Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Day 10: Hamilton to Niagara-on-the-Lake

 

I was up at 06:00 and showered and ready for 07:00. We drove back down the road to the McDonalds we had passed the day before, where we each had a full breakfast. After breakfast we returned to the motel, where I re-mounted my gear on the bike and set out at 08:10.

 

Not wanting to repeat the ride along Hwy 8, which had been very boring, nor that along Lakeshore, which would take me well out of my way to the north, and had been pretty boring as well, in its Service Road sections, I decided to ride out along Barton Street. Barton Street was the only remaining east/west artery between the Escarpment and the Lake on which I had not ridden. It was pretty industrial, but at least the scenery was something new. Barton was wide enough so that cars and trucks could get around me easily. There were even a few, intermittent sections of painted bike lane.

 

I had barely gotten started when, at 08:30, I saw a supermarket just opening. Since I was without supplies, I made a 15 minutes stop and picked up more of the usual: Apricots, grapes, cream cheese, cheese, and ice for my tiny cooler. I set out once more at 08:45.

 

The headwind was a very strong that day. When I would get to the lake, I would see that the wind was strong enough to whip the waves up into white caps. I would be fighting this wind all day long and it would wear me down. It hardly seemed fair that I had faced a wind from the west all these days, and now that I was heading east, the wind would come around to be from the east also.

 

I crossed back into Stoney Creek at 09:00. I had made several stops along the way looking for the next map in my series, for mine ended at Grimsby. I was crossing Fruitland Road by 09:15 and was finally finished with backtracking and moving once again into new territory.

 

Stoney Creek is now part of Hamilton, but in days past was a thriving town in its own right. It was the site of a major battle of the War of 1812, marking the American's furthest advance along the Niagara Peninsula. See 3. Notes on Stoney Creek, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

As I had noticed the day before, the wide suburban boulevard of Barton Street changed at Fruitland into a narrow country road and I was out into farmland instead of riding by housing tracts. This would normally be a good thing but the down side was that I was now riding on a narrow road with no shoulders and the amount of traffic had not diminished from before.

 

Barton road eventually came to an end at "50 Road" ,and I had to shunt over less than half a block's distance to the old Hwy 8, now called "County 81" or just "Main Street". This road, too, was at this point a country highway, and it began to run right up under the imposing shadow of the Niagara Escarpment.

 

At 09:45 I was at the Grimsby town line and was riding through vast orchards of cherry trees, heavy with red cherries, and vast fields of grapes, planted in arrow-straight rows. There was still a morning haze, but it was beginning to clear up.

 

I got to Grimsby town centre at 10:15 and learned from the information plaques that this town had been the site of Upper Canada's first town meeting back in 1790 when it had then been known simply as "Township #6".

 

Grimsby was also called "The Forty", as it was constructed on "Forty Mile Creek" See 4. Notes on Grimsby, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I stopped into a gas station on the main street and finally found the next two maps in the MapArt series that I was looking for: Ste. Catherines, for which I would need just a corner, and then Niagara. It was a shame that I had to buy two maps, but I was happy to find them. I had been stopping into convenience stores all along looking for these maps, but with no luck. The Rand MacNally salesman must have been very active along that route!

 

The little town of Grimsby looked quite interesting, but I did not have time to stop. I located a street that would carry me over the QEW to the lakeshore side. There were three such crossings at Grimsby, all very close to one another. I ended up taking the last one, Maple Street, and I reached Lake Street, on the far side of the QEW, at 10:40. The lake side of Grimsby was made up mostly of newly built housing developments. I saw no businesses.

 

Although I have been to Niagara Falls many times, my visits to the other towns along the route have been much less frequent. See 1. Notes on Visits to the Niagara Region, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

The QEW, from Toronto to Niagara, was Canada's first super highway. See 2. Notes on the QEW, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

A few short blocks along Lake Street, I came to Nelles Lake Park, a small park where I could get some access directly to the lake. The park seemed like an afterthought, no doubt imposed on the developer by the guilty city fathers. It was barely the width of a couple of housing lots, and was sandwiched in between houses on either side. The park had a small parking lot for three or four cars, a couple of picnic tables in the open sun, and a path leading down the twenty-foot slope to the beach.

