada united into Canada in 1841.  The Thompson family lived in his mansion until the 1990’s, when it was deeded to the Lower Grand River Land Trust, who have opened the house to the public.  There are now walking trails through the wooded estate, which sits on the banks of the Grand River.  In the spring and fall, bird enthusiasts come here to band migrating birds.  We stopped at the old family cemetery and pondered the side-by-side gravestones for two young sons of the original owner, David Thompson, who died 4 days apart in 1836.  Not even great wealth could spare families tragic epidemics.

Leaving Ruthven Park, we returned to Caledonia for lunch and started out by bicycle towards Cayuga, along the Trans Canada Trail on the opposite side of the river.  At Cayuga, the TCT and the GVT cross the bridge over the Grand River in opposite directions.  We continued across the river and back up Highway 54 on the GVT to the start of our morning’s expedition at Townline Rd.   Back in Cayuga, we noticed an historic plaque to the Haldimand Tract, the land that the Crown granted to the Six Nations recognizing that they had fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution and had lost their land in the US.  Almost all of the land we have been traversing is part of that original land grant, which extended 10 km on either side of the length of the river.  Later we passed the Young Memorial Plaque, which recognizes the land grant given to the Young family, who were United Empire Loyalists who fought with the Six Nations.  John Young, the eldest son, married the daughter of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader and settled in this area.  The consequences of this history are still reverberating today.

From Cayuga we again crossed the Grand River, returning to the west bank to follow the Grand River downstream along River Rd.  This is a very quiet back road that follows the edge of the river, past tidy old farms, such as the one below dating from the late 1700s.

We had a pleasant ride for almost 20 km, with frequent views across the flood plain to the river.  After River Rd there was a short ride on busier roads, before we crossed the river one last time and entered Dunnville, finishing the ride beside a tiny public garden with a statue of a goose sitting on a mooring post.


GVT Day 21: In the Home Stretch

Map 4 Caledonia Middleport to Map 3 Cayuga (16.2 km cycling)

As the days are getting shorter and the temperature has finally dropped, we decided to finish the rest of the trail in one weekend.  We booked a motel, put the bikes on the back of the car and headed for Caledonia.

We set off from Ruthven Park.  The trail initially follows Highway 54 which is a busy road, with no hard shoulder.  We attempted without success to get off the road onto the official trail.  The first time, we headed down a cottage road which dead-ended in impenetrable bush with nary a sign of a blaze.  Back to the highway.  The second time, an obliging homeowner had mowed a trail across the back of his property, but again the trail dead-ended at the edge of the next property.

We resigned ourselves to braving traffic on Highway 54 until the little village of York, where we struck the Rotary Riverside Trail (also part of the Trans Canada Trail).  This trail was built by the local Rotary Club with support from Haldimand County, Six Nations Council, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Trans Canada Trail.  It runs beside the river.  Although rough in spots, it was ride-able along its entire length.

On the outskirts of Caledonia, there is a short section back on Highway 54.  We were amused to be caught by a speed display walking at 7 km/hr along the edge of the road.

Then the Grand Valley Trail meanders along back streets and parks in Caledonia, before taking to the Riverwalk.  Across from the entrance to Riverwalk, right on the edge of the bridge over the Grand, there is a rather run-down but beautiful example of a brick Victorian house, complete with elaborate chimneys.

The Riverwalk runs a short way along beside the Grand, passing the dam and the old train bridge.  Then it was back onto Highway 54, but thankfully there was a multi-use trail on one side of the road all the way to Mines Rd, where we completed our ride.  Then we drove back to Caledonia for supper at Victor’s Cornerstone Restaurant.  When we returned to the car park behind the Riverwalk after nightfall, we were treated to a beautiful view of the bridge, lit at night.


GVT Day 20: Lost in the Woods

Map 5 Caledonia Middleport (17.6 km hiking and biking)

Carolinian Crest Section Completed

The trail started just outside Caledonia, off Mines Rd.  There were few blazes visible, but the landowner had helpfully mowed a wide trail through a meadow and around a pond, leading to a massive hydro corridor running straight from Niagara Falls.  From here to Onondaga Townline Road the trail followed a rough maintenance road under the hydro lines.  The next section took the road to a short section Highway 54, which runs beside the river.  The road is narrow and busy, so we ignored the river views and pedalled hard to County Road 22, past Grand River Dinner Cruises and on to Big Creek Rd.

