Fred Bodsworth on THE BRUCE
HOLIDAY TRAILS OF CANADA
This fabulous footpath lures hikers along five hundred miles of (almost) unspoiled wilderness from Niagara to Ontario’s rocky land’s end, Tobermory. Southbound, dedicated pedestrians can keep right on into Georgia’s magnolias
SKINNER BLUFF IS A massive, sheer cliff of limestone that rears some three hundred feet above the blue waters of Georgian Bay sixteen miles north of Owen Sound. It is typical of many such bluffs that stand out like geological exclamation marks along the great rock spine of the Niagara escarpment that twists across southern Ontario from Niagara to the tip of Bruce Peninsula.
I stood recently on the jutting overhang of Skinner Bluff, soaking in the panorama of shore, forestland and the dotting of islands beyond. Crocuses and tulips were pushing up through the bare soil in the Toronto-Hamilton area which I had left a few hours before, but here in the Georgian Bay snowbelt it was winter still. We had come in on snowshoes because the snow was still three feet deep. Periodically the scene before us was whitened out by snow squalls racing in off Georgian Bay.
But the awe I was feeling for the grandeur of the view was suddenly displaced by another awe when 1 turned and gazed back at the chain of white-paint tree blazes marking the trail along which we had come. I felt a sudden heartening thrill at the knowledge that this modest, blazed footpath went on and on, ahead of us and behind, unpretentious, even primitive, yet strangely dramatic in its simple, emotional lure and challenge.
It was the Bruce Trail, a hiking path that will stretch unbroken 480 miles from the Niagara River to the tip of Bruce Peninsula when the many sections now completed are linked together in another year or two. And the thrill was not confined to a contemplation of this Bruce Trail alone, for I knew too that in a few years it will be part of a much bigger trail network: hiking clubs in New York State are well advanced with a five-hundred-mile trail that will link the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail with the famed Maine-to-Georgia Appalachian Trail. When this is accomplished there will be a continuous hiking trail through rural and wilderness country from Georgian Bay to Georgia, a beckoning magnet for a continent that is showing eager signs of wanting to get back on its feet.
I thought with a twinge of regret that I would probably never find time to walk it all, but there was a wistful excitement in the simple thought that at least the trail would be there and that some day there would be people who would hike it all, for the two-thousandmile Appalachian Trail has now been hiked a number of times.
There is a sense of freedom, in this age of “no trespassing” signs and superhighways, in just walking a trail that one knows stretches on and on. As we hiked that day with a belated spring snow squall cutting our faces, I was seeing the Bruce Trail not just as a place to walk, but as a symbol of a new attitude toward landscape and the outdoors. The driving North American urge to subjugate the continent, to fence it in, to cover it with concrete, has here made an about-face. In one of the continent’s most thoroughly settled and industrialized regions, the forgotten man of this automobile age— the man who likes to walk in lonely places—is having his innings again.
We had come to Skinner Bluff thinking we might camp there, but we had not come prepared for the cold that still lingered, so we turned back to spend the evening with Mac Kirk, one of the Owen Sound trailblazers, to pore over route / continued overleaf
maps in his library and talk about the Bruce Trail. And 1 learned that the trail, though still unfinished, is already developing its aura of legend, as romantic enterprises inevitably do.
According to one story, a party of trailbuilders came to a gulch with steep limestone cliffs surrounding it and saw a bearded fellow hoeing a garden beside a shanty below. “How do we get down there? a trailblazer shouted. “Don't know,” came the answer. “I was born here.”
If it is true, it is certainly not typical, for the trailmakers have been greeted with a surprising degree of co-operation from the fifteen hundred-odd landowners whose permission has had to be obtained for routing the trail across their land.
