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Bruce Trail

The Bruce Trail is arguably the grandmother of long-distance trails in Canada. Trail material list it as the "one of Ontario’s largest land trusts and the steward of Canada’s longest marked footpath." It also bills itself as the oldest footpath.

Donate to it happily: both Maclean's magazine and MoneySense gave The Bruce Trail Conservancy the #1 spot in 2020 for the top environmental charity.

The Bruce Trail is a fine trail tailored for walkers. (I say this to delineate it from the incredibly long Trans Canada Trail, which isn't really a trail but rather a good idea that hasn't happened yet. Today it is a string of roads, some of them busy and dangerous, connected to some nice trails.)

The Bruce runs from Niagara Falls in the south to Tobermory at the northernmost point of the Bruce Peninsula. In between it runs through parks, conservation areas, towns and along smaller roads. Its 900 kilometres is divided into nine sections, each looked after by a separate club. A 19-member volunteer board oversees the organization. The Bruce Trail Conservancy has an excellent site with fine maps.

The joy of this trail is that is designed as a footpath. Yes, there are a few road sections and there are sections where non-pedestrian travel is allowed. But this trail is not built for dirt bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, horses, etc. etc. and certainly doesn't accommodate on-road vehicles. It's a blessing.

It's best to buy a guide if you're serious about this trail, or at least pay for their downloadable maps. I have their 2008 print guidebook (25th edition) which will serve me as long as I keep an eye out for trail changes. The latest guide, edition 30 published in June, 2020 can be bought for 39.95 ($34.95, members) or $29.95 ($24.95, members) if you just want the insert without the ring binder.

When it can, the Bruce Trail Conservancy also buys land along its route in order to protect it. For example, in  2020, they made their largest land acquisition, a chunk of land at Cape Chin on Georgian Bay. In 2021, they are still raising funds to pay for it.

In some ways we are behind the United States in our construction of trails. Unlike some of the more famous U.S. trails (for example, the 4,270-kilometre Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail in the east) it does not easily accommodate campers. Yes, there are places you can camp (for a fee usually), but they are not free and spaced conveniently like the aforementioned trails. This means that the trail is primarily used in sections by day hikers. To through-hike it, or even go for a few days and not spend a fortune in accommodation might require some creativity or some accommodating friends who live nearby.

After some casual interaction between the founders of the trail, the first trail committee was held in September, 1960. Their first challenge was to figure out how to actually get rights of way on the Niagara Escarpment.

The Niagara Escarpment is a wonder. My guidebook expresses its formation well. Apparently two separate geological processes, deposition and erosion, are responsible for its creation.

"It's story began about 450 years ago," my guidebook says, "when the collision of plates in the earth's crust resulted in the formation of a great range of mountains along the eastern edge of North America (later to become the Appalachian Mountains).  

"Over time, as these mountains succumbed to the force of rain, wind and ice, fast-flowing rivers carried the eroded material westward. They flowed towards a large shallow sea that lay in a saucer-shaped depression centred in what is now the state of Michigan, known as the Michigan basin. When the rivers met the sea, they deposited sediment, forming an immense river delta. The sediments gradually hardened into the red shale that today form the base of the escarpment.

"Approximately 425 years ago, the sea rose, flooding the delta and forming a warm, clear ocean. Coral reefs developed and plant and animal life flourished.When the living organisms died, their calcium-rich remains fell to the ocean floor and were compressed  into layer upon layer of limestone. After a further 10 million years, renewed upheaval in the earth's crust caused the Michigan basin to rise. The vast sea began to shrink and the water became shallower, with increasing concentrations of salt and magnesium. As magnesium-rich water seeped down into the porous  limestone a chemical bonding process occurred. Limestone and magnesium combined to form dolostone, a harder, more erosion-resistant rock that today forms the caprock of the Niagara Escarpment.

"Over the next 100 million years, the seas withdrew, leaving an immense flat plain which in turn was reshaped by the forces of erosion. Rivers cut through the body of the main plain carving out narrow valleys, and along its outer edge wind, ice and water slowly removed the weaker shale layers underlying the more resistant dolostone caprock. Large blocks of dolostone broke off the top, creating the vertical face that characterizes the Niagara Escarpment. This mechanism, known as the sapping process, continues today." —Bruce Trail Guidebook, Edition 25, pages 11- to 11-3.

This was all before the Ice Ages. Two million more years were needed to push the landscape around to create different formations. The glaciers' retreat left deposits (glacial till) and further erosion has created the wonderful sea stacks, caves, gorge and the like that can be seen along the escarpment.

This image from Wikipedia shows the extent of the Niagara Escarpment as it curves over the Great Lakes:

Niagara escarpment-map 

The Bruce Trail Association was formed in March 1963. That name changed in 2007, when it became the Bruce Trail Conservancy. Organizers decided to open the trail in Canada's centennial year and the trail officially opened in June of 1967.

I have only chronicled the first section of the trail from Brock's monument at Queenston Heights to the Morningstar Mill at DeCew Falls.

Bruce Trail Conservancy's Youtube channel  There are some great visuals here to give you an idea of the grandeur of the trail. (Minimalise the music; it's intrusive.)

Start: Queenston Heights to DeCew Falls

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Page created:  November 3, 2013
Links updated: September 7, 2021