Bruce Trail

  • bruce trail short hills provincial park header brithikesontario
    Bruce Trail,  Hiking

    Bruce Trail 03b Short Hills

    Muddy Spring

    I decided to get back on the trail quite quickly, two days after my last visit, so that I could get in a little more progress before impending rainstorms arrive in the area over the forthcoming days. What better welcome to Spring than potential thunder and lightning!

    I parked exactly where I left off last time, at the 35.2km mark in “Parking Lot C” at Short Hills Provincial Park and began today’s hike by heading due-south for a while. Short Hills Provincial Park is unattended and free to use (including parking). The park is occasionally closed during November/December while the First Nations people hunt deer. Birds were quite active as soon as I began. Once again, Song Sparrows were in full tune. Chickadees flitted amongst the bare trees. A pair of Robins fought territorially. Let me get the mud-moaning out of the way. The mud was terrible! My footwear is just about wrecked and it was quite hazardous in steeper areas – I was having to grab trees and shrubs just to be able to stay upright on the more challenging terrain.

    Terrace Falls

    The advantage of all this extra water run-off from melted snow and rainfall is that there is greater flow over waterfalls. Thanks to the way the land was formed in Southern Ontario, there are a great many waterfalls to be seen and The Bruce Trail offers views of some of them. Due to re-routes, I missed DeCew Falls (more on that later), but I came across Terrance Falls and was certainly not disappointed. Ideally, waterfall photography makes use of special tools including a tripod, but I can’t be lugging all that stuff around with me…. I still managed to get a pretty nice shot thanks to the overcast weather which lends a hand to these kinds of technical shots.

    The other advantage to mud is that it reveals who has passed through ahead of your arrival. Continuing through the woodland, I saw canid prints and coyote scat as well as very small deer prints – probably a fawn. Later I would see beaver prints and a couple of dams, though I don’t think the prints were recent and the dams seemed a little worse for wear. Research later showed me that beavers were active here at least last year.

    Soon the trail climbed into a meadow where there was much bird activity. Dark-eyed Juncos bickered in the trees, Robins searched for grubs in the grass, the unusual call of a Field Sparrow which increases in rapidity, and a Northern Flicker “wik-a wik-a” call could be heard as he clung to a tree in the distance. A beautiful Eastern Bluebird landed on a branch nearby just long enough for me to steal a shot.

    At the 40.5km mark, I came across Swayze Falls, the largest of the waterfalls in Short Hills Provincial Park. Access to get a good photograph would have been challenging and time-consuming, so I snapped one from a viewing platform and continued on my way until I came upon a bridge where I paused to eat a sandwich and a snack of some nuts. I would like to have finished Map 03 today, but I couldn’t financially justify another Uber and I didn’t want to hike back through all that mud. I was getting tired from the exertion. Checking a couple of different maps, I realised that I had a couple of options. I could stop right here and turn back. I wasn’t too far from some parking off on a side-trail so that I could pick up the trail again next time. The other option was to continue a little further until I came upon Effingham Street. A little way up the street, my progress on The Bruce would be done for the day, but a turning would take me back towards my car performing a kind-of loop around the park, skipping most of the mud.

    I decided to continue and climbed a ridge where I enjoyed watching three Red-bellied Woodpeckers quarrelling over the ownership of an attractive tree cavity. Agreement between the birds seemed increasingly unlikely, so I made my way onwards past a couple of culverts channelling water into creeks that disappeared into the body of the park. I eventually came upon the street. I turned right and after a short distance, I came to a bend in the road. The trail continued to the left. This is where I was finished for the day, at 41.9km, as my car lay some distance to the right first along a stretch of backroads and then back into the park for a while. Today I completed 6.7km. I am 4.68% of the way through the whole trail.

    Addendum: DeCew Falls

    In my previous visit to The Bruce Trail, I noticed that I came close to DeCew Falls without ever actually passing them. Since I was nearby again, I decided to drive there on the way home. There is a picturesque mill and a lovely waterfall. Unfortunately, there is never a particularly good view of the falls. There is a wire fence for safety, but it is ugly and blocks the chance to get a photograph. It is possible but pretty dangerous (and not permitted), especially in the muddy conditions present, to get down to the bottom of the falls, a little further away along a trail – there is even a rope that someone has placed which you would be able to use to essentially rappel down the steep drop. I considered it, but time was getting on and I didn’t fancy an injury. I took an inadequate photo from atop the ridge instead.

