I woke up early on one of those grey overcast days where you’re not quite sure whether to prepare for a wet and cold day or for the sun to burst through, such is the weather in the approach to an Ontario spring. I have to admit that I have underestimated this challenge so far – in particular, the need to hike back to my car each time I progress, doubling the distance I have to walk. So today I decided that I would push myself much further than I had been, and then take an Uber back to my car! This was a big help psychologically and I managed to complete as much today as I had in the three previous hikes combined.
I parked near the Welland Canal at kilometre 18.2 on the edge of Map 02 of The Bruce Trail and crossed the bridge before turning south following the west side of the canal. It is not active at this time of the year and I wouldn’t mind coming back here sometime to see a ship make its way through this channel and under this raising bridge that allows vehicle and pedestrian traffic to cross. American Robins were plentiful, Song Sparrow melody filled the air. A nearby House Finch sang. He sounds similar to the Gold Finch, but the pitch of his note puts me in mind of the tone of someone asking questions. Anyone old enough and British enough to remember The Clangers and how their whistling communication sounded like questions might vaguely perceive that which I somehow floridly yet spectacularly fail to describe.
Near Welland Canal Lock Number 4, I walked under Canadian National Railway Tracks, hung a right into some brush and crossed over a spur line. More brush continued and the ground became muddy. In fact, throughout the day, the trail was exceedingly muddy in parts. This isn’t a criticism of the trail. It’s a criticism of (near) Spring in this part of the world. The snow and ice has all melted, there’s a little rain… there were times when my footwear was almost completely sucked from off my feet.
Around the back of some houses, the trail exited onto Merritt Street in the community of Merritton, named after William Hamilton Merritt who founded The Welland Canal Company. I crossed to Ball Avenue West, over a small concrete bridge, past half-a-dozen large residential lots until entering Mountain Locks Park. A steel bridge conveyed me over a stretch of the abandoned Second Welland Canal near to an old lock.
On The Road
Curving around the edge of the park, I met the busy Glendale Avenue. A main road through Merritton, a suburb of St. Catharines, lined with typical restaurants and businesses. Today, Ontario declared a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 virus and, though there was vehicular traffic, there were no pedestrians and parking lots were mostly empty. I was keen to get through this noisy urban stretch as I made my way under the bridge of Highway-406, a short 26km highway running north/south across the Niagara Peninsular.
After a gas station, I turned left onto Tremont Drive passing apartment buildings and houses before the road climbed a quite steep bank. I heard a bird call I didn’t immediately recognise, followed by the same call in reply some distance away. It sounded like a woodpecker, of which there are several species in this area, and after listening to a few more moments of their back-and-forth, and doing a little on-the-fly research, I realised it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker of which I am quite fond. I would hear these several more times throughout the day. At the end of the street, the trail entered and weaved through a fairly mature wood. Near here, I was surprised to see a very small number of violets growing as it is early in the season. Small violets are tough to identify, but these were likely Viola odorata (Eurasian Sweet Violet amongst many other common names).
The trail briefly travels through Glenridge Quarry Naturalization Site, a recreation site that started life as a quarry, became a landfill, before being rejuvenated in 2004. On the one hand, I had considered stopping here when I planned my route. Maybe spending some time exploring what was on offer, since the trail only skirts the edge of the site. On the other hand, my optimistic goal was to make it as far as Short Hills Provincial Park. I pushed on. I could always come back here another time.
I climbed Sanatorium Hill and then found myself on the campus of Brock University. I was around 25.3km along The Bruce Trail in total, having walked 7km so far today. I was back high up on the escarpment for a while before being met with a long slow stretch, due to deep mud, which continued alongside a hydro-electric canal that is fed by the man-made Lakes Moodie and Gibson. These lakes are fed by Lake Erie via The Welland Canal. The trail teased me, getting tantalisingly close to a view of the lake, before turning away a couple of times, until eventually crossing the edge of it via a short boardwalk. Shortly I would cross a channel via DeCew Road where a couple of Mute Swans swam idyllically by.
I was feeling good about my progress but was beginning to tire by this point. There was an opportunity to stop here as the trail passed through DeCew House Heritage Park at the 29.8km mark, where there is also a First Nations Friendship Monument. I really wanted to push on and get to Short Hills Provincial Park, though. In retrospect, I should have stopped. I was tracking my progress with GPS and know for sure that I never lost track of the white blazes, but when I examine the map of the route I took (shown at the end of this post), it varies quite widely and is a fair bit longer than the map in my Official Bruce Guide (and there are no re-routes listed on their website). Still, on I went, climbing the incline of a gravel pathway that traced the edge of the lake that many gulls seemed to be enjoying.
Reaching a hydro-electric dam, I turned and followed the edge of the escarpment that provided good views over farmland and houses between the breaks in trees, as well as a potentially dangerous fall for anyone straying too close to the edge! My progress at this point diverged quite a bit during this stretch of trail, adding some distance and not-at-all following the description provided in my guide, but I eventually exited woodland onto 1st Louth Street, which I crossed into a field and then coniferous woodland with tall pines.
My journey diverged a little more, but again, I was following the white markings of the trail. Despite this, I was treated to the sight and sound of a screaming Red-tailed hawk overheard carrying what appeared to be a large snake in its talons. Up a bank, I discovered a large fossil on the path with long root-like impressions. This is an example of a “trace fossil” which shows indirect evidence of an organism. Bioturbation is a process by which an organism disturbs the earth, for example by burrowing, and this disturbance is then fossilised. Pretty cool.
Since it is still mid-march and a couple of days until we are still officially in Spring, the fauna is still mostly bare and the environment has quite the beigeness about it. Interestingly, this stretch of trail, much more than the rest of the ground I had covered today, was much greener. A great deal of different mosses growing on rocks, grass-like reeds and fronds of different ferns just beginning to show. In just a few more weeks, Ontario will welcome back the return of migrating birds including the multi-colours of warblers that the keenest birders travel to our province to catch a glimpse of.
And so, at 35.2km, I reached a parking area on the edge of Short Hills Provincial Park and concluded today’s hike. I completed 17km according to The Bruce Trail Guide maps, though 18.9km according to my GPS tracking (which includes wandering off a bit to look at views and stuff). I was pleased with my progress but should likely have brought more snacks with me, as I wasn’t feeling so great with a migraine. I called an Uber, the driver somewhat bewildered with me for the pick-up location, the drop off location next to my car, the purpose of my day, and the fact that I took my very, very muddy shoes off to avoid dirtying his car. For this, he was very grateful.
Next time I will hike through Short Hills Provincial Park – the first Provincial Park of several I will traverse, along with many other conservation areas. The aim will be to complete Map 03 of The Bruce Trail. There are 42 maps in total. The Niagara Section ends and the Iroquia Section begins part-way through Map 05. I’m just under halfway through The Niagara Section and 3.9% of the way through the entire trail at time of writing. Phew!
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