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Great Lakes Waterfront Trail

Posted on September 11, 2017
Written by Katherine Balpataky

Although Hamilton, Ontario is best known for the fire and smoke of Stelco Steel, the city is offering up breathtaking views of Lake Ontario to my left and waterfalls to my right. As I wind down the side of the escarpment on my bicycle, I can’t contain my happiness. What a perfect way to start the day.

I am cycling with a group of about 150 Canadians and Americans who have joined the Waterfront Regeneration Trust’s 2018 cycling tour, the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure. This year’s seven-day event crossed 550 kilometres of the Trail from Point Pelee National Park to the Rouge National Urban Park.  The group is celebrating Canada 150 and the newly awarded Ontario Trail of Distinction.




The long-term vision shared by the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and its community partners is to create a trail that embraces all of Canada’s Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. The most recent expansion in 2017 connected Lake Superior, Sault Ste. Marie, and Sudbury.

“The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail is the culmination of 25 years of investment and cooperation among communities and First Nations, conservation authorities, and many other partners,” said Marlaine Koehler, executive director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust. “We are thrilled to accept the recognition on behalf of this partnership.”

A great history
The trail was inaugurated in 1995 by the Hon. David Crombie, former mayor of Toronto and president of the Urban Institute. At that time, it was just 275 kilometres in length along Lake Ontario stretching from Hamilton to Trenton.

“The idea arose in public discussions of the late 80s and early 90s, in particular from the documents of the IJC [International Joint Commission],” said Crombie. “They had adopted the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972 and brought forward a number of amendments, and that fuelled a great public discussion.”

Crombie explained that in 1988, the federal government, and then later the provincial government, established the Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront to provide a framework for the waterfront’s development. Appointed this task by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities, Crombie took a fairly generous definition of waterfront, because he recognized the importance of watershed boundaries to the coastal system.





Since then, the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail has gone through six major expansions to reach its current length of 2,100 kilometres. The Trust has focused primarily on drawing cycling tourism to the Trail, because they have identified cyclists as the group most likely to do multi-day tours—an important factor for economic development. “We know from studies that have been done by various groups that a cyclist will spend about $115 per day. But the most important thing about a cyclist is that they don’t just drive through; they will stop in all the towns and villages… they’re not just about the bike, they’re about the local museums and restaurants in small town Ontario,” said Koehler.

“We used to say, when you are on the trail, you are going to be part of 21 per cent of the world’s freshwater and centuries of Indigenous people’s cultural history and now of people all over the world,” said Crombie.

“The trail became our great vehicle, by which we thought people could understand its philosophy by implementing something in their own areas that would protect, restore and regenerate their waterfronts,” he said.



All photos: Simon Wilson


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