    Next Time

    I left off where there is no parking, so on my next visit, I will need to figure that out – either parking further along the trail and walking backwards, or parking further back along the trail and repeating some. I will certainly have to finish Map 03. It will involve hiking through a couple of conservation areas. Until then, there is a patch of bad weather to get through as we get closer to some nice weather, wildflowers, birds and all the good stuff!

    The blue line is where I continued after eating lunch!

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  • The Bruce Trail End to End Map 03 A Thorold brithikesontario
    Bruce Trail,  Hiking

    Bruce Trail 03a – Thorold

    Better Progress

    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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  • bruce trail welland canal brithikesontario
    Bruce Trail,  Hiking

    Bruce Trail 02b – Welland Canal

    A Year later

    Somehow it has been more than a year since I last visited The Bruce Trail. Perhaps an explanation of my personal circumstances might be in order, especially since, if you read the introduction to this adventure on my main Bruce Trail page, I talked about the issue of mental health.

    After losing a much-loved job and promising career a few years ago I have had, to put it mildly, a hard time of things. The great news, which I eluded to at the end of the previous hike, is that I have found a new job that I greatly enjoy. Despite this good news, and with consideration to what I am able to reveal here, let’s just say that an unexpected and fraught situation towards the end of 2019 had led to a bit of a mental health relapse that also kept me away from this adventure.

    However! I am back and am feeling better than I have for what seems like a very long time. Years, in fact. I’m also considerably fitter. I have lost around 35lbs since I started this adventure. So let’s kick the shit out of this trail, yeah?

    Driving back along the highways familiar to my previous trip last winter, I parked up at Woodend Conservation area and walked a little way to where I last left off at the 11.8km point. Once more, the trail follows the high ridge of The Niagara Escarpment and likes to punish you by occasionally weaving down into the valley before making you climb right the hell back up again. It arcs around the Welland Campus of Niagara College (where you might like to enroll in a course in wine production). Today is Saturday and nobody else was foolish enough to be outdoors in these temperatures.

    This winter, like last, has been relatively warm. This morning was just below freezing with the promise of temperatures rising to around 8°C. The ground was hard and icy where freeze and thaw cycles had melted the snow before re-freezing. I stepped around what I could and waddled over what I couldn’t. Around 3km later, the trail crosses Taylor Road which was thankfully quiet enough that I could safely traverse.

    Next up, we are given permission to travel through Royal Niagara Golf Club. Everyone in the region was sensible enough not to be playing golf today, so I had the place to myself aside from a couple of ladies who I passed heading in the opposite direction along the trail. It was very icy here with the occasional narrow boardwalk. At this time of year, most plants and deciduous trees are bare. A few black coloured berries from Common Buckthorn grew either side of the trail. They are toxic to most animals, including humans. Birds avoid them until they are ripe. Vines of Oriental Bittersweet were also present. This plant is poisonous, but some medium-sized omnivore had given it a go judging by the remains visible in the nearby scat. I’ll save you the photos.

    Skirting the perimeter of the golf course, the trail emerges upon The Old Welland Canal, also known as the Third Welland Canal. When built, this canal would connect two of The Great Lakes, Lake Ontario (which is fed by the St Lawrence River) and Lake Erie to replace earlier versions of the canal and upgrade an important shipping route. Lake Ontario already fed naturally into Lake Erie via The Niagara River, but there was the not-so-small matter of Niagara Falls being in the way. The 3rd iteration of the canal was completed in 1887. Turning left, I walked a short distance along Glendale Avenue until I reached The Fourth Welland Canal, known officially as The Welland Ship Canal, which opened in 1932 and is active today. Well, not literally. It closes late December until late March.

    I crossed The Welland Ship Canal via Glendale Bridge. The entire bridge is raised by two crane-like structures when a ship is passing through. Around 3,000 ships pass through the canal each year, from tankers to pleasure craft. It is 43km (27mi) long and has 8 locks. The difference in elevation along the length of the canal is 326ft. This is where I decided to stop. There is parking here where I could pick the trail up again and the next parking isn’t for another 6km (don’t forget I have to walk back each time!). There was also an inviting bench where I sat and ate some lunch until the windchill became a little too much.

    On the ice, I had lost my footing but saved myself a few times, legs flitting around like a newborn deer. In the golf course I went crashing to the ground and gave my knee a good bang, but managed to roll around gracefully before looking around urgently to see if anyone had seen me. They hadn’t. Today I hiked a measly 6.4km (and back!!!) and I have completed 18.2km of The Bruce Trail. Just over 2%. Oh dear!

