Bruce Trail celebrates 50th anniversary 0
Members of the Blue Mountains Bruce Trail club Hart Fischer, Barb Yeo, Shirley Cook, Del Cook, Denman Lawrenson, and Dick Edwards. Hannah Vanderkooy/Enterprise-Bulletin.
Spanning almost 900 kilometres along the Niagara Escarpment, the Bruce Trail is the longest continuous footpath in Canada — but 50 years ago the escarpment was little more than inaccessible and unprotected wilderness.
Ray Lowes had the original vision to create a footpath and together with Philip Gosling, Norman Pearson, and Dr. Robert Maclaren, the idea became a reality.
The four men contacted people from the communities the escarpment ran through to create clubs responsible for each section. There are now approximately 8,900 members in the nine clubs.
The Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, as are two other clubs along the trail.
Like the rest of the trail, the Blue Mountains section showcases the escarpment, but the section is unique in its views and boasts the highest elevation point along the trail.
David Tyson is working on a book about the history of the trail. In his research he found documentation about the founders of the Blue Mountains club.
The late Walter Blacklock was at the inaugural Blue Mountains Club meeting on July 5, 1962. The group disbanded shortly after that meeting, but Walter and his wife Edna continued clearing the path that is now known as the Blue Mountains section of the Bruce Trail.
In a letter sent to the Bruce Trail Annual General Meeting in October, 1964, the couple described what they had been doing — clearing 35 miles of wilderness, interviewing 50 landowners to obtain permission to use their property for the path, and writing 35 letters of thanks to those landowners.
The Blacklocks never joined the Bruce Trail Club and announced in the letter to the Bruce Trail AGM they would discontinue their involvement with the trail after erecting signs and training a successor.
“They had no interest in joining,” said Tyson. “They had done what they thought needed to be done.”
There were many others like the Blacklocks, people who were pivotal in creating a trail running from Tobermory to Niagara.
“I call them mavericks,” said Tyson. “People that just went out and did stuff.”
After the Blacklocks left, their successor did not have much luck getting the club off the ground.
“The club was kind of dormant until about 1967,” said Tyson. “And then some people who lived in Barrie formed the Blue Mountains Club.”
That was the year the trail officially opened in Tobermory.
The Blue Mountains Club has now grown to approximately 380 members, many of whom volunteer to maintain the trail and work to ensure positive relationships with the private landowners who allow the Bruce Trail to run through their property.
The Bruce Trail Conservancy has secured about half of the trail – either owning the land itself or through the government – while the rest is on private property with unofficial agreements with the landowners.
“We go on the basis of their goodwill,” said Hart Fischer, a member of the Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club who has hiked the entire Bruce Trail twice. “If they don't want us on their land, we go around.”
A team of people work to keep up the relationships with the landowners.
“Most of what we have is a hand-shake agreement. We try to contact them every year to make sure everything is OK,” said Denman Lawrenson, co-director of Land Owner Relations. “To open up your property for people to walk on is quite something.”
The Blue Mountains section also benefits from corporate landowners like golf courses, ski hills, and the Scenic Caves, who are willing to have the Bruce Trail run through their properties.
“It's a symbiotic relationship,” said club member Barb Yeo who has hiked the length of the trail 12 times in 12 years. “They can direct people to the Bruce Trail to extend their visit.”
Fischer has been a member for more than 15 years and currently manages the club's website.
“I like walking, and it's a whole lot better than walking in town,” he said.
It's a sentiment that's shared among many of the club members.
“A lot of people joined just for the hiking,” said club treasurer Del Cook.
“And it's right in our backyard,” said Cook's wife, Shirley, who is social co-ordinator for the club.
Trail leaders have sections ranging in length from two to four kilometres that they are responsible for looking after.
“I have a chunk of trail that I look after,” said Fischer. “I make sure it's clear and people can walk along it.”
The Bruce Trail is now a conservancy, with the goal to protect the natural ecosystem which has been named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
“It started off as the concept of a hiking trail,” said club member Rosemary Petrie, who has hiked the full trail once. “Their focus now is shifted to land conservation along the Niagara Escarpment.”
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the club, the Bruce Trail held an anniversary challenge: a 50 km stretch from Paul Grave to Mono Hills which took Fischer and fellow Blue Mountains Club member Barb Yeo more than nine hours to complete — a feat for which they received 50th anniversary badges.
The club is also doing their own “End-to-End” of their section, which is a 67-km stretch done over two days (a hike done annually), or a series of seven hikes throughout the summer.
“I like to think the trail will be there for my children and grandchildren,” said Petrie. “I think we're trying to preserve something special for future generations.”