“1 knocked at a farmhouse door once,” Phil Gosling, of Guelph, one of the trail developers, told us, “and the farmer asked me inside. I told him 1 was requesting land easements for the Bruce Trail. ‘Yes sirec, heard all about you in the papers,’ the farmer said. He pointed to a door off the kitchen and told me, ‘You put the Bruce Trail anywhere on my place you like ’cept through there. That there’s my wife’s bedroom.’ ”
Our Bruce Trail talk went on to more serious things. There was much to talk about. It is a story without precedent in Canada, a nation with no hiking tradition. The idea itself, but above all the enthusiastic response that literally exploded in support of it. is making Canadian history. It is a story still in the making, for the trail is about two thirds completed with 180 miles still to go. It is being built by an eager army of volunteers across lands largely privately owned, and without a cent of government money.
Like most such history-making ventures, it started as a dream of one man. a soft-spoken metallurgist with the Steel Company of Canada mills in Hamilton. Ray Lowes had learned to hike in southern Saskatchewan when he attended a high school eight miles from home. When he came to Hamilton, he quickly acquired two loves—trees, and the rugged, wooded ribbon of the Niagara Es-
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Even shut-ins and the New York Times support the trail
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and winds on far to the north. At the same time he acquired an aversion:
“I got tired of walking into ‘no trespassing’ signs whenever I tried to hike in the country.”
His idea for a Niagara Escarpment trail had a double-barreled intent. He hoped it would put people back on their feet, get them back to nature, by providing a place where they could hike legitimately, purposefully, without getting lost. And he hoped it would focus attention on and encourage preservation of the unique, scenic natural resource that southern Ontario has in its Niagara Escarpment. Both aims have been realized more dramatically and fully than Lowes ever hoped for in the beginning.
Lowes took his idea to the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists in 1960. He argued that the escarpment was an ideal place for a hiking trail. Most of it was too rocky for cultivation, and was therefore wooded, wild land with picturesque rock glens and falls, and characteristic limestone bluffs that towered over the surrounding countryside and afforded scenic views. It was reasonably close to Ontario’s main centres of population and accessible from concession roads along most of its course. But the naturalists didn’t need Lowes’ eloquent persuasion. The federation threw itself behind the idea and set up its Bruce Trail committee, with Lowes as secretary.
From the first, Lowes and his committee were astonished at the support the idea suddenly received from the press and non-naturalist public. Donations and well-wishing letters poured in from across Canada. When Lowes outlined the plan on a radio program for invalids and shut-ins, many letters came from paralytics and wheel-chair cases saying they would never see the trail but were thrilled just to know that it would be there. A Calgary woman wrote to ask if she could donate a bench or trail-side shelter. The New York Times ran a twocolumn story suggesting the possibility of a link with the Appalachian Trail, and a flood of letters came then from the eastern U. S.
The F.O.N. submitted a brief to the Atkinson Charitable Foundation and received a twelve-thousand-dollar grant to hire and pay travel costs for a full time trail co-ordinator for a year. Philip R. Gosling, a Guelph, Ont., naturalist, put his real-estateconsultant business on ice for a year and went to work for the Bruce Trail. The project had grown bigger now than the Ontario Naturalists’ committee could handle. The committee sought and obtained incorporation as the Bruce Trail Association.
Gosling’s first job was to organize local Bruce Trail Clubs along the route for grassroot support. In a short time there were nine clubs in communities between Niagara and Tobermory. Workers pored over topographical maps and aerial photos, then explored the ground itself, selecting routes that would take in scenic spots
but not be too rugged for hiking. Then the big job of getting landowner permissions had to be done. And finally, the trail-building itself — the clearing and blazing, erecting of signs, the building of foot bridges, the construction of stiles over hundreds of fences.
In the rare cases where landowners refused permission, the trail has been routed along unused, overgrown road allowances to bypass their property. Refusals have come most frequently from city residents who have bought country retreats.
“Can you blame them?” Gosling asks. “They buy country land to get away from people, and then we come along and ask if we can put a public hiking trail past their door.”
But most landowners, even of this type, have agreed. One, a Toronto architect with a retreat on Bruce Peninsula, growled, “Damn you, I want to say no, but I haven’t the guts. This trail thing is bigger than I am. Go ahead.”
