Claremont, Glen Major & Walker Woods

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March 12, 2016: I face the prospect of a 30k hike with unfounded optimism. Since this series of walks began on Yonge Street last November, I have connected with the Trans Canada trail by public transit, taking the subway, bus or GO train to and from each successive trail segment.

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As I leave the greater Toronto area, the transit connections are getting thin on the ground. It’s 30k between the GO bus stop on Hwy 7 north of the Greenwood Conservation area where I wrapped up the last walk and the GO bus stop near the old train station in Uxbridge. Being a historian, I reason that since Laura Secord walked more than that distance in Niagara to warn the British forces of an impending American attack in 1813, it must be a manageable day’s outing.

Nothing goes according to plan. The commute by subway to Toronto’s Union Station, GO train to Oshawa and GO bus to Greenwood takes up most of the morning.

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When the bus finally unloads me on the shoulder of Hwy 7, I discover that the trail doesn’t quite match the map. At Pickering Museum Village (sadly closed for the season) the trail turns northward along Paddock road where there is a massive gap to accommodate the extension of Hwy 407 eastward.

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I walk under the partly built highway through what I first assume is mud. The smell and the signs for the nearby Pickering horse centre soon make clear that I am ankle deep in something else.

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I then proceed to get lost in the Claremont Conservation area.

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Claremont, originally called Noble’s Corners after general store owner Thomas Noble, was settled by English immigrants in the 1830s who were drawn to the fertile farmland in the area. The community expanded when the Canadian Pacific Railway opened Claremont station in 1884, which stood until the 1960s.

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The local conservation area is attractive but poorly signposted and I wander around in circles and get hit in the face with a tree branch before emerging near Sideroad 12.

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After a pleasant chat with local dog walkers in Claremont conservation area, I do not encounter another person on foot. Sideroad 12 is eerily deserted.

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A lone local resident on horseback remarks that she does not recognize me and is curious to know how I came to be walking in such a remote place. “I have a Trans Canada Trail blog,” I declare. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a published author in possession of a blog must be forgiven eccentric behaviour.

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Sideline 12 leads to the Uxbridge-Pickering townline but I realize that I’m still a long way from Uxbridge. I plunge into the Glen Woods, hoping to make it through the Glen Woods and Walker Woods before the sun goes down. The views are spectacular.

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Unlike the Claremont conservation area, there are plenty of numbered signs posted along the trails but I still manage to get throughly lost because so many trails intersect there including the Trans Canada Trail and the Oak Ridges Morraine.  I wander off the edge of my maps.

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I emerge in a remote parking lot containing just two cars. It seems to grow dark and cold all at once. My cell phone battery dies. I’m stranded.

Two families emerge from the forest with headlights on their bicycles, chatting with each other in Mandarin. The cars belong to them. One of the mums approaches me and says “You need help.” It’s a statement not a question. They offer me a ride to Markham, where I can catch the GO bus back to Toronto. I am profusely grateful. They tell me how they all immigrated from Shanghai recently and are enjoying Canada’s parks and trails.

For me, however, the Trans Canada Trail has lost its appeal. I think of everything that went wrong that day and all the other things that could have gone wrong. I decide to quietly abandon the walks and stop updating this website.

April 17, 2016: The Toronto Bruce Trail Club is chartering a bus to the Walker Woods, the next segment of the Trans Canada Trail after the Glen Woods where I lost my way a month ago.

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The trip description promises an easy hike followed by refreshments. I dust off my membership card and book a seat on the bus. I have been spending too much time in indoors and jump at the chance I decide to revive the walks and this website.

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Everything goes according to plan.  After an April of snow and freezing rain, the skies are blue, there are buds on the trees and the wildflowers are sprouting.

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The extremely efficient hike leader starts the walk in the northeast corner of Walker Woods.

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The woods were the site of an aggregate quarry that is now being transformed into a bluebird sanctuary.

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In the company of fellow hikers who are familiar with the area and know where they are going, Walker Woods and Glen Major forest are indeed a straightforward hike, passing by a pond full of frogs jumping.

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After a few hours of hiking, the bus makes a stop at Annina’s bakeshop and cafe in Goodwood and I come home with the best apple pie I have ever tasted. My fellow hikers are good company. My enthusiasm for the Trans Canada trail is restored.

