Looking south from the top of the town of Fergus. Small town riding at its best.
Story and photos by Tom Beyer
My speed was quick, wind whipping my face, I felt alive. My legs pumped the pedals, my breathing deep. Great gusts of fresh, clean air kept my body moving. It was only after I had ridden for almost an hour that I slowed to take a break. It was then that the sweat came pouring down my face.
Only after stopping did I realize how far I’d travelled. Lost in my own sense of being, on what felt like my own private trail did I realize I hadn’t seen anyone on the trail for quite some time. It truly does feel like the world is your own biking nirvana when traversing the bike trails of Wellington County. This area of Ontario takes their cycling seriously. Not in a bike-lane-city way, but in a cross-country, town-to-town bike trail way.
Originally built in 1869 by the Canadian National Railway, the trail has been built on two of the original cut stone foundations. This portion of the trail was used by the CNR until 1989. The bridge is one of the important historic features of the area.
The County of Wellington in southwestern Ontario is just over 100 kilometres west of Toronto. The hour and a half drive is worth the effort. There are over 40 trails in Wellington County; most are geared to hiking and cycling.
Eleanor Morris has been riding in the Elora area since 1974. She remembers when some of the trails were still used for their original intent – railways. She remembers when trains used to be used extensively in the area. Most of the rail lines have long since disappeared. Private and public partnerships have enabled these lines to be turned into public trails. Morris says she rides every day, weather permitting.
“These are some of the best trails in the Province,” says Morris. I agree.
Eleanor Morris has been riding the Wellington County Trails since 1974. Here she is on the bridge spanning the Grand River. In the background you can see the Wellington County Museum.
One such trail is the “Trestle Bridge Trail” which connects Fergus and Elora.
The trail is named after what is the third railway bridge on the route. Originally built in 1869 by the Canadian National Railway, the trail has been built on two of the original cut stone foundations. This portion of the trail was used by the Canadian National Railway (CNR) until 1989. The bridge is one of the important historic features of the area.
Everywhere you look there are echoes of Ontario’s past. Elora is home to the Elora Gorge. Elora is a significant tourist destination with an arts festival every year and numerous galleries, this is an area of Ontario that always surprises.
On the steps of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, in Fergus. Prominently sited on a hill-top overlooking Fergus, St. Andrew's is the dominant visual landmark as well as the religious focus of this Scottish community during the second half of the 19th century. It was erected in 1862 to serve a congregation established almost 30 years before.
But the Gorge is certainly a natural wonder. To date, seven different bridges have been constructed over the 25 metre-deep Gorge, the earliest one in 1847. The sixth structure was a two-span reinforced concrete arch bridge, constructed in 1921 supported by a single masonry pier approximately 22 m high, constructed in 1867 - the year of Canada's Confederation. This was the fourth different bridge supported by this pier, which is the highest masonry pier constructed in Ontario in the 19th century.
All of this viewing is available on two wheels. It is a thrill to travel through the past on your bicycle, marveling at what the early settlers were able to accomplish. You can still smell the fresh air, water and view the limestone quarry where so much of the area’s incredible limestone building material was mined.
On the bridge across the Grand River in Fergus, this bridge is a few kilometres upstream from the Elora Gorge.
Wellington County owns and operates three trails between Fergus and Elora—Trestle Bridge, Aboyne and Museum trails—and also helps operate the Kissing Bridge Trailway sections in Guelph, Eramosa and Mapleton.
The Kissing Bridge Trailway is part of the Trans Canada Trail, which, if you haven’t been on it I have one question for you—why? It is operated by Wellington County, the Region of Waterloo and volunteer groups who maintain sections of the trail.
On the CNR bridge built in 1869. New railings and wooden slates have been added for smooth riding.
There is a fundraiser on May 10th to raise funds for two major bridges needed to complete the trail. Named "Spring on the Trail" the event is always well attended.
So come out and enjoy your Ontario. Sometimes when you live in a large urban area it is easy to just stay put. It is worth the effort to get out of your comfort zone and see what this great province has to offer. It is also great to feel welcome on two wheels.
Tom Beyer is a strong advocate for cycling and the arts. He can be followed on twitter @TomBeyer7
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