    Until next time!

    The Bruce Trail Index

  • Bruce Trail St. Catharines Brithikesontario
    Bruce Trail,  Hiking

    Bruce Trail 02a – St. Catharines

    Extreme Cold Warning
    The percentage above is automatically updated based on the most recent hike and might not match the progress outlined in this article

    When I announced my intention to end-to-end hike The Bruce Trail in stages, I have to admit that a few of the positive responses that I have received on this site and on social media have helped to spur me on a little. I had some spare time on “Blue Monday”, supposedly the saddest day of the year, and so I decided to try to “find my happy” by heading back down to The Niagara region. This happened to be on the same day that The Government of Canada issued an “Extreme Cold Weather Warning”. It could reach -35°C with the windchill, they said.

    If you read about my hike through Bruce Trail Map 01, you’ll know that I slugged my way from Queenston Heights to just beyond “Fireman’s Park”, noting how unfit I had become in the last few months. Having done nothing to improve the situation, I repeated the car journey along “North America’s busiest stretch of highway”, The 401, then briefly onto The 427, then The Queen Elizabeth Highway (QEW) which was named to coincide with a visit to Canada from George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1937.

    You get a good view of the western edge of Lake Ontario as you pass over The Burlington Skyway, continuing to just before St. Catharines and the replica ship of La Grande Hermine that sits forlornly in Jordan’s Harbour. Such a strange effect was taking place during this frigid morning as low cloud hung over the lake and hundreds of arms of mist reached towards the sky like Poseidon grasping for the heavens.

    Snow Joke

    Although I don’t think it ever really dipped as low as -35°C, it was cold enough that my breath would blow back at me, condensate in my facial hair, before freezing into pieces of ice. Despite this, my coat ensured that the rest of me never felt too cold.

    Things didn’t start so well. Upon arrival, it appeared that the parking lot had not been ploughed, but I decided to drive forwards to get a closer look. My car got stuck in a snow-filled dip at the entrance and took a few minutes to free again. I parked on the side of the road and hoped not to annoy anyone.

    Next up, I managed to go the wrong way! This was hugely frustrating, but my own fault. I took a different trail by mistake as a result of not preparing myself by…. you know… checking the map before I started. The side trail that I took by mistake was deep with snow and was an absolute killer on the steep terrain. After slipping and sliding my way up to the top of a ridge, I was gasping for breath. This is where I realised my mistake and I wondered just how far I would now be able to get with my energy depleted.

    When I got back to the car, I still had trouble orientating myself. To save you from reading any more about this ridiculous situation, I think there were some old white blazes – the markings on trees and signposts that you follow. Plus I am easily confused as I age.

    About 30 minutes later, the time already 11 am, I finally figured out where to pick up the trail from last time I was here, parallel to some Canadian National Railway tracks. I got a real thrill when one of CN Rail’s huge, powerful, long trains blustered through, billowing clouds of snow all over the place.

    Progress along the trail began easily enough (considering the weather conditions) because someone had already been through with an all-terrain vehicle. I was able to tread in the tyre tracks that were left behind. After weaving up and down a couple of hills, the trail returned to the same old railway bed that it had also followed back near Queenston. This stretch of trail was even easier because the snow had been cleared almost entirely by a plough.

    Continuing through a crop of young trees, suddenly the snow was back to being as deep as my shins and it was completely untouched – except for some deer tracks. I could hear rustling the rustling of the shy creatures just out of sight. The hiking became difficult at this point. I had to kick and drag my feet through the snow.

    Somehow life hangs on through the harsh Canadian winter. At first glance, it can appear that the only living things in the snow-covered scene are the Cattails protruding from the surrounding frozen lagoons. But there are also flashes of the red of Staghorn Sumac. A small number of birds flitted amongst them. Throughout today’s hike, I also saw many Dark-eyed Juncos, Blue Jays, several pairs of Cardinals and a very vocal Downy woodpecker that I heard before I saw it. His calling “pik” sound is somewhat similar to that of the Northern Cardinal, but less metallic sounding, of a lower pitch and the note is held for longer.

    Laura Secord

    Large parts of this section of trail are also shared with The Laura Secord Friendship trail (as well as the Trans-Canada trail, recently renamed “The Great Trail”, which traverses the length of Canada). Despite being the daughter of a patriot, Laura Secord married a loyalist named James who served under General Brock at The Battle of Queenston Heights. Although his militia enjoyed victory in Queenston, James was seriously wounded. Through 1813, he would be nursed back to health by Laura.

