Bruce Trail Day Sunday marks 50 years of trail-building

October 2, 2015   ·   0 Comments

Nine Bruce Trail clubs in the Bruce Trail Conservancy, which maintain the 900-plus kilometres of trail from the Niagara Falls along the Escarpment to Tobermory, are celebrating 50 years of hiking the Bruce Trail since it was opened.

This is a rolling celebration because the first meeting of the new Bruce Trail Association (BTA) took place on April 27, 1960. The four persons who met in an agreement to make this all happen were Ray Lowes, Phillip Gosling, Norman Pearson and Robert McLaren. The purpose of putting this together was to bring an awareness of the outdoors and the value of walking and hiking.

In the 1970s, while still known as the BTA, the organization began land acquisitions aimed at eventually assuring public access to the trail’s entire length.

The Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC) is a charitable organization committed to establishing a conservation corridor containing a public footpath along the Niagara Escarpment, in order to protect its natural ecosystems and to promote environmentally responsible public access to this UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Two of the nine BTC clubs are in Dufferin, the Caledon Hills Club as far north as Mono Centre, and the Dufferin Hi-lands Club between Mono Centre and Lavender.

During our conversation with Anthony Hopkins, a member of the Dufferin Hi-land Club, to talk about the history of the Conservancy and, more specifically, the local clubs, he mentioned, “The Conservancy buys lands that should be saved, especially wetlands. This means that developers wouldn’t have the opportunity to disrupt species living on protected land.”

In fact, as he said, “We are getting more aggressive about buying land and keeping it for conservancy. … Where once passage across a farmer’s land was agreed by a handshake, that might not last through the transfer of the farm to the next generation.”

He was referring to the job it is of a volunteer member of the clubs to negotiate with local farmers to allow hikers to cross their land, where that part of the trail can run and the conditions by which small “ladders” over fences might be install by the club.

These are easier to create and safer than gates in the middle of a long fence. As well, the club always makes it clear that they will purchase the land upon which the trail runs if wanted.

The BTC today is one on Ontario’s largest land trusts. In past years it would automatically transfer land to the Province or conservation authorities, but has not done this for several years. Now that more land is owned by the BTC, the attitude toward that is, “If we’re keeping it, we have to care for it, [with a view to] eventually having the trail run through land we own, parkland and conservation areas,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Once you start, there’s no need to stop.”

There are tough rules about caring for the trails to keep them safe and unencumbered for hikers. Club captains walk sections of the local club’s trail regularly to ensure this and members are asked to cover specific sections of the trails to the same purpose. All trails are marked and clearly identified for anyone to follow without danger of becoming lost.

As Mr. Hopkins noted, “Particularly these days, there are a myriad of ways of contact people.

“The Conservancy actually conducts trail audits [sending walkers] who go out deliberately to find every mistake they possibly can – preventatives, dangerous items, fallen trees, etc. on the sections of each to determined that the trails are being cared as necessary,” he said.

Every year, so Mr. Hopkins related, “There are three or four people who undertake to do the entire Bruce Trail, meeting until they’re done. I did it in 1999 to 2000, just a day at a time. It took us 42 weeks at an average of 20 kilometres a day. We drove to various points and walked the distance. Two hundred of us started and 65 finished.”

The first meeting to establish the Dufferin Hi-land Club took place on April 27, 1965, making this year its 50th anniversary and now boasting some 350 members. Each club has end-to-end walks of the club’s trail, usually about 55 kilometres. There are always some who make the journey in one day, often as a fundraiser. According to Mr. Hopkins, the oldest person to do that last time was 65.

Louise Carberry, publicity coordinator for the Caledon Hills Club, let us know that this club’s 50th anniversary was last year.

“We’re always trying to keep the Bruce Trail in the news,” she commented. “Whatever happens, it’s a way of drawing the public’s attention. Last year, nine new members joined but, sometimes, it’s a challenge to keep new members.”

Life gets in the way.

Membership brings the newsletter and invitations or notifications of group events and hikes. However, as Ms. Carberry did say, “The trails are open to the public; if you like to hike the trails are there.”

She pointed out, “We’ve become a land trust, conserving this corridor of up to 10,000 acres of land. In a way, we own more than we thought when we consider what has been bought by the clubs or is conservation land.”

This club puts together hike of over two nights where there are bed-and-breakfast establishments targeted for the stop-overs.

“Usually about 20 people come,” she said. “We chose a place where we can all go for dinner at the end of the day and we also go to different parks. This year, we’re going to Lion’s Head.”

Naturally, there are hikes during the winter.” We always have hikes going,” she assured us. “For the most part, we are there every Tuesday for guided hikes to encourage people to join a group and in order to re-assure the safety of the hikes.”

Also importantly, the financial support and personal commitment of membership boosts the viability of the clubs and, thus, their mission to protect the environment and offer delightful opportunities to anyone who is able to get out and enjoy the world of nature. Especially, when recent scientific information emphasizes the importance of our connection with the natural world and the absolutely vital importance of exercise to our wellbeing, being part of a hiking club is a great option for satisfying those two essentials.

Phillip Gosling, one of the four founders of the Bruce Trail, took a year off to walk the trail, rough it out, seeing how it would eventually go all the way from Niagara to Tobermory. Although they were not facing, as Mr. Hopkins remarked, “virgin wilderness,” the trails were not clearly marked and basically groomed. These were forged over time by people truly dedicated to the ideals behind the first notions of protection and enjoyment, both of the trails themselves and the camaraderie of the hike.

So, this Sunday, October 4, the 50th anniversaries continue for the Dufferin Hi-land Club, meeting at Mono Cliffs and for the Caledon Hills Club, assembling at Forks of the Credit.

The timing and pleasures of the day are similar at both: starting at 10 a.m. with guided hikes (not too long for these occasions), a boardwalk building with the youngsters; a barbecue for all and, finally, at the Dufferin Hi-land day, their actual anniversary, there will be cake!

For more information, there are websites: and, similarly,

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.