Cycling Travels

A ride through Midwestern Ontario, Part II

IMG_6019-001The Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail, part of a network of rail trails that join together in the City of Brantford

Previously in this blog, I described the first day of a two-day ride through Midwestern Ontario, between Guelph and Kitchener via West Montrose and St. Jacobs. I rode through Ontario’s only authentic covered bridge, along infrastructure created for both cyclists and carriages, and through several picturesque towns and villages.

Midwestern Ontario is a term that I generally use to describe the part of the province west of the Greater Toronto Area, yet outside the flat, prairie landscapes of Southwestern Ontario (Essex, Lambton, and Kent Counties). The rural landscape is marked by gentle rolling hills, livestock and cash crop farms, as well as cities and towns adjusting to a post-industrial economy. Brantford was once the capital of Canada’s once massive farm implement industry, but now not even the factories remain. Kitchener-Waterloo’s diverse heavy manufacturing concerns have mostly left; but there’s now a strong knowledge economy. Galt (now part of Cambridge) and Paris straddle the Grand River, their grand stone churches and commercial blocks make these some of Ontario’s most picturesque.

Electric and steam railways — the Grand River Railway, the Lake Erie & Northern, the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo, the Grand Trunk, the Canada Southern — tied many of these communities together; now highways do. But many those abandoned railways have found new purpose as hiking and cycling trails; Brantford is at the heart of this new network.

The second day’s ride, on August 30, took me from Downtown Kitchener, where I stayed overnight, through Cambridge, I then followed the Grand River closely to Brantford. After a stop in Brantford, I took the former TH&B railway corridor into Downtown Hamilton, where I enjoyed dinner and refreshments before loading my bike on a GO Transit bus and rode back home to Toronto. I completed a similar trip in 2012; I wrote about that ride in Spacing.

Photos and commentary follow.

IMG_5948-001Charles Street East, Kitchener, where rails are being installed for the Ion LRT.

IMG_5961-001View from the pedestrian/cycling bridge over Highway 401 near Conestoga College, Kitchener. This is a scene reminiscent of Jack Chambers’ 401 Towards London No. 1, which depicts the 401 at a different location.

IMG_5971-001The charming town of Galt, now part of the sprawling City of Cambridge, straddles the Grand River

German Mills near Glen Morris. A partially-hidden ruin located between the rail trail and the Grand River.

Old Great Western Railway piers north of Paris. The railway, once the Hamilton-London mainline, was abandoned in the 1930s with all rail traffic diverted via Brantford and Paris. Canoeists pass through the ghosts of the rail line.

Crossing the Grand River near Brant Conservation Area on a long and wide pedestrian/cycling bridge. 

View downstream towards Brantford

Brantford is known as the “Telephone City.” Alexander Graham Bell, credited with the invention of the telephone, lived here for a time and worked on his famous invention* at the family homestead; the first long-distance telephone call was placed between Bell and an assistant in nearby Paris. A larger-than-life statue of Bell sits at the front of the local Bell Canada exchange building downtown. The old tractor plants to the south are now demolished, but Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus has brought new life to the urban core which has suffered through the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, Brantford leads in cycling infrastructure; great wayfinding signage and maps, together with many off-road trails make this a great place to cycle through. Two former railway bridges have been refurbished for pedestrians and cyclists. There are several businesses downtown ideal for making a mid-ride coffee or meal stop. Trails from here continue to Simcoe and Port Dover (a ride I did last year), and on to Hamilton.
Useful wayfinding for cyclists in Brantford

Contraflow bike lane, Ballantyne Drive, Brantford
A contraflow bike lane in Brantford connects off-road trails to the downtown core. 

Former CN Burford Sub bridge over the Grand River, one of several active transportation links in Brantford

IMG_6085-001Brantford Carnegie Library, now part of the Wilfrid Laurier University Campus

Bell Statue, BrantfordBell Statue at Downtown Brantford

IMG_6097-001The former route of the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway meets the even older disused Brantford Canal

Dundas Valley Trail Centre, a replica rail station (based on the Grand Trunk station in Grimsby) on the former TH&B alignment. Various hiking trails through the Niagara Escarpment originate here.

IMG_6128-001Deer next to the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail near Dundas. Deer sightings are common on my rides

*An acknowledgement that Alexander Graham Bell was one of several scientists working on the telephone; he is the most credited for inventing it. His work at Brantford was essential to the telephone’s development. 

4 replies on “A ride through Midwestern Ontario, Part II”

Excellent read! After living in Guelph for five years, I know those trails very well, this is a very good account of them. One warning: The Elora to Cataract Trail ( as good as the best described here) is now connected to the Kissing Bridge Trail by a segment that was something I found years ago as a track running down a disused road right of way. Other than being overgrown, it was smooth and fast, mostly packed clay. It’s now been turned into the “Trail” called the Cottontail Trail. Avoid it! Take any of the other parallel paved side roads south from Elora to meet the Kissing Bridge Trail. Consult the map before doing this to find the most opportune route. Also avoid following the on-road signs for the route, as at the southern end, it takes you past one of the worst swamp areas in the region, massive numbers of horse-flies and mosquitoes. Go via Ariss, where there’s a very charming, historical and very reasonably priced Post Office right on the Kissing Bridge Trail. Go west from there to avoid the swampy areas.

The major problem with the Cottontail Trail is the use of *road type gravel* instead of crushed stone or limestone. It’s nearly impossible to ride on. I’ve dug on the financing behind it…errr…the county only paid for a pittance of the cost, and it’s for the benefit of adjacent land-owners, not cyclists. You can read between the lines on that. I had queried the county’s person in charge of the project to see if they will eventually put down cycling grade top cover. No answer. For anything less than Kevlar or equivalent tires or massive off-road ones, it’s a tire shredder.

It’s a shame, as the two trails are excellent complements. The parallel side roads have almost no traffic, friendly farmers who wave, and some are even newly repaved.

I have a touring bike with 42c tires. They ride great on many rail trails, though there have been some rides where the trail hasn’t been well maintained and the gravel is deep and loose. As the rail trails between Cambridge and Brantford and between Brantford and Hamilton are among the best I’ve encountered, the 25c tires are probably okay, but I’d personally be more comfortable with wider tires. Luckily, there are plenty of paved rural roads in this area if you feel like to need to get off the trail.

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