    By the summer, The Americans had successfully invaded the Niagara region and soldiers were billeted in the Secord home. Legend has it that, as the soldiers ate their dinner, Laura Secord overheard talks of an American attack on the British position at Beaver Dams. The next day, she hiked 27km from just north of Queenston Heights (where I began my journey), to just south of St. Catharines. There, she met with a camp of Mohawk warriors who were allied to The British. They escorted her another 5km to Lieutenant James FitzGibbon so that she could impart her information. The Laura Secord Trail approximately follows her journey – a journey that is more than double the distance I have achieved so far.

    During The Battle of Beaver Dams, native warriors closed in on the flanks of the 500 Americans and launched a surprise attack. British regulars joined later and agreed to call off the Mohawk warriors only if The Americans surrendered. Thanks to the information shared by Laura Secord, The Americans were out-manoeuvred and they duly surrendered. Laura Secord lived the rest of her life destitute, particularly after the death of her husband. She was not recognised during her lifetime, aside from a belated award of £100 from Edward VII (at the time he was The Prince of Wales) during a visit to what would have been “The Province of Canada” in 1860. The prince was told of Laura’s story, her contribution, and her current unfortunate financial state. These days, Laura Secord is a woman of great legend and a Canadian heroine.

    Screaming Tunnel

    As I had waded through more and more snow – a never-ending supply of snow – it became apparent that I was not going to cover a great distance today. I examined the map for the next parking area to make it easier to pick up the trail next time. There were three parking options all grouped together about 3km away, but I was exhausted. Even 3km seemed difficult. I was about 1km-2km away from a supposedly haunted tunnel (aptly named “The Screaming Tunnel”). Surely anything less than making it that far would be embarrasing?

    There were slippery stone steps hidden beneath the snow. There were bits of trail that had been boggy, but were now frozen over with thin ice, also hidden by a layer of snow. Sometimes I would step on these hidden traps, the ice would collapse, and I would fall literally knee-deep into the water, winded by the impact. It was a hell of an effort to climb back to my feet after this happened for the third time. It was hazardous. I came across a drain whose cover had wide enough grates that you could easily lose a leg through it. It was only partly visible under the show.

    (Article continues below image)

    At this point, let’s take a little breather so that you get a break from what may sound like incessant complaining. I’m not complaining. It just happens to sound an awful lot like complaining. This was an arduous hike, but it was enjoyable in its own way. And I’ll get fitter. Right? RIGHT?!

    A large pedestrian bridge crosses a stretch of The QEW highway that I would have driven under an hour or two ago. This bridge marks 10km from the beginning of The Bruce Trail and about 3km of progress made today. The bridge was free of snow, perhaps from the rising heat of passing vehicles or from the lateral direction of blowing wind. It felt so good to be out of the snow. My legs felt like they were floating on air.

    A short distance later the trail turns to the right, through The Screaming Tunnel. A number of different interpretations of a ghost story surround the local name for this tunnel, which allows you to cross beneath The CN railway tracks. Some say that a young girl was set alight and ran for these tunnels screaming before her death. Another story tells of an unhinged woman who was hated by neighbours. After frequent quarrels and fights, she would travel to the tunnel at night to scream in her madness. If you stand in the tunnel at night and strike a match, the screams of the ghost will fill the air and a whoosh of wind will extinguish the flame.

    The Bruce Guide warns that the tunnel is often filled with ice during winter, and it sure was! The culvert pictured ejects water that runs into the tunnel which was completely frozen in these sub-zero temperatures. It was uneven and had a sprinkling of snow which afforded me enough grip to make it through unscathed. At the other end of the tunnel, I turned left onto Warner Road.

    After around 1.5km, the trail turns right off Warner Road onto the edge of some property. It then enters Woodend Conservation Area. That will have to wait until next time. For today, I found a fence to sit on and I ate some lunch. I am now 11.8km along The Bruce Trail. In two days, I have still only hiked about 1/3 the distance that Laura Secord completed! Not including the time I spent walking in circles when I first arrived, I travelled 5km. That doesn’t sound so great, but the conditions were pretty rough. That is my excuse.

