Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Crossing Brantford

This morning began around 4:30 am with the melodic and flute-like notes of a Wood Thrush above our tent. It was so persistent that Sean thought I was using call paybacks as an alarm clock to wake him up. As the sun began to rise the Thrush was soon joined by an American Robin, an Eastern Wood-pewee, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

 

As we emerged onto the trail around 7:30 am the green corridor was flooded with soft sunlight, the humidity giving everything a dream-like quality. It was already very hot, and the sky looked white from the heat haze.  Even in our pictures the blue of the sky is gone, replaced instead with the white humidity.

 

A few kilometers into our hike we came to a large property with a huge mown lawn, an artificial pond, and several large weeping willows. In my head I was criticizing the landscaping choices as ones that wouldn't support any biodiversity. Just then we heard and then saw a family of six Killdeers on the edge of the pond. A group of Canada Geese meandered under the willow. Three Red-winged Blackbirds, a group of Common Grackles, and several American Robins were foraging on the lawn. There was also a Midland Painted Turtle basking on the edge of the pond. Nature really is everywhere.
 
 
 

As we made our way through a stretch of trail that was sheltered below a canopy of very tall trees we were passed by a steady stream of cyclists, and a few intrepid souls out jogging. We found ourselves walking beside a small stream. The roar of hwy 403 grew steadily louder until we passed under it in a long, cool tunnel.


Shortly after this the trail brought us to the edges of Fairchild Creek. Its slow moving, meandering, opaque waters were overhung with trees and shrubs, keeping the waters cool. As we crossed the long, wooden Papple Bridge, we could just make out two large fish swimming in the waters below.

 

As we crossed Papple Rd. we watched a very kind man placing sunflower seeds on the tops of the posts at the trail crossing, and filling several feeders along the trail. A group of Blue Jays was waiting for him and immediately swooped in to sample the offerings. It was heartwarming to see such support for birds along the trail.

 
 

A real treat was watching a pair of Cliff Swallows building a cup nest of mud on the concrete underside of the overpass for highway 18. The nest was in the very early stages of completion, and it was incredible to see the pair fly up with huge wodges of mud in their beaks and then spend a few minutes carefully packing it into place. While doing this they perched on lumps of mud they'd placed below the main nest.

 
 

As we trekked into Brantford we were stunned by the shear number of signs indicating the varying conditions of the trail.   At one point we were uncertain as to whether the trail was open or whether it was simply subject to random and continuous disasters.   With that said however, we found little evidence of danger or damage to the pathway on our trek. 


 


The next section of trail took us along the top of an old dike. As the dike curved around and into a residential section we found ourselves passing Kanata, a 17th Century Iroquoian Village. This interpretive and education center teaches students and people about the history and culture of the Six Nations. It is located on Six Nations land, in Reserve 40b.

The Six Nations of the Grand River is the largest First Nations reserve in Canada, with over 27,000 members. It is the only Reserve in North America that has representatives from all six Iroquois
Nations, the Mowhawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora all living together. Part of our hike today was on Six Nations land.


The Six Nations built Mohawk Village on the Grand River when they first settled there in 1784. The land on either side of the river was 'given' to them by the British Crown after the American War of Independence. Under their leader, Captain Joseph Brant, 'Thayendanegea' they fought with the British against the revolutionary forces.


Captain Brant is buried in the cemetery of Her Majesty's Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, which we walked past in the late morning. This small white chapel was the first Protestant Church in Upper Canada, and is now the oldest surviving church in Ontario. It was built in 1785, and is the only Royal Chapel in the world belonging to Native people. It is also the only surviving building in the Mohawk Village. Although it was closed today due to Covid 19, it is usually open for tours, and provides another opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the Six Nations. We have included a photo from a previous visit we made to the Chapel.


As we continued along the dike, one side was a flood plain, and on the other was a neighborhood. We passed a soy field, then a large recreational park with multiple soccer fields, and then the floodplain became an open meadow. In a flash of black-and-white a Bobolink darted across the trail into someone's backyard. A few meters later the buzzy call of an Eastern Meadowlark broke the hot morning air. We spotted the male perched up in a tree, and then to our delight the Meadowlark landed on the mown lawn not far from us and began foraging, successfully, for earthworms.

 

It was a long hot walk into downtown Brantford, but the trail itself was beautiful. From the dike we crossed into a residential neighborhood. As we paused at a bridge to try to figure out which way to go a man walking his dog gave us very detailed and sound directions. Much of this section was thankfully shaded, providing relief from the long sunny trek before hand.



When we reached the downtown area we found ourselves at Brant's Crossing Park. This park commemorates the place where Brant's people crossed the Grand River to settle the land they had received from the British. There is some debate as to whether the crossing actually occurred at this spot however, or whether the proximity to Brantford's Casino and downtown made it a good spot for a memorial. Today the park marks the place where three branches of the Great Trail come together, which is known as the Hub of Trails. There is a Pavilion in the beautifully landscaped riverside park, as well as an artistically designed observation tower.

 
 

We had been hoping to meet Kayla today somewhere around this point. She had taken a day off work and cycled down from Paris to meet us, but unfortunately we missed her. This morning the Great Trail App was down, leaving us to guess where the trail would take us in town, and how long it would take us to get there. Brantford has a wonderful network of trails, and we underestimated the circuitous route the Great Trail would take, thinking we would reach Brant's Crossing about an hour and a half before we did. Without the ability to measure trail distance on the go we have frequently miscalculated things this year, and it matters most when we are trying to meet someone else. Hopefully we can try again tomorrow in Paris.

We walked up into town to grab a cold drink and cookie at Coffee Culture before heading back to the trail. On the way back we passed Brantford's impressive and humbling monument to War Veterans.
 

As we hiked out of Brantford we found ourselves on a paved, elevated trail with no shade. It followed the wide, shallow, meandering ribbon the Grand River with its many gravel bars and small islands. Quite a few families were out swimming or paddling in the shallow waters. In the hot afternoon temperatures we were tempted to join them!

 


After following the trail around the first large river meander we came to Wilke's Dam. We paused to watch the thin vale of water cascading over the shallow curving step for a moment, before climbing the steep road up to the roadside trail.




For most of the remainder of the afternoon we walked through a hilly landscape that included lush green forests and prairie habitats. Being surrounded by nature was very peaceful, even in the hot and relatively quiet afternoon. Perfection would have occurred if the trail had offered a few more shade trees.

 
 
 

Just before we ended for the day we came to a very hilly section of trail. Suddenly the grassy slopes were replaced with construction. A huge area had been cleared, the top layer of vegetation being completely removed and leaving only dry soil behind. A constant stream of trucks was being filled and transporting earth away. As fast as the full trucks were leaving new ones were arriving to be filled. Yraffic was so busy a crossing guard had been posted on the trail. Huge clouds of dust and dirt were pluming in the hot air, even though a water truck was busily at work, wetting the soil. This must be what progress and economic development looks like, but from where we were standing it looked more like unnecessary destruction.

 

We ended the day with an unexpected treat. We were given the gift of a hotel room for the night, to help us recoup from the heat. We booked an inexpensive room at the Hampton Inn, but ended up in the Marriot next door due to new measures in place for covid 19. The front desk concierge was extremely friendly and enthusiastic about our hike, and upgraded us to a very nice room, complete with complimentary ice tea. We are very fortunate to have so many blessings in one day.


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