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David Crombie
David Crombie, Toronto's "tiny perfect mayor" was an early proponent of a waterfront trail.


Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail

old oak tree, east of Trident Point, west of Bluff Point.The Waterfront Trail moves along Lake Ontario and Lake Erie's northern shores. It takes in interesting little towns, villages and beaches as well as Oshawa, Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Some of the trail is along minor highways with fast-moving cars. I have used the official trail when it's interesting and some of the designated roads when I have no choice.

Old oak tree on Lake Ontario, just  west of the marsh that is west of Bluff Point;
Telegraph Narrows is in the background. March 3, 2009

  I have also taken alternate routes when they looked more attractive, so I suppose this is the "unofficial" route.

I live near the section that is most undeveloped, with the official trail simply linking more interesting areas. Sections of the trail in Trenton are not more than signs on busy highways. The section between Belleville and Trenton has received little support locally to date and there isn't really an official section in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, although the official waterfront trail site shows a blue line running along various roads. Altogether, putting a sign by a highway is pretty useless and uncreative.

Therefore, as vishwawalkers, we sometimes have to take things into our own hands. In my notes, I have tried to note the official route and the route I have chosen. It will be clear when I deviate from the route outlined on the map.

Standing on private land looking out upon a section of the Bay of Quinte, the usual buoyancy I have at the joy of just being out walking can be suddenly replaced by a sadness on sections of the waterfront: it is unlikely that I will ever walk certain sections again. Some of the shoreline is difficult to get to and very occasionally landowners, when they are around, are less than  friendly. At these moments, I drink in the view, thinking "this will be the last time I get this particular perspective." It's different than enjoying a view when you're thousands of miles from home and unlikely to be able to visit again. Here, the locale is not far from my home geographically.

But the land is filling up and I've had my fill of castle-like houses crushing the view and cutting off choice pieces of land from public enjoyment.


The Waterfront Trail site is a good one, with clear maps. The Waterfront Regeneration Trust has an onerous job and I laud them for it. Any criticism of actual routes is simply that, not of the fine work being done by hard-working and committed environmentalists.

I have chronicled the trail from east to west, although I have travelled the sections described both ways.


The creation of the trail

In the early 1980s (and presumably before), there was a concern that  large sections of the waterfront in Toronto were being swallowed by private land. In addition, federal lands were being developed, cutting off the waterfront from the city itself and its enjoyment by its people.

When I lived in Toronto in the seventies and eighties, there were places you could go to enjoy the lake: the islands, Ontario Place, and a few places farther out. However, both public and private land development was making it hard to get near the water.   It's a problem that still exists today along the entire waterfront, as you'll see me complain at numerous points along the trail. Another problem is extensive shoreline alteration, particularly "lakefill" —  filling in lakeshore to get more shoreline or to alter it to benefit one development or another. This practice is both aesthetically and environmentally destructive.

In 1988, the federal government established the  Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront, with David Crombie ( former mayor of the city) as its first commissioner. The commission produced a report called "Regeneration," which contained a recipe to "regenerate' and protect the waterfront.

Back in the 17th century and before, the original inhabitants of the lake did little to alter it. But as the industrial era proceeded, more an more projects were undertaken. As early as 1830 "stonehookers" removed as much as 47,000 tons of stone annually from just offshore of the lake, to provide ballast for unburdened sailboats. The removal accelerated shore erosion to such an extent that farmers, seeing the loss of their land, successfully pressured the government to institute the "three-rod law" in 1857, which made it illegal to gather rocks within 15 metres of the shore. But the damage was already done. Other development projects over the years show a similar pattern: destruction followed by attempts to slow or stop the destructions. Unregulated activity followed by regulation, but "only when the damage became serious were limits set, a reaction that effectively 'closed the door after the horse had escaped.'" (Regeneration, p. 151-152). Not much has changed, despite the griping of developers.

"Flying over the western shoreline of lake Ontario, one is struck by the intensity of development," notes the "Regeneration" study (p. 152). From industrial development in Hamilton to Toronto's recreational lakefill project, Ontario Place, to endless breakwaters that protect boats and land from the lake's waves, the original lakeshore was destroyed.

One of the commission's  proposals were "greenways" along the shores of the lake that would both protect what was left of the natural shoreline and provide a recreational space that everyone could enjoy. The commission used earlier studies to bolster its position. One of those was a provincial study made in 1991 called The Waterfront Trail: First Steps from Concept to Reality (Reid et al., 1991). In the same year, a Citizens for a Lakeshore Greenway (CFLAG) was created. As the report "Regeneration"  describes, the word "greenways" describes environmental friendly and publicly accessible areas that connect "wildlife habitats to each other, human communities to other human communities, city to country, people to nature" (p. 179).

As a result of the commission's report, the Waterfront Regeneration Trust was formed in 1992. It immediately set about working to mitigate environmental damage created by such developments as highways and gravel pits near the waterfront. It also worked with communities and public and private landowners to develop the waterfront trail. In 1995, it opened a "virtually continuous" trail from Stoney Creek to Trenton. Since then, it has more than doubled the length of the trail to create a continuous trail from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Brockville and farther. A possibly old page on the trail's site envisions an  eventual link up with the Great Lakes Seaway Trail that runs south of Lake Ontario, mostly through upper New York State.

The American Seaway Trail is a "road trip" with suggestions for walking along the way; it's anything but a greenway. Hopefully the trust also wants to connect with trails throughout Quebec, and maybe link with the International Appalachian Trail, or the original Appalachian Trail that starts/ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

The trust works continuously to maintain and extend the trail. Different numbers are bandied around as to the eventual length of the trail. The difference from page to page on the trail's website can be frustrating. However, it seems that 780 kilometres are "designated" or signed and there are 120 km undesignated, which means there is either a gap in the trail or the section is unsigned.

 At present, I have walked from Presqu'ile Park to just short of Napanee. As noted above, these are some of the most difficult sections. Many of the communities along this section have not committed to or do not have the funds for greenways.  Continued development makes this an increasingly difficult goal even if there were local political will do do this.

I started walking these sections in 2005. I have neglected them for some years (as of September, 2013). This is partly because not much new work has been done in my area to take the waterfront trail away from busy roads. However, as one moves west from Trenton, things improve significantly.

Tyendinaga to Belleville
Belleville to Trenton
Trenton to Presqu'ile Park

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Page created: February 3, 2009
Updated: September 24, 2013