Photos and Story By Larry Tayler
Warning! The following article features trail hiking, backroad driving, and way too much information about ghost railways in Hastings County. Proceed with a sense of adventure – and grab your hiking boots!
So, did you know that the Trans Canada Trail – now officially known as The Great Trail – runs across Hastings County from Hungerford in the east to beyond Stirling in the west? And did you also know that The Great Trail is over 24,000 km long and is the longest recreational trail on the planet? Impressive, yes?
I have been wandering The Great Trail and the other recreational trails of Hastings County since moving back to the area three years ago. Every time my camera and I go out for a hike, I enjoy the experience more – the tranquility, the trees, the plants, the birds, the butterflies, the flowers all make these trails, especially The Great Trail, memorable.
Following The Great Trail’s 60 km meandering path through Hastings County – by foot, bike, ATV, or snowmobile – takes you through beautiful scenery and the ghosts of abandoned railways. Because, of course, the railway history of Hastings is rich indeed, counting twelve lines that used to reach almost every corner of the county. Only two still survive today: the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In Hastings County, The Great Trail mostly follows the route of the Ontario & Quebec Railway (later part of the Canadian Pacific Railway), which was built in 1881 to connect Toronto and Perth. Interestingly, this section of The Great Trail is also the route that VIA Rail Canada is proposing for its high-frequency passenger train line from Montreal and Ottawa to Toronto.
Recently, I spent a day exploring The Great Trail in Hastings County from east to west. I started at the Trans Canada Trail Pavilion in McCamon Park in Tweed.
Unfortunately, I did not have time to walk the trail’s entire route across Hastings, so I drove west along Crookston Road, which runs north of the trail route, until I reached Douglas Road, just east of Highway 62. There I parked and walked along the trail until I reached the intersection of the Ontario & Quebec Railway and the Grand Junction Railway (Belleville’s own railway!), itself another Hastings recreation trail. There is an imposing bridge on the Ontario & Quebec line that spans the Grand Junction Railway below. If you’ve got good hiking shoes, you can scramble down from the upper trail to the lower trail. Great fun – and an impressive reminder of 19th century engineering.
From there, I drove along Spring Brook Road west to Highway 14, then north to the hamlet of Bonarlaw, which used to be the junction of two railway lines: the Ontario & Quebec Railway on its way northwest to Havelock, and the Central Ontario Railway (later part of the Canadian National Railway) on its way north from Trenton to Marmora and Bancroft. Here’s a link to a photo showing what the junction looked like in the bustling days of the late 1800s (from the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Joseph Heckman Photographic Collection). The buildings have now vanished, however, with only the two intersecting recreation trails reminding us of what used to be there.
At Bonarlaw, The Great Trail does a U-turn and heads south along the Central Ontario Railway route to Anson Junction, near Stirling.
And Anson Junction was my next destination, 4km northwest of Stirling on County Road 8 (Hoard’s Road). Anson Junction is easily missed, so you have to watch carefully for where The Great Trail crosses the road. If you reach Hoard’s Station, you’ve gone too far west. For railway nerds, Anson Junction is a treasure trove. It was the intersection of the Central Ontario Railway (between Trenton and Bonarlaw) and the Grand Junction Railway (between Stirling and Campbellford). It used to be the home of a unique ‘wye’ track formation, where entire trains could turn around, something I did on a Canadian National Railway steam train excursion in 1972. (Alas, I didn’t have my camera with me that day – what was I thinking????) Anson Junction, surrounded by lush agricultural land, is a fascinating little area to explore and retrace the paths where trains used to operate. It is also where The Great Trail turns west and heads to Campbellford and Peterborough.
By this point in my trekking day, the sun had started to set and I needed to get home, unable to pursue The Great Trail any further. One of the great blessings of Hastings County is, of course, that these trails are part of our heritage and available whenever we want to use them. You can bet that I’ll be returning soon to revisit the railway ghosts and breathe in the fresh air. I hope you enjoy wandering The Great Trail and Hastings County’s other recreation trails as much as I do - even if you aren’t a railway nerd!
A recommendation: The Explore The Trail app is a fine navigation tool for the entire Trans Canada Trail/Great Trail – from coast to coast to coast. Apple and Android - and it’s free!
A shout-out: The Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance in Tweed (EOTA), in conjunction with area municipalities, snowmobile groups, and community organizations, does amazing work to maintain and improve The Great Trail and other recreational trails in Eastern Ontario. Their free map is an excellent resource. (See details below.) Fine work, EOTA!
Final note: if you are a railway buff, consider taking the leisurely 120 km drive along Highway 62 from Meyers Pier in Belleville to Birds Creek, north of Bancroft. That route will see you crossing the routes of nine of Hastings County’s twelve railway lines: Canadian Pacific Railway; Canadian Northern Railway; Canadian National Railway; Grand Junction Railway; Belleville & North Hastings Railway; Ontario & Quebec Railway; Central Ontario Railway; Bay of Quinte Railway; and Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa Railway. Check out the excellent Heritage Atlas of Hastings County (see below) for more details. And enjoy this beautiful drive!
Related Books -
Heritage Atlas of Hastings County, edited by Orland French (County of Hastings/Wallbridge House Publishing, Belleville, 2006)
The Grand Junction Railway, by Nick and Helma Mika (Mika Publishing Company, Belleville, 1985 – rare)
Desperate Venture – Central Ontario Railway, by James Plomer and Alan R. Capon (Mika Publishing Company, Belleville, 1979 – rare)
Heckman’s Canadian Pacific/A Photographic Journey, by Ralph Beaumont (Self-published by Ralph Beaumont and Rod Clarke, 2015)
Related Maps -
The Tour Trails/Eastern Ontario Adventures, a free map from the Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance, 255 Metcalf Street, Postal Bag 1444, Tweed, ON K0K 3J0 (email@example.com)
Eastern Ontario Backroad Mapbook Outdoor Recreation Guide, published by Russell and Wesley Mussio (Backroad Mapbooks/Mussio Ventures Ltd., Coquitlam, BC, 2011)
Story and photographs by Larry Tayler
As one of our six Local Wanderers exploring Hastings County, Larry enjoys Arts and Culture, Agri-Tourism and wandering back roads and trails.
To learn more about Larry and his adventures as well as the other five Local Wanderers and the excursions they've experienced across the County click here.