 

I made a ten minute stop and took a walk down to the beach. The sky had cleared by this time and all was very blue. (Except I could still see the fog hanging over the Escarpment as I looked back towards Grimsby.) It was even more windy by the water, though, than it had been inland.

 

During my break, I had some cheese as a snack. It was finally 11:00 when I left the refreshing park view to be on my way.

 

Lake Street continued on from Grimsby to the next suburban community of Grimsby Beach, past which it settled in alongside the QEW as the North Service Road.

 

This North Service Road section would be the hardest and least interesting part of the day's ride. On the land side were the six lanes of the busy and noisy highway, separated from my path by only a chain link fence. It was interesting the way that wayward grapes had established themselves along that section, growing up the chain link highway fence.

 

The houses on the lake side had ended abruptly when I had crossed the "Town of Lincoln" line, a regional township comprising "Beamsville", a town that I would pass to the north of. To lakeward were now vast vineyards, straight rows of grape vines stretching off to the far off lakeshore, where occasional houses could be seen in the distance.

 

Some roads went down to the lake, but the map warned that few went through, so it seemed most prudent to stay on the service road. As I left Grimsby Beach, I was further discouraged to see a Waterfront Trail marker announcing that the trail ended there, to resume in Ste. Catherines some 19km hence.

 

The slot was long, and the wide open countryside meant that I bore the full force of the wind against me. The cloverleaf of the Ontario Street interchange shone before me like a beacon for what seemed like ages, yet it was only a few kilometres away. When I finally reached it, and had to ride up the hill and around it, I was faced with only more of the same on the far side.

 

Only as I neared the second cloverleaf, the Victoria Avenue interchange, was there some change. There were a few houses on my left and some short sections of sound wall on my right separated me from the highway. The sound wall was a welcome shield against the wind. I passed a small business area, comprising a new Tim Horton's and a vast and somewhat dated Best Western Motel complex, which appeared like a lost oasis out in the middle of nowhere.

 

I finally came to a place to stop for a break at 12:00. I was near Jordan harbour and, at that place, the shoreline came over to meet the road. There was this "Antiques Factory Outlet" store (Somehow it seemed like they did not get the concept.). The store was closed, but behind it was a little picnic area with a table overlooking the bay. I was sheltered from the strong wind, but could clearly see the whitecaps that the wind was whipping up out on the bay. The water shone light green on the clear, sunny day. I could see forward, around the bay, to the point where I would be able to leave, at last, the service road. Knowing that my Purgatory was nearly over game me hope.

 

Lincoln is the regional municipality that encompasses Beamsville and Port Jordan.. See 5. Notes on Lincoln, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

I called Sheryl, who was just getting started back in Hamilton. I then had a lunch of some whole wheat crackers and cream cheese.

 

I set out once again at 12:20. At this point the QEW and the service road dropped down off the hill to cut across the barachois closing in a body of water called "Jordan Harbour". I had to pedal hard coming came down the hill against the full force of the wind at the head of the bay and out in the wide open space. Upon reaching Once I reached bottom, I slipped into my easiest gear and began slowly inching my way back up the other side of the valley, back up to the highlands.

 

As I climbed, I saw up ahead this abandoned, pirate-looking vessel. It looked like Captain Hook's ship from Peter Pan. In better days it must have been a tourist attraction. Now it was mired in the mud and abandoned in the corner of the tiny marina at Jordan Harbour.

 

I was on my last stretch along the main highway. It was 12:40 when I read a sign out on the QEW which said: Ste. Catherines, 11km; Niagara, 26km; Ft. Erie, 54km. A similar sign at the Grimsby line at 11:00, had said that Ste. Catherines was 24km. So, over about 1h20 riding time, I had covered about 13km. The 11km postulated as the distance to Ste. Catherines proved to be a strange figure, for I passed a sign almost immediately aftwerwards indicating that I was now crossing into Ste. Catherines. I guess the figure on the sign referred to the distance to the town centre.

