Monday, June 22, 2020

Long Branch to Oakville

When we woke up we were pleased to see an overcast sky, thinking that it might alleviate some of the extreme temperatures predicted for today. The clouds likely did provide some relief from the scorching sun, but it still managed to feel like 38°C today, which made for slow going.


When we returned to the trail our hike began in Marie Curtis Park. This large, grassy, treed greenspace is named after the Long Branch resident who worked tirelessly to have the park created. It is located right on the shores of Lake Ontario, at the point where the Etobicoke Creek flows into the lake. The paved Waterfront Trail took us through the picnic area, beside a sandy beach, over a small bridge, and into an area of very tall, old trees. The thick canopy was high overhead, and lush, leafy bushes bordered the trail on either side.


As we continued along the waterfront we discovered an active construction site, where the waterfront is being transformed. More than 1.7 million cubic meters of clean fill are being used to create a conservation and recreation area that will stretch out into the lake on a spit. This joint effort seems like a great way to create habitat for wildlife, but it made us wonder how this will affect shoreline dynamics in the surrounding areas.

Shortly after leaving the park we crossed into the City of Mississauga. The most noticeable change for us was that there were Trans Canada Trail signs again! Later in the day, once we crossed into Port Credit, Great Trail signs appeared again, and when we reached Oakville the signage switched back to Trans Canada Trail. Either way, it was nice to see that the Great Trail had a presence again in these regions.

We had a short stint of road walking around the Lakeview Wastewater Treatment Plant, which smelled strongly of chlorine and chemicals. As we were heading back towards the lake we came to a very small stand of conifers at the edge of a roadway that was alive with birds!


In the single patch of trees a pair of Orchard Orioles were giving alarm calls and hopping frantically about. Two pairs of Yellow Warblers moved busily among them, adding to the chaos. A Red-eyed Vireo joined the frey, as did a Song Sparrow. It wasn't obvious what was causing the upset, but in an area that was noisy with the sounds of construction and air traffic overhead there was a pocket teeming with bird life.

As we prepared to move on, a Northern Mockingbird landed across the roadway. Sean photographed it as it speared a June beetle with it's long bill, then ripped it in two, and nearly consumed both parts. Fascinatingly disgusting.

Meanwhile I was speaking to a cyclist who had stopped for a chat, and was sharing what he knew about the birds and wildlife in the area. He also told us about the coming attractions along the trail, which was valuable info and much appreciated.


As we threaded our way through Lakeview Park and Douglas Kennedy Park we passed by several baseball stadiums for the Mississauga Majors. Although the fields are mowed, the empty stadiums have a slightly abandoned and sad feeling this year. We've noticed this same feeling around schools and community centers - another sign of the covid19 pandemic.


At the edge of the baseball stadiums we were happy to find a couple of Barn Swallow shelters. These small roofed structures provide nesting substrate for this at-risk species. Historically, Barn Swallows nested in caves, but then adapted to nest in barns. When farming practices shifted and barns became less prevalent Barn Swallow populations crashed. Although we didn't see any swallow nests in the shelters we passed, there were Barn Swallows flying around in the area, which was a hopeful sign.

As we walked through the Lakefront Promenade Park it began to spit gently. The sweet smell of the pink and white wild roses along the edges of the trail seemed to magnify in the humid air. The smell of wet concrete began to rise in warm waves from the pavement. It felt a bit like a sauna, even with only that tiny amount of rain.


As we came to a large bay in the park, we spotted a Double-crested Cormorant swimming in the water. A group of women were learning to paddle boats with outriggers. Sleeping Mallards dotted the pebble beach, and a Common Tern fished above the glassy water. Three adult Mute Swans paddled near the shore, and a single cygnet floated nearby, cheeping persistently. A picnic shelter gave a nice view over the water, and several people were out enjoying picnics in it.


