Right to Ramble
The Cataraqui Trail officially runs from Strathcona, a little village with a paper mill in it, just north of Napanee, all the way to Smith Falls. In fact, the rail line runs right into Napanee and we'll start our walk there. The old Bay of Quinte railroad, which was eventually taken over by the Canadian National Railroad runs into live tracks in Napanee. I've used the little Via Rail station on Railway Street, just off Centre Street North. The rail line continues westward and south, but as it involves walking next to live tracks for some length, we'll explore that some other time.
The rail bed that is now the Cataraqui was part of a number of companies that bought and sold rail line through the 19th century. See the Bay of Quinte Railway entry in my my rails to trail section for a more detailed history. Its last owner was the Canadian National Railways. For a good thorough history see here; the latter link shows how the present-day Cataraqui trail was built in bits and pieces by different companies and by companies that changed names as circumstances changed.
In 1910, Mackenzie and Mann bought the BQR for their Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, which was part of their larger Canadian Northern Railway. They upgraded the tracks from Deseronto to Sydenham and in 1918 the line became part of the Toronto to Ottawa mainline. In the same year, the company was transferred to the Canadian National Railway.
Through all this, the Government of Canada was involved in shoring up railway companies that fell into debt. Because it was an essential service, the government couldn't afford to let them fold. The Canadian people, therefore, had a huge hand in maintaining and building our early systems of travel. While some capitalists came and went, many made money from their railway endeavours ("pioneers," etc. etc.) but bailed with their money when their businesses threatened to die. Despite colourful myths about rugged individualists carving out our rail system, much of it was shored up by public money.
The Sydenham to Smith Falls section of the Cataraqui Trail was abandoned in 1986. The track from Smith Falls to Ottawa is still live and now used by Via Rail, the passenger service.
The official Cataraqui Trail has an active Friends of the Cataraqui Trail association.
The Unofficial Start to the Cataraqui Trail
Napanee to StrathconaThe old Grand Trunk Railway station at 301 John Street in Napanee, K7R 3L3, is now the Via Rail station.
Running total: 14.8
Warning! See the "how to get there" section below if you prefer not to cross the live tracks to get to the abandoned tracks; Via Rail has a sign warning you not to cross.
The Napanee railway station was originally built for the Grand Trunk Railway.
Those are live tracks with freight and fast-moving Via Rail trains running on them.
The location of the station on some maps is questionable. The MapSource (Garmin) topo, for example is badly distorted and Google maps hasn't got it right either.
The rails (with no trains on them!) are still in for this initial section, so you'll have to choose between a narrow section of gravel path beside the rails or walking between the rails. I found walking between the rails easiest although walking on the ties seriously messes with your natural walking rhythm.
Immediately after the old rail station, you'll pass the Napanee water tower and an intriguing old abandoned building that deserves more inspection at another time. After that it's pretty mundane, passing industrial wastelands on the left and high wooden fencing protecting suburban houses on the right.
After Industrial Boulevard, the rail crosses Camden Road (again , be careful with maps -- Google has misnamed this street). You have to clamber down from the rail bed to get across it.
At the 1.6-kilometre mark, you'll cross the iron bridge spanning Highway#401. The highway cuts between the rock here, in a mini-"canyon."
The sides of the bridge are slightly too high to get a view from the middle; you'll have to be content watching from the sides as the cars and trucks whiz by.
The sides of the bridge over Highway #401 are slightly too high to see over.
Walked October 6, 7, 2009
From the bridge it's pretty straight walking for a while. There are a few weeds cluttering the track, but nothing too serious. Farms and fields take over as the hum of the highway recedes.
On the fall day I walked this section, there was a bit of a breeze. It blew into quite gale with steady rain coming at me almost horizontally. It's open and not the best place to be if there is rain or wind.
These cows seemed to know serious weather was on its way and were hunkered together
in a protected spot.
It's a straight and open two-kilometre slog to the first railway spur that heads north. The spur heads north to the Goodyear plant (see the red box below).
Some 400 metres from the point it started, the Goodyear spur has a short section that rejoins the main track (i.e., the main spur heads north, but a short section returns to the main track). Not much farther on, the tracks end. after a little gully, the trail now turns into a pleasant two-track path, with swamp , woodland and civilization not far away.
About 2.3 kilometres from where the tracks end, the trail opens onto a gravel road, with fields to the north and farms some distance off to the right, followed by areas of land churned up by big machines. The road continues for less than half a kilometre, passing through a set of open chain-link gates before reaching County Road #16.
Head north briefly on County Road #16, then turn right into the trucking yard. Stay close to the road going down into the Strathciona Paper yard, but stick to the high ground. You'll see a gravel road and then an old shed on your left. Climb over the guard/bumper rail and head straight on, to the right of the shed. The start of the trial will be clear
You can also head a little farther on County Road #16 and head right onto Finlay street which will lead you directly to the start of the trail..
How to get there: From Highway #401 take the Highway #41 exit into Napanee and head south 1.6 kilometres on #41 (which is Centre Street North). You'll pass the first set of lights (Richmond Boulevard) and turn left (east) on Isabella Street East. A block away is John Street turn left (north) here and drive to the top of the street.
John Street goes south past Highway #2 almost to the river, so if you're coming in from Highway #2, John Street is just east of Centre Street North and just west of East Street.
If you visit the station first, you'll have to cross a couple of sections of live track to get to the abandoned rail; Via rail has a sign or two warning you not to do that. If you want to avoid the live rails, as you come south from the #401, turn left a little earlier, at Advance Avenue. Then make the first right (south) turn onto Dairy Avenue. You'll curve around and cross the abandoned tracks. Just to the east of the tracks is a little area where you can park.
More options: If you head east from Centre Street North at Industrial Avenue, there's a little plaza with a restaurant in it just before you cross the tracks. There's a paved parking lot here and it's less than a kilometre walk to the train station.
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Page created: October 6, 2009
Walked: October, 2009
Updated: April 14, 2021