 

St. Catherines is the major city of the area. See 7. Notes on St. Catherines, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

As I passed through yet another valley, dropping down from the highlands and slowly climbing back up the other side, and crossing a couple of bridge over the marshes, I came to Gregory Road. This was the street that would take me lakeward, over to Lakeshore Road West. I was mercifully done with the QEW!

 

Along Lakeshore, on the side facing the lake, there was a single row of houses set in tree-covered lots. The trees were a welcome shelter from the strong wind. The other side of the road was open farmland.

 

Courtleigh Road marked the beginning of the housing developments of Port Dalhousie. At this point the Waterfront Trail picked up again. While it was clear from my map that it would have been faster to proceed along Main Street, which is what Lakeshore Road had become, than to follow the trail markers off through suburbia, I felt like a change of scenery even if it would take me out of my way.

 

So I wound along the back streets of Port Dalhousie like I was on a road rally, following these Trail markers. I finally came out at Lakeside Park and at Dalhousie Harbour. What a a joy to be going along the water again! It was 13:30 when I got to Port Dalhousie and I stopped there to enjoy the pleasant view of the boats while I had an apricot as a snack. I was on my way again after five minutes.

 

Port Dalhousie was for most of the 19th Century the northern terminus of the Welland Canal. See 6. Notes on Port Dalhousie, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background.

 

The Trail led inland along the water's edge in this trendy harbour's. There was a walkway along the water which doubled as a bike path. At the head of the harbour was a small dam, and the trail included special bike bridges to take me up and around it. I climbed up to a bike bridge which was just below that of Lakeshore Road. On the far side of the river, the special trail resumed in a series of switchbacks which brought me back down to the water's edge on the far side. Below the dam were serious and exciting rapids. Once back to the water's edge, I followed the bike trail back along the shore, all the way out to the far point at Michigan's Beach.

 

Except for at one point, the Waterfront Trail went mostly along the water. At this one point the Trail markers led me all the way back up to Lakeshore Road again, just to get around a school (Those in the know would have cut across the playground, but I only discovered this afterwards.). Behind the lakefront houses of suburbia would be a series of waterfront parks, each with a bike trail. Some were very nice. Each would end, in turn, and I then would have to nose my way around through the dead end suburban streets in order to find where the next one picked up. The Trail markers were a true guide most of the time, although once in a while they left me high & dry. Then I had to refer to my map. Thank goodness the MapArt municipal map shows the Waterfront Trail. Along this stretch that I began to feel once more like I was on a road rally

 

One stretch along the water was particularly nice. It was 14:00 and I could see all the way across the Lake to the CN Tower in Toronto. Alas, just as I was getting used to the pleasant ride, the path rounded a corner and came to an inglorious dead end. There was a high ridge on the landward side, so I had to backtrack to find a way up and out to the street. The Trail, at that point, went around the single property that barred the way, and then came back to the waterfront.

 

At another point I rode off the end of a cul-de-sac and into a city park with many trails. The lakeward trail seemed my first choice, until it ended in a pile of grass on a knoll overlooked the water. I had to go back down the trail and finally ask some amused kids if any of the trails led on and out of the park.

 

When I came out of the park into Port Weller I lost the trail completely. My map showed that it had to be at the end of the main street, which headed out to the end of the point, so I just headed towards the lake, past the rows of old beach cottages. When I got to the end of the main street of Port Weller, nearly at the end of the peninsula, I followed a poorly marked trail off to the right through some trees. Suddenly I came out of the old beach community and onto the Welland Canal. It was 14:35

 

The current terminus of the Welland Canal, and home of a major shipyard. See 8 Notes on Port Weller, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background, including a history of the shipyard.