After a short ride on Big Creek Rd, the trail goes off road through a woodlot beside the eponymous creek, which is very muddy and sluggish.  We then hiked past a small private pond and some delightfully decorated beehives.

As we made our way past a tiny impromptu pond formed in some tractor tracks, a group of green frogs leapt from the trail into the pond.

Green Frog

At Mulligan Rd, the trail follows the railway line and then veers off into a woodlot.  Unfortunately, we lost the blazes, but followed the railway line to Middleport Rd, where we were able to find the next section of the trail.  The meadows were full of late blooming flowers, including some purple-stemmed asters, contrasting nicely with fields of goldenrod.  Toadstools peeped up from the leaf litter in the woods.

The meadows were full of goldenrod which was attracting numerous monarch butterflies.  Although monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed, the adults thrive on the nectar from goldenrod (which unfortunately blooms at the same time as ragweed and is often inaccurately blamed for causing hayfever)

From Mulligan Rd, the trail follows the edge of the Six Nations Reserve through dense meadows, woods and swamps.  We lost and found the trail blazes and then lost them completely on the edge of a woodlot.  Using the Grand Valley Trail map and our cell phone GPS we navigated our way around a swamp and a creek, and somewhat to our surprise emerged at Painter Rd right beside the GVT blazes.

This marks the completion of the third of four sections of the Grand Valley Trail.  We are 218 km towards our goal of completing the trail this year.  We celebrated by stopping at Stillwaters restaurant in Paris on our way home.  We had fresh great lakes pickerel on the patio, watching a great blue heron fish for his supper in the Grand River as the sun went down.

Paris River


GVT Day 19: The Power of the River

Map 6 Brantford to Map 5 Onondaga  (30.5 km mostly by bicycle)

From Hardy Rd, in Brantford, the Grand Valley Trail follows the S.C. Johnson Rail Trail (also part of the Trans Canada Trail) along the high banks of the Grand River into the city.  The S. C. Johnson Trail ends at the Wilkes Dam, where we paused for a few minutes to watch a group of fishermen below the dam and several cormorants fishing above the dam.  After the dam, the Trans Canada Trail continues on a City of Brantford trail.  Meanwhile, the Grand Valley Trail meanders along a narrow pathway through a forested area beside the TCT, eventually rejoining it along a flood protection dike that runs through downtown Brantford.

The Grand Valley Trail and a branch of the Trans Canada Trail are supposed to cross the Grand River on an old railway bridge that has been converted to a pedestrian bridge.  Although the river today runs placidly between its banks, an ice jam formed as the river was melting last spring, creating a raging torrent that flooded low-lying areas and washed out the bridge and the network of trails on the Gilkison Flats on the other side of the river.  Looking at the bridge today, high above the river, it is hard to believe that the flood reached the level of the bridge deck.

Pedestrian Bridge

Fortunately there is a second, intact pedestrian bridge, a little below the old railway bridge, so we were able to avoid crossing the river on a busy road bridge.  We detoured the washed out trails of Gilkison Flats on a pleasant multi-use trail along Gilkison Rd, before returning to the official trail which follows Tutela Heights to the Bell Homestead (now a museum).  This is where Alexander Graham Bell lived with his parents and invented the telephone.

After the museum, the trail shifts to a narrow up-and-down path through a forested area beside very steep banks which overlook the Grand River.  Thereafter there is a short section which crosses the river on the Brant County Highway 18 bridge.  The bridge has no pedestrian or cycling facility and the road is very busy, with no hard shoulder.  It was a relief to get onto Salt Springs Church Road, which is a very quiet paved road.  There is an historic church and cemetery beside the river.  At the end of the road, the trail takes a closed road allowance between McLellan Rd and Van Sickle Rd.  Unfortunately, at the end of a farmer’s access track, the trail ended in dense overgrown bush which was impenetrable.  We had to retrace our steps to McLellan Rd and head up to Highway 54.  Again, we were riding on a very busy road without a hard shoulder, until we reached the little village of Onondaga and headed to our car parked on Painter Rd.

