-13.1 C
Niagara Falls
Friday, February 3, 2023
Great NOTL Walkabout: Trekking down the Heritage Trail


Welcome to the latest episode of the Great NOTL Summer Walkabout, a summer-long series of stories that will take you to all corners of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our reporters will trek around the community to meet residents and visitors, attend events, visit area landmarks and tell stories about what they find. Enjoy the Walkabout.

The four-way stop at King and John streets bustles with bike tours, horse-drawn carriages and hordes of wanderers, locals and tourists alike.

Clearly marked on the corner adjacent to Pillar and Post, signs herald the start of the Upper Canada Heritage Trail, telling the story of a railroad constructed in 1854, one of the first in province to use steam locomotives.

This is the gateway to a historic oasis, tucked away in Old Town. The trail stretches 10 kilometres from King and John to York Road. Though it has fallen into disrepair over the years, the town’s Upper Canada Heritage Trail committee has launched a major fundraising campaign to begin restoring it.

Early Saturday afternoon of the Civic Holiday weekend, the intersection is abuzz with activity. But the footpath is tranquil and quiet, in stark contrast to the lively street. Most of the trail is still open to the public and the worn path is proof of its frequent use by hikers, dog walkers and cyclists.

This day, for about two-and-a-half hours, I am the lone venturer.

The first leg of the route, which pops out at East and West Line Road, is shaded, still and cool. The hot sun barely penetrates the tree canopy. Birds sing as squirrels and chipmunks rustle through the trees, but few other sounds break through nature’s stillness.

Farther down the first leg of the trail, the far-off buzz of power tools and lawn mowers from nearby homes intrude on the peacefulness. Through trees, weeds and wildflowers, the path peeks into backyards and gardens of homes and B&Bs. Strolling the trail offers a quick glance into the lives of NOTL natives.

After crossing East and West Line Road, the Heritage Trail breaks from the “secret garden” ambience and opens to behind-the-scenes vantage points of the town’s farms and wineries. Continuing up Concession 1 for most of the remaining hike, it’s clear why the trail has little traffic during Saturday’s nearly 30C heat. 

The coverage provided by the tree canopy disappears, making way for fields of fruit trees, farms and grape vines. The sun is unrelenting, beaming down as the trail continues along the 80 km/h road. Aside from guided bike tours, speedy road bikers and sports cars whizzing past, the footpath which runs parallel to the road, sees little in the way of actual feet.

As it cuts through town, the trail becomes so secluded, it’s unclear if this route is even part of the trail. But rest assured, old signs deeming the path a part of the Upper Canada Heritage Trail, (once) maintained by the Upper Canada Equestrian Association, dispell any misgivings.

The trail cuts off where Concession 1 ends and signs declare “The Trail is Closed: No Trespassing.”

Pushing past, the path continues up a steep, wooded “unassumed road” for a 10- to 20-minute hike, until finally popping out at the side of York Road, about half a kilometre from Queenston Heights.

The 10-kilometre path offers a behind-the-scenes view of Niagara-on-the-Lake: from elegant homes, gardens and carefully manicured lawns to farmers, friendly migrant workers and rural road warriors.

Eventually, the Heritage Trail will be clearly marked and maintained in all the right places. For now, apart from the initial leg up to East and West Line Road, much of the trail is a walk at-your-own-risk endeavour.

Eventually, there will be families and tourists and locals hiking the historical railway path from King and John to the somewhat off-the-grid terminus at York Road.

But on this Saturday afternoon, the tranquil trail is a place of solitude and peace, its path trod only by one lone venturer.

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