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My next walk will cover the segment from Walker’s Woods to Uxbridge. It’s only 10k. What’s the worst that can happen?

Getting There by Public Transit: The Toronto Bruce Trail Club runs regular bus trips to trails outside Toronto. The hike schedule is available here.

Further Reading: Backroads of Ontario by Ron Brown

Next: Uxbridge

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Pickering Village and Greenwood

Before you ask, I am not walking around in circles, at least not yet. East of Toronto, the Trans Canada Trail continues along Lake Ontario through Pickering then turns inland through Ajax to Pickering village. As this helpful blue plaque explains, the creation of the modern town of Ajax in the 1970s separated Pickering from its 19th century centre.

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Today’s walk begins at the Annandale Golf and Curling Club, near the Ajax GO Train station. It’s a chilly day in February. The wind chill was -9  when my train left Toronto in the morning and the ground will be muddy in some places and icy in others over the course of the hike. Nevertheless, there are a few determined golfers on the course, bundled up in jackets and caps.

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Around Annandale, the route is less than inviting. Despite the plaintive “don’t litter” billboards, there is a trail of empty Tim Horton’s cups alongside the actual trail.

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Once the path turns toward the northern stretch of Duffin’s Creek, beyond throwing distance of the road, the litter and the traffic noise disappears.

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While the creek is stagnant near Lake Ontario, the ice moves along the water near Pickering Village. There used to be abundant salmon in Duffin’s Creek and the fish are being reintroduced.

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There are plenty of signs in this section of the train, explaining how far the walk is to Pickering Village…

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…and where you can safely portage your canoe around the dam on Duffin’s Creek.

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Pickering Village is visible from the trail. There’s a Tudor style shopping plaza that contains a few shops that would not have been out of place in Tudor times: an English pub and an astrology themed bookshop.

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The village follows the Old Kingston road, which last crossed the trail at Highland Creek in Scarborough. The Art Gallery is closed for “renovation and relocation” but there a series of shops, restaurants and historic plaques explaining the development of the community. Pickering College existed in this area from 1878 until it burned down in 1905.

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Beyond Pickering Village, the trail meanders along Duffin’s Creek, past the remains of a nineteenth century mill.

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The trail emerges alongside the gated community of Riverside near the Riverside golf course (which is not open to cold weather golfers). Riverside is the site of development with billboards advertising newly built semi-detached homes that seem suspiciously affordable by Toronto standards. The developers are not the first people who thought Riverside was a promising place for houses. A thirteenth century Huron-Wendat settlement existed on the site and the remains of six longhouses were excavated in the 1950s.

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At Riverside, I reach the edge of suburbia. On one side of a path that resembles the Toronto section of the Gatineau Hydro Corridor are the backyards of newly built houses. On the other side is farmland.

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As I continue north, the billboards promising new townhouses gradually fade away and the paved road turns to a dirt road as I reach the Greenwood Conservation Area. The lower section of Greenwood has not yet been incorporated into the trail and the signage is patchy. The area is a popular off leash dog park so there are plenty of owners of friendly huskies, retrievers and German shepherds who point me in the right direction and warn me about icy stretches of the path.

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The upper section of the Greenwood Conservation area has been full incoporated into the Trans Canada Trail and there are many signs marking the route.

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I stroll along this last section of the day’s walk with a canine trainer and her two enormous, friendly German shepherds. She points out all the places where coyotes and wolves have been sighted in the Conservation area and I am glad to have the company. The spread of the Riverside development northward has brought the wildlife out of the woods and threatened historic farms. Other plans for changes to the area including restricting the off leash area and installing a bicycle path are equally controversial with the local dog owners.

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The next town along the Trans Canada Trail is Uxbridge and the next walk will take me there.

Getting there by public transit:

Start: Ajax GO Train Station

End: GO Bus at Hwy 7&Westney Road

Further Reading: From Quaker to Upper Canadian: Faith and Community among Yonge Street Friends, 1801-1850 by Robynne Healey

Next: Uxbridge

 

Pickering

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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The lake reappears at the Nautical Village, a collection of shops that are mostly closed for the season.

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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.