    Sitting still for a while felt good, but it did allow the cold to take hold for the first time, so I didn’t stay long. Walking back was very slow going and I was pretty much dragging my left leg by the time I got back to the car. I didn’t pass a single person on this section of trail, although there were several more cars parked on the side of the road once I had returned. Most people were in Firemen’s Park sledging or snowboarding down the slopes.

    Next Time!

    It will be a disaster if I don’t get to The Welland Canal next time!
    I’m not sure when I will get back out here because of some potentially good news for the first time in a long time. Stay tuned.

    Index | Part 2b

  • Bruce Trail,  Hiking

    Bruce Trail 01 – Queenston Heights

    I dropped my wife off at work in Markham and assured her I would be back to pick her up at her finish time of 6 pm. No, no, I won’t be late. Yes, yes, I’m sure. The previous night I had prepared for this hike. I had packed The Bruce Trail Reference Guide, I had charged my DSLR camera, my mobile phone, and my backup battery. More importantly, I had dug out the long-johns that were bought for me as a parting gift from my mother back in 2007 during her blind panic that I was emigrating from England to Canada – a frozen land of igloos still to be tamed by the pioneers.

    It took about two hours to arrive at Queenston Heights, not far from The Niagara River on another unseasonably warm day that has been typical of our 2018-2019 winter. This end of The Bruce Trail is marked with the “Southern Terminus Cairn” in Queenston Heights Park. I have marked the parking with a hastily drawn dark blue ‘X’ on the map. It is handily close to public washrooms, which I made good use of after downing a Tim Hortons Double-Double along the commute. The parking was almost empty on this December weekday, but I’m sure I would have been pulling teeth trying to find a spot during the summer.

    The War of 1812

    The Bruce Trail begins at the cairn shown as a red pin on the map and photographed in the image above. The trail initially works its way through the park. During The War of 1812, this was the scene of The Battle of Queenston Heights. Perched upon the top of an imposing 185ft column is the statue of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, built on the crest of a hill so that he can continue his watch for invading American forces some 200 years after his death. This British general, so widely regarded in this part of the world, was shot in the chest and killed here, but his forces were still victorious, forcing an American surrender. Brock had earlier captured Detroit with the help of his ally, the Native American Warrior Chief Tecumseh.

    The War of 1812 has captured my imagination since I emigrated to Canada. What I find particularly interesting are the different interpretations that people have.

    • Many Brits have never heard of it. It is considered a series of battles in which Britain was mostly victorious, that form a minor part of The Napoleonic Wars.
    • Although Upper Canada was a British colony at the time, Canadians see this conflict as Canada’s war and their own victory over The United States. It forms part of the Nation’s identity, especially in Southern Ontario.
    • Strangely, the widely held view of Americans is that they were victors of a war they started, lost more troops in, and in which resulted in a state of status quo ante bellum (territory was returned to each country).

    Lake Iroquois

    Once I had navigated the manicured grass, playground, and the closed-for-the-season cafe, the trail turned into woodland and traced the edge of what would have been a bluff along the shore of Lake Iroquois. I have talked about this great, ancient lake that was a forerunner to Lake Ontario, in my now rather dated documentary videos that you can probably still find on Youtube (if you must). Were Lake Iroquois still here today, half of Toronto would be underwater. Northwards and to my right, the terrain dropped off around 200 feet to where the shore of Lake Iroquois would have been, but instead of ancient waters, today there were lightly snow-dusted farmland, golf courses, and one of the many vineyards that the Niagara region has become known for. As I walked over the hard frozen ground, I thought to myself about the workers who are often woken during the early hours of the year’s first frost to urgently pick the sweet Niagara grapes, a crucial moment in time for the successful production of Ice Wine.

    The Route

    The red line shows the route I took as recorded by my GPS unit

    The Bruce Trail Reference Guide breaks the colossal Bruce Trail into 42 maps or sections, and when I had set off on this journey I had hoped that one map per hike would be reasonable. I was keen to not have to drive too many journeys to and from the trail as it is quite far from my home and thus expensive in gas. However, it was becoming apparent quite early on that this was laughably optimistic. I had set out to film myself completing this hike with the idea of uploading an episode-by-episode documentary. There was no way I could follow through on this. Recording slowed me down far too much. I also brought my dSLR camera, but even this felt like a burden. On future hikes, I would have to travel much lighter to make better progress and suffer less from equipment weight. The other problem with an end-to-end hike is that I have to park my car, walk the trail…. but then double-back to return to my car, effectively doubling the length of the trail.