 

The electric inter-urban railway was important to the development of Port Weller. See 9 Notes on the Niagara, St. Catherines & Toronto Railway, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background, including a history of the line.

 

The Welland Canal cuts across the Niagara Peninsula, from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. It was first constructed in the early 1800s. It was the widening of the Welland Canal, early in the 20th Century, which gave impetus to the building of the Seaway. See 10 Notes on Welland Canal, in the Supplementary Notes section below, for more background, including a history of the various canals.

 

 

The intended bicycle trail led up through the trees along an old gravel road parallel to the canal, but out of its view. I opted for the paved access road for I wanted to explore the canal. As I rode along I was passing by huge big ships which were tied up waiting to go through the locks.

 

I did not realize until I got my pictures back that one of the ships I passed by was the same one I had seen the day before going through the channel at the Hamilton Canal.

 

An official was driving back and forth in a truck marked with the Seaway insignia and he seemed unhappy with my stopping and taking pictures, so I rode on.

 

The access road came out at Lakeshore Road once again. I crossed the Welland Canal on the lift bridge for Lakeshore, just in time to see a big ship pulling into the lock. I was tempted to wait and watch the whole lift cycle, but it was getting late. I had seen ships rise in locks before.

 

From the height of the bridge, and looking to the north towards the lake, one could see past the locks to the long piers on either side, stretching out into the lake and terminating with lighthouses. Looking the other way, I saw a wide, almost lake-like expanse of water, leading on inland to the wall of the next lock, some distance away. Right nearby the current locks was a large repair shipyard and a number of big ships in drydock.

 

Just past the canal area I came to the town line of Niagara-on-the-Lake. I stopped there for five minutes in order to change my film and take some pictures.

 

It seemed like the section of the road through Niagara-on-the-Lake would never end. The road became very narrow and had no shoulder. Normally I would be happy to be once again into open country, and surrounded by huge vineyards. These low plants offered no shelter whatsoever from the wind, however, a wind which seemed stronger than ever and which was really beginning to wear me down. I plodded along like a snail. It would be about 1h15 before I would complete the short section of no more than 10 km.

 

While riding, my cell phone burst to life with a couple of wierd wrong numbers. I had left it on as I was waiting to hear from Sheryl. The people who reached me seemed surprised, as they had not even dialled my number! I would later see entries on my cell bill for calls from Buffalo, New York, which I would have to contest. I did finally reach Sheryl at 15:00. She was still in Stoney Creek.

 

When I was really reaching the end of my rope, salvation came in the form of a small roadside park. Oddly, Newark Park had no picnic tables whatsoever. I stopped and sat down on the grass, leaning up against a tree, and refreshed myself with some grapes and cheese. This sustenence, along with the 15 minute rest, gave me the strength to head on. It had been 16:00 when I got to the park and was 16:15 when I rode out.

 

And that was pretty well the end of it. The park was just outside of town. I rounded a corner and rode past some land belonging to National Defence. A sign posted there suggested those with official business should see the officer of the day "in the barn". It seemed funny.

 

See 11 Notes on Canadian Forces in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in the Supplementary Notes section below.

 

Turning the corner, Lakeshore Road became Mary Street and I was into the old town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. I rode down to the end of Mary Street, at King Street, and then turned left on King Street, towards town. Along the left were all B&Bs, all of which were full. To the right was a vast park.

 

Niagara-on-the-Lake was the main administrative center of early Upper Canada, and was a focus of battles during the War of 1812. See 12 Notes on Niagara-on-the-Lake, in the Supplementary Notes section below.

 

At the main street corner of the town, I stopped to catch a glimpse of this trendy part of the Old Town. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a very fashionable tourist centre, and the main street was lined with trendy shops and restaurants and packed with tourists.

 

Something called me to descend on to the waterfront, down to Ricardo Street. Right at the small harbour which was filled with pleasure boats, I saw several hotels. One of these, The Anchorage, had a vacancy sign, so I checked it out. They had a room. It was pricey at $115 a night, but this was clearly a resort area, and every B&B I had passed had sported a "No Vacancy" sign. I did not feel like riding all over town to confirm the lack of B&B space, so I took the room and immediately felt better knowing that my lodging was secured.

