Occasionally, when I’m dangerously weaving through traffic on my bike in Toronto, I stop and think to myself, “now, wouldn’t it be nice to be riding on a historic abandoned rail corridor which runs through stunning Ontario wetlands?”
Alas, the more that exact thought occurred, the more I yearned for that oddly specific set of circumstances and then, one day, just like that, I found it. My dream was fulfilled and more in finally discovering one of Ontario’s best kept secrets, the Beaver River Wetland Conservation area.
Located between Uxbridge and Cannington, the Beaver River Wetland Conservation Area is more than 500 hectares in size, and is famous for two reasons in particular. Firstly, you’ve got the rail corridor, a segment of which has been converted into the remarkable Beaver River Wetland Trail, which is about 20km in length. And then, beyond that, you’ve got the entirety of the wetlands, offering a premier opportunity to engage with wildlife (something you can do thanks to the extensive trail system.)
What truly excites me is the way in which the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) has built infrastructure for Ontarians to engage with and understand the magic and significance of the area, but in a responsible way, and with sustainability in mind.
I spoke at length to Dan Andrews, a passionate land and resource planner with the LSRCA, and he summed up when makes this place special almost instantly. “It’s about decompressing, taking it all in, and listening to the sound of the wind and the wetland,” he aptly summarized.
Before we dive further into the present day, let’s take a moment to wind back the clock, and learn about the stories that make the Beaver River Wetland Conservation area not just ecologically significant, but also historically significant.
It’s 1924, and Katharine Symons is spending her summer alongside her beloved brother, Douglas, at Degrassi Point on Lake Simcoe. It was during the 20’s and 30’s that Katharine created her most cherished memories – memories that she held onto dearly when Douglas didn’t return from the Second World War.
To commemorate Douglas, Katharine generously donated $300,000 in trust to the Nature Conservancy of Canada with the goal of acquiring land around the Beaver River Wetland. She wanted others to have the chance to memories here, as she and Douglas had. I love the idea that I can bring my family and friends to this area to create our own memories, and in doing so, pay respects to the memory of Douglas and Katharine who both sacrificed in the service of others.
George Laidlaw, a businessman working for Toronto’s Gooderham and Worts Distillery during the late 1800’s, also played his role in this area. In 1869, thanks to his help, the first narrow gauge railway in North America was built, and the distillery suddenly had direct access to grain and firewood. Nowadays, you can bike, walk, snowmobile, ski or even go for a horseback ride along that very railway, while taking in remarkable views of the Beaver River.
Dan fondly recalled an encounter he had on the trail with an older gentleman who frequently biked from Uxbridge to Sunderland and back in the warmer months. One day, Dan stopped to chat, and the man said, “I come out here every three days and ride the trails, and it takes me about 3 hours, and I always see a change. It’s like walking through a garden and someone is changing the colour palette. I feel compelled to come out here and see this change.”
It’s important to recognize that the Beaver River Wetlands don’t exist in juxtaposition to the surrounding communities, but rather in cooperation with them. The trail couldn’t run without the support of volunteers of those communities who help with their hands, their time, or, if they can, their wallets. Of course, keep in mind, you don’t have to be from the community to volunteer your efforts to this region, they’re always looking for helping hands.
While these communities give back to the trail, it’s worth recognizing that those of us who use the trail can also give back to the communities. You can easily plan a trip where you have a stop planned for breakfast, lunch, or even just a wander on a summer’s day around Cannington, Sunderland, Blackwater, or Uxbridge. Imagine, you can be in the centre of town, then moments later, basking in the serenity of nature, with the sounds of civilization muted out by those of the natural surroundings. As Dan noted, “It’s really quiet, it’s like you’re in a provincial park.”
It’s the nature that is the big draw here but remember that our love for nature has never been needed more than now, so be sure to pack a healthy portion of kindness and respect with your preferred snacks and water bottle. In this area, you’ll find waterfowl galore, turtles, beavers, a variety of frog species, warblers, red-shouldered hawks, and even the occasional blue spotted salamander. We can observe all of this without disturbing it.
The Beaver River Wetland is one of the most ecologically significant natural areas we’ve got in this province, so it’s worth it to come and see it for yourself. Come get your nature fix and your daily dose of exercise and sunshine along with it.
There’s a line in Lois Lowry’s book, “The Giver,” that has always stuck with me. It reminds me that, like Katharine, we ought to give back if we can, and provide the canvas for others to paint their memories. It also reminds me that it’s vital that we take advantage of places like this to make memories that will last a lifetime.
That line is simply, “memories need to be shared.”
So, come create memories, while remembering that the Beaver River Wetland and Trail has a history worth remembering, a present worth appreciating, and a future worth protecting.
Written by: Christopher Mitchell