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The village leads to attractive beach boardwalk that is filled with warmly dressed families out walking and admiring the Canada geese.

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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.

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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.

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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

Next: Ajax

Rouge National Urban Park

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The GO train pulls into Rouge Hill station and I’m back where I left off in December. It’s a balmy zero degrees and the sun is shining over Lake Ontario. The Waterfront Trail continues east past Scarborough bluffs from Port Union to Rouge Beach, where a flock of Canada geese and a lone swan have found shelter from the winds coming off the lake.

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The beach is a tiny piece of the Waterfront Trail but it is one of the entrances to Rouge Park. It’s time to explore the first National Park that intersects the Trans Canada trail route east from downtown Toronto.

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Since I began this series of walks from Yonge Street in November 2015, Toronto amenities have never been far away. Even when I have been at the bottom of the Don Valley Ravine or in the parks along Highland Creek, the trail has led eventually to food, water and even an entire cookie factory. The conditions get a little more rustic this week. Rouge Park may be an urban national park accessible by public transit but it’s still a wilderness area. The New Year will begin with the transition from city walking to hiking.

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Of course, I will not be hiking the entire park in an afternoon. When Rouge Park  is complete, it will be 79.1 square km and will stretch from Lake Ontario to Uxbridge. (Here’s the map). Instead, I make my way up Rouge Hill Drive then down into the ravine and under Hwy 401 to Glen Rouge campground and the start of the Mast trail.

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The Mast trail is a 200 year old logging route. The timber floated up the Rouge River for use in shipbuilding including mainmasts. The path through the woods goes up and down hills and has some icy stretches this time of year. More experienced hikers than myself have crampons attached to their snow boots. When I encounter a particularly treacherous looking slope in my travels, I sit down and slide to the bottom, using the back of my knee length parka as an impromptu toboggan.

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At Sheppard Ave, the Mast Trail comes to an end and the Orchard Trail begins.

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This trail provides spectacular views of the Rouge River, flowing under a thin layer of ice. There are few people out walking in this weather – the most recent issue of Macleans Magazine claims that Canada has become “A nation of winter wusses” –  but this area was once filled with activity.

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The Rouge River valley was charted by Louis Jolliet (1645-1700), royal hydrographer to King Louis XIV of France. Jolliet’s 1680 map was one of the first to use the word “Toronto” – an Iroquois term for “where the trees are in the water” – to describe the area. While past generations of explorers of what is now Canada had crossed the Atlantic from France, Jolliet was born and raised outside Quebec City. In 1673, Jolliet, Jacques Marquette and a team of Metis voyageurs paddled and portaged from Lake Michigan to the mouth of the Arkansas river, exploring the upper Mississippi. One of Jolliet’s descendants, Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché became a father of Canada’s Confederation.

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The Rouge River valley had been inhabited for thousands of years before Jolliet arrived. Rouge Park contains the site of Bead Hill, the 17th century Seneca village of Ganatsekwyagon, that was a key site in the fur trade. Correspondence between the Comte de Frontenac, Governor General of New France from 1672 to 1682 and Louis XIV reveals French concerns that the inhabitants of Ganatsekwyagon were trading with the Dutch, based in New Amsterdam (New York). These disputes over trade and territory erupted into open warfare. The village was abandoned in 1697 during the French and Iroquois Wars. Today, the site is archaeologically sensitive and not open to the public. 

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The Orchard Trail ends at Zoo Road. The Rouge Valley conservation centre is located near the trailhead, in a house built for local sawmill owner James Pearse Jr. and his family in 1893.

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There’s another hiking trail – the Cedar Trail – that continues north of Zoo Road but it’s nearly sunset, time to wrap up the walking for the day.  The corner of Zoo Road and Meadowvale Road is on the bus route back to the city from the Toronto Zoo.

Next time, we’ll leave Toronto and follow the Waterfront Trail around Frenchman’s Bay through the nautical village in Pickering.

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Getting there by public transit: GO Transit to Rouge Hill for Rouge Beach, Subway to Kennedy then 86A bus to the Toronto Zoo for access to the Orchard and Cedar trails. 

Further Reading: The Rouge River Valley: An Urban Wilderness by James E. Garratt

Next: Frenchman’s Bay, Pickering