    I pushed on. To the south, a huge crater in the earth revealed itself to be an abandoned quarry. I have read about an old mine hidden around here that is explored by people far braver than I am. Also of interest, just before reaching the quarry, there is a large rusted iron structure which I initially assumed might be mining equipment, but further research suggests that this is a Cold War-era antenna tower built in the 1950s and used as part of the Distant Early Warning system.

    A side trail branched off to the left and passed through huge cliff-like boulders. This seemed like a good spot to rest and take lunch. I ate a sandwich, some fruit, and a granola bar. I quenched my thirst with some water while I again examined the guide map. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I had hoped to make it as far as the Welland Canal today. Maybe with less faffing around and early-morning traffic. Plus I needed to get back to Markham on-time, remember? Time for a new goal. It would make sense to stop somewhere with parking to make it easier to pick up the trail next time around. Therefore, I decided to aim for “Fireman’s Park”.

    After 3-4km, the trail drops very steeply in a zig-zagging pattern straight down The Escarpment. With the ice and snow, I considered the possibility that I might have to scoot down the rockier sections of the descent on my backside. The idea of having to come back this way did not fill me with joy. At the bottom of the slope, the trail turned left and followed the route taken by what used to be the New York Central Railroad, though the sleepers and rails are long gone. At this point, I had made it to where maps one and two of The Bruce Trail Reference Guide overlap. A moment of celebration, I suppose. Although I think the first map is probably the shortest of all the sections!

    My Alan Patridge Moment

    For my Canadian readers, I’m Alan Patridge is a British comedy series about a cheesy washed-up television presenter teetering on the edge of mental collapse. In one episode, out of lonely desperation, Alan decides to walk rather than drive along an inappropriately busy road, traffic whooshing past, to get to a gas station to buy some pointless supplies. For no right-minded reason, he completes this journey whilst singing the theme tune to the James Bond film Goldfinger.

    And so, while the trail was interrupted for a few hundred yards by Niagara Regional Road 100, I too found myself murdering the theme tune to Goldfinger, nonchalantly skipping along trying to ignore the cars whooshing past me. This may have been a tribute to one of my comedy favourites. Or it may have been a man teetering on the edge of mental collapse!

    The trail turned right into more woodland, muddy in parts, with a couple of more difficult climbs. There was a lot of weaving around and I think there may have been some re-routing as I had to reorient myself a lot, but the trail ultimately emerged onto Dorchester Road near some railway tracks. I walked on a few more meters to just past where “Fireman’s Park Side Trail” splits off. To continue from here in the future, I would be parking a few hundred meters along from this side trail. I stopped for something more to eat and to contemplate.

    When I was driving into Niagara from Toronto, I passed roadsigns for locations that I knew I would hike through along The Bruce Trail. I passed a road sign for Ball’s Falls Conservation Area as I drove along the Queen Elizabeth Highway on the way to starting this adventure. When driving, it seemed SO close to Queenston Heights. But I had barely managed to scratch off map one. Ball’s Falls Conservation Area isn’t until map four. What have I let myself in for?!

    I finished eating and began the long journey back to my car. By the time I reached Niagara Regional Road 100 and my Alan Patridge moment, I had a desperate, burning desire to google taxi firms or to hail an Uber for the first time (perhaps not a bad idea for the future when I have an income!). By the time I reached the horrible climb back up the escarpment, I thought that perhaps my future would be spent living in these woods. The Quarry had trebled in size from when I had passed it the first time. The Cold War iron structure was a Tyrannosaurus Rex from which I could not outrun.

    I enjoy hiking, but I have lost some fitness over the last few years. I will need to quickly get used to longer distances than this. As mentioned, I’d be bringing much less with me in future (I had a pain in my shoulder from the straps of my bag which lasted for three days). As I emerged back in Queenston Heights Park, I spied General Brock long after he would have spied me. I enjoy the affinity I feel for this “Loyalist” part of the world.

    (continues below image)

    Driving back to Markham through Toronto in the afternoon was a bigger nightmare than I had imagined due to the awful traffic through the city. And as for my earlier guarantee of being back on time? My wife was delighted that I was somehow 40 minutes late (kidding – she was quite good about it).

    The next leg of this epic journey will take place where I left off at Fireman’s Park and I will pass through a haunted tunnel.

    Stay tuned.
    I also welcome any feedback on this article. I know it is longer than those I normally write. Too long? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Thank you for reading if you made it this far!

    Index of Bruce Trail Articles | Part Two