Another, a university professor, was asked if the trail could run down a beautiful ravine he owned. He was horrified. He had recently spent a big chunk of his savings to buy it. “I love that spot,” he said. “I thought I was the only man who knew about it. I’m sorry, but I can’t let you put the trail there.” It was a serious setback because the trail-makers had just had a similar refusal from the owner of the adjacent land, and it was going to require a couple of miles of re-routing to bypass the spot. But the next morning the professor telephoned Gosling. “I couldn’t sleep for worrying about
it,” he said. “So I’m going to bí some land on that next farm and y< can run the trail there.”
Almost all farmers have welconii the trail, and many have offered th¡ wells for drinking water and their h mows for sleeping places. Rons Gatis of Colpoy’s Bay gave thr miles of his shoreline and became enthusiastic about it that he wound: president of the Lower Bruce Cli responsible for the whole thirty-m section between Wiarton and Lio] Head.
There is no money to buy lai Owner’s permission can be withdrai at any time if hikers become a n¡ sanee. The big fear of the trail spo sors is that its users will betray t trust by damaging property and foi owners into closing the right-of-w;
For this reason the trail associati is hammering hard on the respe for-property theme and patrolling i sections now in use to guard agaii vandalism. They are discouragi camping and fire-lighting until pro| campsites are set up. The record date has been good. Most of the ti users are naturalists and outdoor lí ers, and there have been no serk incidents. When one of the first co pleted sections was opened to I public in the Dundas Valley n< Hamilton, a couple of hundred pea; turned out and jammed the trail:) when Jan Kamermans, the hard-wol ing president of the Hamilton aí club, walked over the trail a few d¡ later to check for litter and damai all he found was one discarded fao tissue and the remains of a lun stuffed in a hollow tree.
All types have been attracted to the project. The first association president was Norman Pearson, an internationally recognized community planner, and the current president is Dr. Cuyler Hauch, prominent Owen Sound surgeon. Honorary president ;s Dr. Sherwood Fox, author and former president of the University of Western Ontario. An ardent booster and trail worker until his death recently was Charles C. Middleborough, Grey County crown attorney. Many doctors, lawyers and professors have joined the trail-clearing teams. Kamîrmans, spark plug of the Hamilton section, is a printer. One of the most energetic Hamilton workers and organizers Mrs. Edith Lloyd, is a housewife. Bert L.owe, who organized and did much of the work personally on he Queenston-to-Grimsby section, is a machinist.
i Many firms have joined the association as commercial members and aave donated cash, lumber, nails, tools ind paint. Trail officials report with ¡winkles in their eyes that the first Commercial supporter was Greb Limted of Kitchener. One of Greb’s contributions has been the organization af a “flying squad” of Kitchener boys to help on the trail at trouble points Where they are most needed. The ¡eason for the twinkles? Greb manned ures hiking shoes. K When Gosling’s year as a full-time trail co-ordinator ended in mid-1963, he trail was rolling. He estimates that nearly two thousand persons have Worked on the trail, putting in many thousands of man-hours. The methods of attack have varied. Some clubs aave pushed their sections through /ith crash programs, using a couple ■f hundred volunteers; other sections jave grown slowly with a handful of ¡eople doing the work. In the Col¡ngwood area, for example, Walter jtlacklock, a hospital lab technician, ailed to get a club organized, so he nd his wife tackled the job practially alone; they contacted fifty landwners, built thirty-seven stiles, and lazed and cleared thirty-five miles of 'ail almost by themselves.
The trail begins at Qucenston ¡eights near the Niagara River where ¡eneral Sir Isaac Brock died in 1812 spelling the American invasion. It 'ends westward through the fruitinds of Niagara Peninsula toward Hamilton, following wooded escarptents that on clear days provide weeping views across Lake Ontario ) skyscrapers of Toronto on the oposite shore forty miles beyond. Uner the leadership of Bert Lowe, the jiagara Escarpment Trail Council irtually completed this forty-two-mile retch to Grimsby before the end of 963. the first major section opened ) the public.
