Into the City : Walker Woods to Ajax

We awoke at 5:00 am to a chorus of mature forest birds, that brought me right back to the happy days of doing songbird research as a student at Trent University and the University of Toronto. A Wood Thrush, two Ovenbirds, a Veery, a Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Black-throated Green Warbler, several Red-eyed Vireos, and an Eastern Wood-pewee all lent their voices to the morning symphony.

We were packed up and back on the trail by 6:00 am, ready to make the most of the cooler morning temperatures. The mature maple, beech, and birch forest, with its 20 m high canopy of glowing green leaves and open understory was a magical place. As the sun rose it lit the canopy and sent shafts of golden light down to the forest floor, turning the ferns to delicate, many-layered lace.


For the first 6 km we wove through Walker Woods and the Glen Major Forest, which is a 1,500 hectare property that offers 47 km of trails that are open to hikers, mountain bikers, cross-country skiers, and horseback riders. The property is on land that was part of the traditional territory of the Anishinabek (ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᒃ), Haudenosauneega Confederacy, and Huron-Wendat Peoples. It is on the Oak Ridges Moraine, part of the Greenbelt, and currently managed by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.


The path we followed was winding and hilly. The first cyclist passed us at 6:40 am, and a second group followed about half an hour later. As we wove through the maze we were grateful that the Great Trail was well signed, as we had no other way of navigating.


The property not only features old growth forests, but other parts are old agricultural land and rehabilitating sand and gravel pits. At one point the path climbed up to a lookout over a beautiful treed valley. As we sat on a well-placed log to enjoy the view we watched a pair of Indigo Buntings feeding nestlings in a shrub down the grassy hillside. It was tempting to climb down and see if Indigo Bunting babies have blue down, but we refrained from disturbing them.


Another highlight of being in the old field and early successional habitat was getting our first-ever look at a Blue-winged Warbler! The male was perched at the very top of a snag, and we watched as he repeatedly puffed up his chest, threw his head back and opened his beak to emit a surprisingly soft, buzzy call.

Just below him was a Mourning Warbler, who was an old friend from Newfoundland, and very colourful.


A pair of Common Yellowthroats were dodging in and out of nearby bush with beakfuls of food. An Eastern Towhee was gleaning insects from higher up in an apple tree. A House Wren made its rounds through the area we were sitting in. We could easily have spent the entire morning in that one shady spot, enjoying the cool breeze and the birds.


After leaving the Glen Major property we had a short stint of road walking down a gravel concession. The morning sun was still casting long shadows across the road as we trekked up and down the rolling hills. A mixture of large country houses, mixed and white cedar forests, horse farms, and fields surrounded us on either side.


As the temperature began to rise, the trail ducked back into another forest stand. It was a narrow, somewhat muddy footpath that wound up, down, and around. We trekked through a beautiful cedar forest, and we were glad to be off the roads, but it felt like our meandering was adding quite a few extra kilometers. A highlight was watching a brilliant red Northern Cardinal gathering insects in the canopy and flying off with a huge beakful of caterpillars for his nestlings.

After a short stint of roadwalking we came to a stone cairn marking the Paddock Road Commemorative Site. Paddock Road is the high road leading into the historic town of Greenwood. This community was named after Frederick Greenwood who ran two flour and grist mills, four saw mills, a cooperage (shop where wooden containers such as casks, barrels, buckets, and tubs were made), a distillery, and several creameries in the area in the late 1800's.



 We took a break in the shade by the cairn, before continuing on under Highway 407 and then making a mad dash across the very busy four lane Highway 7.


The trail then took us to the Pickering Museum Village, which is located in the Greenwood Conservation Area. The museum is a collection of buildings representing early settlement and development of Pickering between 1810 and 1920. Unfortunately, the museum was closed, so we stayed on the trail, continuing into the Conservation Area.


Signage we passed also highlighted the rich First Nations history of the region. Archeological finds at the Sebastian site illustrate the culture of the Huron-Wendat people of the region, describing their systems of hunting, fishing, and trade.

Our traverse of the Greenwood Conservation Area began with a climb up an extremely steep set of switchbacks to the White Pine Lookout. Although our little cart does remarkably well on roots, grass, and other rough terrain, it is hard work pulling it up steep slopes, especially when the trailbed is sand or loose gravel!


The lookout turned out to provide a nice view over a regenerating old field. The trail immediately went back down the tall hill, and we found ourselves weaving along a track through tall grass, wildflowers, and early successional shrubs and pines. There was a sweet scent of pine needles and wildflowers in the hot sun, and we could hear a few intrepid crickets chirping away in the grass.


