The Grand River – Southern Ontario’s best kept secret
“The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.” – Unknown
Often times, the experience of dwelling in an urban space leads one to consider other options. Amidst noise pollution and general chaos, man almost instinctively needs time to recharge among quiet and natural spaces, leading many people to daydream and plan a great escape to the mountains, lakes, or sea. In Southern Ontario -the most densely populated region in all of Canada – the desire to escape urban life is evident in the congested highways that lead north during the summer. Though the northern region of our province rightfully boasts a gorgeous landscape, there is also something to be said for the sometimes-overlooked Grand River region. Just an hour southwest of Toronto, the Grand River is the biggest river in Southern Ontario at 300 kilometers in length, and is speckled with endless recreational and cultural tourism activities suitable for all ages and abilities.
The near-wilderness experience of the Grand is something that can be achieved in one day (more if you wish to tour this area extensively), and while you paddle or hike you’ll learn of Canada’s early beginnings as the river meanders through historic towns and cities. You’ll also enjoy the vista of Carolinian forests – a rarity in Canada as this ecosystem is normally seen throughout the Southern and Eastern United States. This beautiful eco-region brings with it a special set of wildlife; on a tour with Treks In The Wild you are likely to see deer, muskrat, blue heron, osprey, and more recently the stoic and beautiful bald eagle.
In addition to wildlife, there are natural and cultural landmarks along the way that are not to be missed. Between Glen Morris and Paris – a popular canoe route with Treks In The Wild – you’ll find little signs of human presence. A 300-year-old Sycamore tree hollowed out by carpenter ants is a vision that tells of the sacredness of untouched spaces. It is sights like these that fulfill an often-shared desire to reconnect with the natural world, amidst busy and forward moving lives.
Between Paris in Brantford, abandoned gypsum mines from the 1800s hearkens clients back to early beginnings in this particular area. The gypsum from these mines was used to manufacture Plaster of Paris, which in turn gave one of the prettiest towns in Ontario its name. Beautiful stone architecture (including many cobblestone houses), a sunny and bustling downtown, and inspiring natural surroundings make Paris a favourite among tourists. Further downstream, a stretch of river designated as Exceptional Waters by the Grand River Conservation Authority displays an incredible abundance of fish, which makes this part of the Grand a dream for fishermen.
A new route offered by Treks In The Wild this summer begins southwest of Brantford in Newport, and ends at Chiefswood National Historic Site on Six Nations Reserve. This area of Grand slows down into a lazy, diminutive version of the Mississippi. Vast meadows and agricultural lands are broken up occasionally by Carolinian plant and animal species, which make this new route a vision for those inspired by country life. The voyage ends with a guided tour of Chiefswood – birthplace and childhood home of Mohawk poetess E. Pauline Johnson. Johnson’s father, a Chief named George Johnson, built this stately pre confederate mansion as a gift to his English bride Emily Howells. The home was used for many years as a visiting place for guests that would travel by road or river. George Johnson and his family acted as intermediaries between the church, government and reserve for many years. It is here that Pauline Johnson gleaned inspiration for her early works and found a willing audience in visitors for her recitals. The authenticity of this historic site – with its beautiful (and mostly original) Victorian décor and beautiful Indigenous Plants meadow – are not to be missed. This is a special tour that families and individuals alike are sure to appreciate.
The Grand River area promises natural refuge from city life, all while unassumingly passing through a growing urban area. From mouth to source this river has for decades, inspired and defined the identity of many communities and individuals. With ongoing respect for its cultural and natural integrity, this beautiful region will continue to provide an inspired recreational experience to visitors and local inhabitants alike.
Guest Blog Post by Laura Hill