A group from the Waterfront Regeneration Trust is cycling the full length
of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail. Star reporter Kate Harries is tagging
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — There are rules.
Like dismounting and walking the bike when crossing the Niagara-on-the-Lake
Golf Course to get to Fort Mississauga.
And waiting at the stop sign by the second hole for the golfers to tee off.
It's not often that a public trail crosses a private golf course, but Jim
Alexander of the Friends of Fort George is not the kind of man to take no
for an answer when he's pursuing a greater good, such as public access rights.
"The Friends are completely apolitical unless it deals with government land;
then we become very political," says Alexander, master cabinet maker, heritage
consultant and one of the sharper thorns in the side of local government.
The golf course, established in the 1870s and one of the oldest in the country,
is on land leased from the federal government
A detailed protocol, spelled out in a large sign at the entry to this just-inaugurated
section of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail, achieves a balance between
club members' need for an unobstructed fairway and the public's desire to
wander the waterfront and visit the 180-year-old fort.
Alexander escorts us down to the water's edge through a sally port etched
with the names of soldiers stationed here a century ago, and conjures up
a vivid picture of a still-to-be-built trail extension and steps, the next
stage of the project
"This is where all the teenagers hang out," he says, surveying a well-trodden
path framed by the fresh spring greenery. "In fact for a while I think half
the town was made here."
When the trail comes through, the teenagers will move on, observes Suzanne
Barrett of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust. People often oppose the trail
going through their community because they fear it will bring undesirable
elements. In fact, the foot and cycle traffic serves to police an area,
People often oppose the trail going through their
community because they fear it will bring undesirable elements.
In fact, the foot and cycle traffic serves to police an area
Suzanne Barrett, Waterfront Regeneration Trust
This is the first leg of an end-to-end bicycle trip for three of the trail's
guardians, all with the Waterfront Regeneration Trust: new executive director
Vicki Barron and project directors Marlaine Koehler and Barrett.
Koehler and Barrett have done portions of the trail before, first in 1995
with then-trust chair David Crombie, when the trail was inaugurated. The
trail was a mere 275 kilometres then. Seven years have more than doubled
its length and closed many gaps, thanks to the vision of people like Alexander.
The journey begins with a ferry ride to Queenston by Seaflight Hydrofoils.
Around 100 waterfront trail supporters have come along for the ride, among
them pioneer end-to-ender Norm Kirk, a former Star advertising director.
In 1995, he and four friends, all over 65, rode from Toronto to Kingston.
"It took us eight days. I think at the time we weren't aware that we were
the first ones but we were," says Kirk, now a sprightly 75-year-old plotting
the next trip, around the Finger Lakes in New York State.
Our plan is to start at the beginning in Niagara-on-the-Lake and end in
Gananoque. We'll take 12 days, spread out over six weekends this summer
We leave Queenston by the Niagara River Recreation Trail, a scenic ride
paralleling the Niagara Parkway. Wineries are a major part of the tourist's
cycling experience here and so we bow to local custom with a brief sampling
at the Reif Estate winery.
Tulips and cherry blossoms have turned Niagara-on-the-Lake into a riot of
colour and even though it's only mid-May, the sidewalks are crammed with
A nattily outfitted Lord Mayor Gary Boroughs, complete with chain of office,
is waiting for us in front of the old city hall, the first in a series of
dignitaries we've arranged to meet on our cross-province odyssey. Pleasantries
are exchanged and Boroughs autographs Barron's sweatshirt.
Then we all pose on the city hall steps for a group photograph that will
be one of a series to be posted on the trust Web site's account of our trip.
A pair of Japanese tourists stop and start taking pictures, too. Attempts
to explain who we are and what we're doing are foiled by an impenetrable
Through Niagara-on-the-Lake, the trail follows city roads through a variety
of neighbourhoods — some lined with massive homes, others more modest communities
of converted cottages. If the signs aren't sufficient guide, the trust publishes
a map book showing the route.
Then it's out on Lakeshore Rd. for a 10-kilometre stretch to Port Weller,
busy traffic uncomfortably close. The region is awaiting word on getting
the provincial SuperBuild share of the cost of cycling lanes or paved shoulders,
says Ken Forgeron, a senior planner with Niagara Region who is biking with
us for the day.
Fortunately, we are able to take a time-out at Sunnybrook Farm Estate is
on the way, a winery that specializes in fruit wines like plum, strawberry
We follow the trail signs along residential streets, past a new development
fronted by a charming paved lookout and below, we contemplate a stretch
of off-road trail along the lake. Just one problem: It's only about 150
metres long. A trail to nowhere.
"What gives?" I ask St. Catharines Mayor Tim Rigby when we get to Port Dalhousie,
where he's waiting patiently in front of the Port Mansion theatre restaurant.
"We put that in when the development went in," he explains. It's part of
the carrot-and-stick game municipalities play with developers to get land
set aside for the trail, in the hope that at some stage the small sections
will link up.
The mayor has to rush but he has thoughtfully set aside a bottle of wine
at the century-old Port Mansion restaurant, which we sip as we watch the
pre-curtain bustle. Comedy and musicals make up the fare in this tiny 85-seat
Our overnight stop is the Beacon, a Best Western hotel in Jordan Harbour,
next to a major local landmark, a mouldering fake galleon that was once
a Montreal casino-restaurant. The Beacon has a wonderful view but the one
we wake up to is gray drizzle. Darcy Baker of the Niagara Region Conservation
Authority, our guide for the day, suggests a side-trip in his van.
Ball's Falls, on top of the escarpment at the head of Twenty Mile Creek,
is a birding mecca with two picturesque falls, unique geology and the remnants
of a historic settlement. A May 25 spring blossom festival features crafts
and programs for children
A link between the Waterfront trail and the Twenty Valley trail (which in
turns links to the Bruce trail) is another SuperBuild project that's still
in limbo. In the meantime, access is by Jordan Rd., through the beautifully
restored streetscape of Jordan.
Len Pennachetti, president of Cave Spring Cellars and owner of the luxurious
Inn on the Twenty, isn't on hand to greet us, but his spirit looms over
the small community of 900 that he has transformed into a mini-Niagara-on-the-Lake
from what was a quietly decaying Ontario village.
By noon, the weather still hasn't cleared, but we have to leave Zooma Zooma,
a '50s-style coffee house owned by former Toronto Argonaut Steve Del Col,
which features live music during the summer and good inexpensive food daily.
We head toward Grimsby in the rain along the North Service Rd., with a cheering
detour via the community of Grimsby Beach, with its colourfully painted
houses. Down Elizabeth St., we stop at a 1906 pumphouse that has been restored
and turned into a community hall in the middle of a newly created lakeside
Municipalities play a carrot-and-stick game with
developers to get land set aside for the trail, in the hope that
at some stage the small sections that get built will link up
The final stretch to the Stoney Creek boundary in the rain along the
North Service Rd. brings us to Tim Hortons and our pickup. The tally:
86 kilometres in two days, 564 still to go.
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