 

It was 16:30. I called Sheryl to give her the directions. She was clearly an hour away, just coming through Ste. Catherines, so I decided I had plenty of time to take a short ride-about.

 

I rode down to the foot of the dock and looked across the Niagara River at Fort Niagara on the American side. It shone well in the late afternoon sun, and made for a good photo.

 

I was feeling the greatest sense of accomplishment, for I had reached my main goal. I had come from Montreal all the way to the Niagara River. The next day's ride would just be gravy. I had to kneel and give a prayer, thanking Jesus for having been with me, and especially for his having helped me get over the problem with my knees, which had nearly ended my trip. I had to thank him, as well, for giving me such a wonderful wife, who would accompany me on such a folly.

 

I looked up the Niagara River, which was very calm at this point, showing no hint of the furious rapids upstream. Lots of sailboats were anchored on the American side.

 

After my brief lookout, I climbed back up from the end of the pier and rode to the end of Ricardo Street, about a block past my motel. Here was Navy Hall and the bottom of Ft. George. An old steamboat was docked in the river. People could take it for tours during the day, although all was deserted at this point.

 

I rode back along Ricardo Street in the opposite direction and to the far end. I rode by fancy houses, most of which had been turned into B&Bs. The street ended at a golf course. To get to Fort Mississauga, another historic site and tourist attraction, one had to cross the fairway. A sign indicating that one should be "careful" hardly seemed adequate.

 

Not much was left of the old fort, but I had a great view of the lake. The sun's late afternoon position was making the Toronto skyline much more visible. I could see that we were exactly due south of Toronto.

 

Something told me it was about time to ride back. Sure enough, about a block from the motel, Sheryl began honking at me. It was 17:30. My ride-about had taken an hour.

 

I stowed the bike inside the room and changed into street clothes. We left the car in the parking lot and took a walk uptown. We found that while the short, trendy main street was very nice to look at, there was very little of substance there. Lots of people were still milling about. We passed the really pretentious "Prince of Wales Hotel". The menu posted at the door revealed that a meal in their restaurant would have cost hundreds of dollars. The soup was $12.95 and appetizers were $25. Main courses ranged in the $40-$50 range. A sign indicated that there would be a $15 surcharge for anyone ordering an appetizer as a main course.

 

We found a nice little bookstore, where we spent some time. Then we walked on, looking for a restaurant. Finding a decent restaurant was not easy. We ended up paying about double what we should have for a meal. There was no real choice in the matter as all were equally as expensive. We found ourselves in the outdoor back yard of a tavern-like place. I ordered a club sandwich and it was almost $25!

 

Following our meal, we continued out walk and found a place where we could get some frozen yoghurt for dessert. We followed this with a round-about walk back along Front Street and Ricardo Street, both lined with quaint houses. We stopped in at the Hotel restaurant and sat on the terrace to have a cafe au lait. The setting was very nice, and we had a great view out over the water, lit up at night by the navigation lights and the lights of the boats. The service, alas, was terrible. We waited nearly an hour for our lukewarm coffee.

 

We did not let the lack of service get us down, though. My satisfaction came in not tipping the waitress, who was visibly much more concerned with those other customers who were ordering full meals.

 

We retired across the parking lot to our room, where Sheryl went to sleep right away and I stayed up to wrote in my journal.

 

Daily Report

According to a later, detailed study of the kilometrage, based on map readings and my hourly log:

        I travelled a forward (towards my goal) distance of 65 km, for a total cumulative forward distance of 726 km.

        Total distance travelled this day 77, for a total distance travelled of 776 km.

        I rode for 6 h 55, with an additional 1 h 05 in breaks, for a total of 9 h 10 on the road.

        My average speed was 9 km/hr

[See the Kilometrage Study for details]