A Long Walk from Toronto has left Toronto. Aside from a “Pickering” stone marker there is no dramatic transformation of the Trans Canada Trail at the city’s edge. I am still on the Waterfront Trail, following the shore of Lake Ontario. The biggest change from the last walk is the drop in the temperature. There are fewer patches of snow and ice on the ground but a brisk -8 wind chill.
Since I will be spending several hours outside, I dress as though I am going to the Arctic. I start with a series of layers reminiscent of a frugal airline passenger attempting to avoid a checked baggage fee by wearing all their clothes for the flight.
The bulky ensemble is topped with a hat, gloves, infinity scarf, oversize sunglasses and my knee length, puffy down filled blue parka that makes me look like an upright sleeping bag on snow booted legs. A more experienced hiker would no doubt have a more stylish ensemble but the layers serve me well, making it possible for me to stop moving at a brisk pace and admire the view now and then.
As chilly as it is here in January 2016, the weather in what is now Pickering was once far colder. Just east of Rouge Beach, beyond the Petticoat Conservation Area (which is a park not a costume museum) is Frenchman’s Bay. There, Francois de Salignac de Fenelon established a mission school in 1669-1670, one of the coldest winters on record. The ground remained frozen until June, causing devastation for the Iroquois inhabitants of the nearby village of Ganatsekwyagon (now an archaeological site in Rouge Urban National Park).
The village of Pickering – named for the town of the same name in North Yorkshire – grew in the early nineteenth century as “Late Loyalists” from the United States traveled north in search of free land. Pickering attracted Quaker settlement and by the War of 1812, the town had 140 residents. Frenchman’s Bay harbour expanded in 1875, exporting local barley to American breweries until tariffs sent the community into a decline that lasted until the explosion of demand for housing within commuting distance of Toronto after the Second World War. Pickering now has a population of around 90,000.
Despite the fact that the entire Pickering section of the Trans Canada trail is part of the Waterfront Trail, the views of the lake come and go over the course of the walk. The Petticoat Conservation Area looks out over the water and the west side of Frenchman’s Bay is filled with parks that provide a nice view of the skating and ice fishing on the frozen Bay.
Unfortunately, the “Waterfront Trail” on the east side of the Bay is mostly sidewalks through nondescript residential areas. One constant throughout the trail are long narrow signs listing all that is forbidden while walking across Pickering from fireworks to golf to “annoying or obnoxious behaviour.”
The lake reappears at the Nautical Village, a collection of shops that are mostly closed for the season.
There’s a particularly appetizing looking ice cream parlour that seems to sell both Chapman’s ice cream and Kawartha Dairy ice cream but sadly, only from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving.
The village leads to attractive beach boardwalk that is filled with warmly dressed families out walking and admiring the Canada geese.
The beach doesn’t last for long. The boardwalk comes to an abrupt end and the trail disappears behind the nuclear plant. Instead of the lake, there is a long stretch where the only sights are these cheerful signs reminding passing walkers to stay on their own side of the fence.
At Squire’s Beach, the Trans Canada Trail leaves the Waterfront and turns inland. I had low expectations for the final stretch of the day’s walk because when I typed “Squire’s Beach” into Google, one of the top result was the Squire’s Beach dump where you can unload a van full of waste for $20. Thankfully, the dump or “waste depot” is far from the waterfront and there is a nice bridge for admiring the sunset over the lake.
Squire’s Beach is on the border between Pickering and the town of Ajax, where this series of walks will resume, weather permitting, in February.
Getting there by public transit:
Start: Rouge Hill GO Station
End: Durham Regional Transit to Ajax GO Station
If you run out of steam in the middle: Pickering GO Station
Further Reading: Hidden Ontario: Secrets from Ontario’s Past by Terry Boyle