We followed the edge of Duffins Creek down a winding footpath through a tunnel of Eastern White Cedars. We were joined by swarms of mosquitoes, but the cool, clear, rushing creek, and the sunlight filtering down into the cool shade of the trees was very peaceful and soothing. Again, we were grateful for the good signage to guide us through this section.

After leaving the calm of the Greenwood Conservation Area we walked a concession south, and discovered that the bridge we needed to cross was under construction. We re-routed one concession over and kept heading south.

When we hit Taunton Rd we realized with a jolt that we were suddenly in the GTA. Subdivision roofs stretched as far as the eye could see. Traffic was loud and non-stop, even during the covid 19 lockdown. Everything was paved, hot, and shadeless. We had entered the realm of motorized vehicles, even as we enter the largest population center in the country.

Adding insult to injury we also quickly learned how we were now perceived.  Given the local construction we diverted down Taunton Rd. towards Westney where a Subway restaurant was located.  Hungry and thirsty we stepped inside to get a treat and refreshments and were both promptly and courteously served.  After getting our food we stepped outside and sat under the scant shade of a slim tree in the midst of the empty parking lot.  As we sat down to enjoy our drinks and food a car screeched up, parking almost on top of us, and an older lady got out of her vehicle.  She looked at us for only a brief moment, then marched up to Sean, knocked his sandwich out of his hand and screamed at him 'homeless people go home you aren't wanted here'.  She then spat on him.   Despite the irony of her commentary, the message was clear.  We are no longer the envied hikers and wanderers of the countryside benefiting from the kindness of communities en route, we are now to be perceived as homeless, unwanted, and lesser.  How quickly the perceptions of people are shaped and in turn shape the worlds of others.  Though a dose of humility and some understanding of the lives and perspectives of those who are indeed homeless and disadvantaged could benefit us all. The truth is that things are going to be harder for the next bit of our trek.


As we continue on venturing down Westney we begin to get 'that look'.  Not the glances of curiosity, or the friendly smiles of rural Canada or the friendliness of the Maritime regions, but 'that look'.  It is the stare that people give others who are outsiders, who are unwanted and who are suspected of all sorts of imaged misdeeds.  As we continued on, one man physically pushed me off the side walk, while another yelled at us, while some even refused to look in our direction.  One lady riding her bike with her daughter screamed at us to move while waiting for the light to change and told us off for "being hobos in the way".  

In fact our afternoon was only truly saved when one young man in a Parks Canada truck drove by, smiled and waved.  His warmth was evident, his encouragement was clear.  It was such a simple act, yet amid the regional derision we were suddenly receiving in the rising heat of the day - it saved us and it gave us the energy to make our final push.  I think we often forget that a single, simple act - of kindness or selfishness - can shape so much of a person's day and life.

Walking through Pickering and Ajax was another trip down memory lane. We lived here for a few years caring for a younger relative and as such know the area quite well. We are now however seeing it from a different perspective, having walked here. We notice a lot more litter along the edges of the roads, much of it takeout food containers. We notice how many drivers run yellow and red lights and are quick to use their horns -- often swerving around people trying to cross the road.  We notice the constant and loud noise of the 401 highway. We notice how much faster the pace of life is here, and how much less frequently people smile at each other. We are left wondering how regional cultures are created and maintained, even in large population centers that are part of larger cities. We are left thinking about quality of life, how we choose to spend our own time, and what is important to us in life. For the next eight days we will be crossing Canada's largest city.

Tonight our skyline is no longer filled with forests and marshlands or the sounds of wildlife - instead we have the sites of a nuclear station, power corridors and the roar of HWY 401.  How quickly things change.

Tonight I know I miss the forest.  

See you on the trail!

Remember to follow our entire adventure here :


  1. So sorry to hear about your negative encounters with the people of the GTA. I hope that you took the license plate number of the woman in the parking lot and reported her assault to the police. The world is full of so many different people. That you are being mistaken for homeless people and being treated negatively is shocking. I hope that your experiences of the next few days in the big city are more enjoyable. With so many people living here, you are just as likely to meet some lovely folk! Fingers crossed!

  2. Wow, I am stunned by the aggressiveness of some of the reactions you got from people you met! In the past long ago I wrote a few poems about the contrast between the city and the forest (in French). So I can truly relate to your missing the forest.


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