GVT Day 18: A Stroll Along the Grand River

Map 7 Brantford to Map 8 Paris 

(12.6 km hiking, return by bike on S.C. Johnson/Trans Canada Trail)

The Grand Valley Trail between Brantford and Paris is just as you would imagine the trail to be:  a well-maintained and well-marked path through the woods beside the river.  The sun was shining, but the forest shaded the trail and there was a cool breeze carrying the sounds of rustling leaves; the rippling of water over shoals in the river; and the buzz of love-sick cicadas desperate to mate before the end of the summer.  Civilization seemed far away.

The trail passes Brant’s Crossing and a massive pedestrian/cycling bridge over the Grand River.  The Grand Valley Trail doesn’t cross the bridge, but we could not resist making a detour to enjoy the view of the river from the bridge.

The trail continues through the woods.  Eventually the sounds of nature are replaced by the sounds of traffic on Highway 403.  The Grand Valley Trail joins the S.C. Johnson Trail (part of the Trans Canada Trail) and crosses the highway on pedestrian bridge.  Brant County has excellent trail signage, including their own Grand Valley Trail signs.

After following the rail trail for a little while, the GVT dives back into the woods and follows the curve of the river into Paris.  We collected our bikes and rode into town for a coffee, before cycling back to Brantford along the S.C. Johnson Trail, an impeccable, multi-use trail, which is part of the Trans Canada Trail network.



Trans Canada Trail Through Waterloo Region

The Great Trail (aka the Trans Canada Trail or the TCT) traverses Waterloo Region from north to south.  It follows a series of rail trails from the Kissing Bridge Trailway (see previous post) to the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail, strung together by on-road sections.

From Wallenstein, the TCT has a short section on a main road, and then continues on quiet country roads.  It passes tidy farms and a simple Mennonite meeting house before reaching the Conestogo River, one of the main tributaries of the Grand River.

After crossing the river, the TCT turns onto the Millrace Trail, which runs to the old mill in St. Jacobs, where we stopped for coffee.

From St. Jacobs the trail follows the Conestogo River along the Health Valley multi-use trail to a trail which parallels the highway to the St. Jacobs Market.  The Tuesday market was in full swing.  One vendor was using an old John Deere tractor engine to make old-fashioned ice cream.

From the market, the TCT follows a series of multi-use trails through Waterloo, past the University of Waterloo, through Waterloo Park and onto the Iron Horse Trail into Kitchener.  These trails form a very popular commuter route through the two cities.

Unfortunately, at the end of the Iron Horse Trail, there is a gap and the TCT goes along Courtland Ave.  This road has four narrow lanes which are very busy with impatient traffic alongside the new LRT tracks, with no cycling lanes or shoulder.  There are plans to re-route the Trans Canada Trail onto a new multi-use trail through nearby parks.  In the meantime, we took our own detour along Carwood Avenue, across a pedestrian bridge over Highway 7, and along Vanier Dr, avoiding all but the last 400 m of Courtland Ave.


From Courtland Ave, the trail turns onto bike lanes on Manitou Dr and then onto a multi-use trail which follows Schneider Creek (a minor Grand River tributary) into Homer Watson Park and then alongside the river.

Grand River View

The trail is at times very steep, especially behind the waste water treatment plant, where it is more like a mountain bike trail.  Although we had to walk our bicycles a few times, we enjoyed the woods and frequent glimpses of the Grand River.  We were surprised to see a deer behind the fence at the treatment plant–which seemed to understand that we were no threat to it on the other side of the fence.

After reaching Conestoga College, the trail crosses the 401 over a pedestrian bridge and follows the Grand Trunk/Walter Bean Trail through Blair to Cambridge.  (See our previous post.)  Here there are frequent views of the river.

In Cambridge we detoured onto the brand new pedestrian bridge, which offers great views of the city’s historic core.

Once across the Grand River in downtown Cambridge, the Trans Canada Trail takes to the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail.  This beautifully maintained rail trail travels along the banks of the Grand River, through dense woods.  In Paris, the TCT connects with the S. C. Johnson Trail to Brantford, and on to the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail.  An adventure for another day!