It has not been difficult to enlist olunteer workers in most places, nee people interested in hiking in lis automobile age are inevitably onconformists, doers rather than ilkers. But there have been problems ¿ times in getting the workers to jree on overall planning and organational policies. Though the Niaara club led the rest in completing s stretch of trail, it is still a maverk group that has not officially join"1 the central co-ordinating Bruce rail Association. The Niagara en-
thusiasts regard themselves as part of the Bruce Trail system, but with a proud aloofness they have named their section the Niagara Escarpment Trail. “What matters,” said an association official, “is that the trail is there, and a good one.”
From Grimsby the trail makes a great loop around Hamilton from which hikers look down on the checkerboard street patterns as though from an aircraft. Eighty miles northward to near Milton are the responsibility of the Hamilton group which calls itself the Iroquoia Bruce Trail Club; forty miles are now completed and in regular use, and with 150 volunteers at work they hope to have the remainder finished in a year. Elsewhere along the Bruce Trail, the major obstructions are natural ones, but here where the trail skirts the city of Hamilton the trail mappers were re-
peatedly detoured by man-made obstacles such as suburban streets and zoning for future subdivisions.
But there were severe natural barriers too, because to keep the footpath in a woodsy setting it had to be routed up and down the escarpment and ravine banks, requiring to date more than five hundred steps and twentyfive foot bridges. One of the bridge bosses, Bill Ledger, looked ruefully at his chapped, cold hands after a midwinter building bee and named a bridge just completed “Blue Knuckle Bridge.” a name that is apparently going to stick as long as there is a Bruce Trail. But despite its proximity to the city, it is a beautiful section of the trail that winds past numerous picturesque waterfalls and under cliffs of fossil-filled shale and limestone laid down by prehistoric seas of three hundred million years ago. Hamilton boss
Kamermans says proudly, “We never cut a living tree.”
The next section—twenty-five miles from the Milton vicinity to the village of Terra Cotta—has been completed for some time by the Toronto Bruce Trail Club. One of the inaugural hikes in this section brought out three hundred people. Another which produced a crowd of milling people and parked cars at a Highway 401 assembly point resulted in a farmer calling police to report a “terrible accident,” and the hikers set out to a marching tune of arriving police sirens.
The Toronto Club section joins a twenty-three-mile stretch to Orangeville that is being built by the Caledon Hills Bruce Trail Club. About half of this portion is completed, including its most picturesque part through the Credit Forks area.
There is a gap of approximately
thirty miles north of Orangeville where a club has just been formed and trail work is just starting. It had been the only unorganized section remaining along the 480-mile route. This stretch will connect near the village of Honeywood with the thirtyfive-mile Blue Mountains section that has been completed by the indefatigable Blacklock man-and-wife team of Collingwood. The trail here offers its first view of Georgian Bay, but it has to make a sweeping loop fifteen miles inland again to swing around the great notch of Beaver Valley that cuts down here through the escarpment. There is forty miles of trail in this Beaver Valley loop and all but about ten miles has been finished.
From Beaver Valley the trail winds westward past Owen Sound and northward to Wiarton at the base of Bruce Peninsula. This is the sixtymile section of the Sydenham Bruce Trail Club where Owen Sound citizens adopted the trail as a community project and threw themselves into it so enthusiastically that it was cleared, blazed, bridged and fencestiled in a six-month crash program by early 1964. It is a magnificent region of scenic gorges, limestone outcrops, tumbling waterfalls and trout streams, and hidden caves with bucolic legends about old recluses who are said to inhabit them. The area is so agog over its Bruce Trail that a new hotel cocktail bar, six miles away from the trail itself, has been named The Trail Room and was opened this spring with the unveiling of an embellished, fourteen-foot wall-mural map of the Bruce Trail. “I guess we have arrived,” said association secretary Lowes. “We started out using everyone we could to get publicity for the trail. Now it is we who are being used.”