After passing through the Adamson Estate and doing a bit of road walking, we came to the village of Port Credit. This wealthy community is located on the lake, where the Credit River empties into it. We walked around a large Harbour, crossed a picturesque metal bridge with a mock lighthouse at the end, and then stopped to enjoy a cold drink outside of Starbucks. The waterfront condos, landscaped promenade, specialty shops and old pubs gave the community a very posh atmosphere.


After Port Credit we walked through a less aesthetic stretch of trail that skirted the Imperial Oil Lands, before coming to the Brueckner Rhododendron Garden. This beautiful public garden houses one of Canada's largest collections of rhododendrons in a woodland setting under towering white pines. Many of the brightly colored pink, purple, and white bushes were in full bloom, which was very beautiful.


The next highlight was walking through Jack Darling Memorial Park. We walked the winding, shady, paved trail through grassy picnic areas, along the waterfront, and past pebble beaches. Lots of families were out enjoying the picnic shelters. We were impressed with the amount of meadow restoration work that was ongoing in the park, including bee homes, pollinator gardens, and information signs.


The next greenspace we entered was the Rattray Marsh Conservation Area, which is another fantastic place to bird in the city of Mississauga. This environmentally sensitive wetland was secured by Credit Valley Conservation in 1975, and now supports a huge variety of birds and other wildlife. We walked on earth pathways through mature forests of oak, birch, willow, hemlock, ash, and maple and along wooden boardwalks beside cattail marshes. Among the more unusual bird species we were hoping to see were Black-crowned Night Herons and Green-backed Herons, but we had no luck. We did enjoy watching several Wood Ducks paddling among the cattails, and a majestic Great Blue Heron perched atop a snag out in the marsh.


As we were weaving our way through the beautiful lakeside conservation area we met a Scottish lady who asked about our hike. She had hiked the entire Bruce Trail, and wanted to know if we'd done any hiking in Scotland. Although doing so is on our bucket list, we had to disappoint her there. It was great to chat with a fellow hiking enthusiast.

Paired with the beauty of the lush green marsh oasis came a walk around the Petro-Canada Lubricants factory. The tall metal structure was an incredibly complicated compilation of thousands of pipes, shutes, and smokestacks. It sat on the shore with a huge presence, hissing and clanking, like the building had a life of it's own.

As we walked through the Lakeside Park we were surprised to discover a red 'pebble' beach. Pieces of old terracotta sewer pipe have broken up, been rounded into flat, saucer-sized disks by the wave action of the lake, and washed ashore. There they mix with light grey pebbles to create a colourful and unique beach.


In addition to experiencing natural areas along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, we also saw a little of the history of the region when the trail took us past the Bradley Museum. This collection of historical buildings, which is nestled in a 70 year old maple grove, includes a log cabin from the mid 1800's, a farmhouse from 1830, a Regency style cottage from the 19th century, and a barn from the last century.


Shortly after the museum we crossed into Oakville. The trail took us through streets lined with mansions under a canopy of tall, old trees. Large, grassy properties were enclosed by ornamental metal fences with automatic gates operated by keypads. Many houses boasted entrances with 12 ft tall gilt doors opening into grand foyers. Most houses had three cars parked out front, one of which was a Porsche. This shift into opulence made us realize that while some of the world's wealthy are trending towards more minimalist lifestyles lived in luxury condos in exotic locations around the world, others are still investing in the 'bigger is better' model of living.

By mid afternoon the heat and humidity were becoming unbearable for us, so we made our way up to the Oakville GO station and headed back to the motel. We were pretty wiped out when we arrived, but as so often happens on this hike, we got a breathe of new life when we least expected it. The young lady who worked as the front desk concierge had asked us what we were doing when we walked out in the morning, and apparently had spent the day Googling the Great Trail. She had lots of questions, and her enthusiasm and excitement for our 4-year hike were refreshing, and helped us see this journey with new eyes once again.  There is nothing more exciting than curiosity and exploration.

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