The northernmost trail segment extends up Bruce Peninsula from Wiarton to Tobermory. The highway distance between these towns is fifty miles, but the trail will twist around the headlands and bays of Bruce's Georgian Bay shore and will be nearly three times this distance when completed. About sixty miles of trail have been laid out here in a number of unlinked sections with incompleted gaps between them. It is the wildest, most rugged and probably most beautiful part of the Bruce Trail, for the escarpment here forms a sheer and towering shoreline and in many places the white surf of Georgian Bay is beating the rocks a dizzying three hundred feet directly below the trail. To peer over the edge at the talus of boulders beneath makes one wonder if at some prehistoric time the sky here had rained a deluge of stones. It is a region of rare ferns and orchids, and occasional bears. It is sparsely settled and the trail route has few access roads, which is delaying the trail building and makes it hazardous yet for inexperienced hikers. In addition to the hazard of getting lost on incompleted trail sections, it is waterless country where a hiker can walk all day. parched with thirst, while Georgian Bay lies unreachable just three hundred feet below.
The northernmost twenty miles from Cabot Head to Tobermory is the most challenging of all. The trail route here has not been touched because
there are no roads and the clifftop is inaccessible from boat landings on the shore below. Since it takes a day to walk in and another day to get out, it has not been possible yet to organize work parties for this section. Negotiations with military authorities are under way, and it is planned that army units will be made available to move into this area, set up permanent camps and help with the trail as a field training exercise.
The complete trail was originally conceived as 250 miles. It has steadily grown longer as the loops and bends around towns and impassable terrain have added miles that were not in the original reckoning. Three hundred miles are now laid out, and the trail-makers expect it to be 480 miles when finally finished. Most people will hike it as it is being hiked now—in small sections by twocar parties who have spotted one car at a road crossing ahead so that they don’t have to retrace steps. But there will be some, and if enthusiasm to date is an accurate indicator, there will probably be many, who will hike it all in one trip. For hardened hoofers it will be a three-week hike, for strollers five or six weeks.
The Bruce Trail Association is preparing now for the long-distance hikers they expect when the whole trail is opened. They are publishing a Trail Guide that will describe the trail, section by section, show access points, and contain detailed maps; it will be a loose-leaf type that will permit inserts as new trail sections are opened. And with the Canadian Youth Hostel Association and landowners assisting, they are planning a chain of campsites, shelters and hostels that will be spotted along the trail a day’s hike apart.
IN THE LIBRARY of Mac Kirk’s Owen Sound home we had been poring over maps and talking Bruce Trail for several hours. We rose to leave. “Drive out to Cape Croker and visit John Nadjiwon tomorrow,” Kirk advised us.
So the next day Lowes, Gosling and I drove up Bruce Peninsula to the Cape Croker Indian Reserve where John Nadjiwon and his Chippawa band have blazed many miles of the
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Bruce Trail across their land. Nadjiwon is a lean, sharp-featured Indian with a love for Canadian landscape and gnawing worry that all that the white man has done to it has not been good. Proudly he showed us parts of his trail and the trail-side campground on Sydney Bay that his people are creating. "1 take no credit.” he said modestly, "but I take pride.”
1 saw a shine in John Nadjiwon’s brown eyes, mirroring an ancestral memory of a time long gone. The last of a winter’s snow still came in opaque clouds off Georgian Bay. And 1 blinked against the snow, and peered at Nadjiwon’s trail blazes, and
thought of the rhododendrons that were blazing now on Georgia’s trail'send Mount Oglethorpe, a continent away. The trail of which Nadjiwon's remote Cape Croker segment is a small but integral part now spans eighty percent of the way.
And 1 knew, as I had known the day before on Skinner Bluff, why Nadjiwon and hundreds of others of all classes have rallied so passionately in support of Ray Lowes’ simple idea. For it has tapped a yearning that thousands feel in this mechanized time—a yearning for primitive places where a man can walk on and on, and still be alone. ★