Sunday, December 27, 2015

Making a Difference in Dundas

If you happened to be entering or leaving Dundas via Cootes Drive this weekend, and if you weren't so consumed with Christmas related activities so as not to notice, then you may have seen Frank and Gisela.

I first noticed them on Saturday, clad in their orange safety vests, a pick-up tool in one hand and a garbage bag in the other. Frank was crossing the grassy median which separates the eastbound from the westbound lanes and Gisela was picking up trash in the culvert that dips down beyond the north shoulder. Of course I didn't know their names yet, but I was immediately impressed by their activity.

Seeing them again today, I felt compelled to stop and speak with them and so found a spot to park and went over to introduce myself. Mainly I just wanted to thank them and let them know that I really appreciated what they were doing.

What a lovely couple. It was a pleasure to meet them and we had a very nice conversation. They let me know that they were volunteers with Stewards of Cootes Watershed and their mission this weekend was to clean up garbage in the wetlands that border this section of road. This is being done in an effort to prevent it from being washed into the waters of the Desjardins Canal and eventually into Cootes Paradise.

Just this weekend alone, Frank and Gisela had cleaned up over 80 pounds of garbage from paper and plastic to discarded diapers and condoms. Gisela let me know that she found it somewhat disheartening that people will still discard their garbage in this way and on this point I'm sure we can all agree.

Stewards of Cootes Watershed is an organization that I know well and one that I will be writing more about in the future. Please visit their website at and consider volunteering or supporting them.

This group is certainly making a difference in Dundas and in the Cootes area waterways and they deserve our thanks. If you get a chance, please say thanks to Frank and Gisela as well, a wonderful couple volunteering their time to make Dundas a better place.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas from the Dundas Valley

Walking out the front door this morning at 6:30 a.m was surreal. It was 15 degrees. In December. On the day before Christmas. In all my life I don't recall December weather like this. Not that I'm complaining but wow, it's positively balmy!

I wrapped up my Christmas shopping mid morning and then hit the trail. Due to its close proximity, the Spring Creek Trail called out to me and before long I was enveloped in the trees, a light breeze blowing and the sun shining. Remarkable. The trails are in amazing shape for this time of year, a little spongy in sections but for the most part, dry and firm. I came across a couple on horse back and just one other person walking with their dog. I expected it to be busier but I suspect many were still fighting off the hordes in the malls.

In any event, a beautiful day and certainly one to be grateful for.

I reflected on the year that was. Some challenges for sure but lots of memorable moments as well, fortunately more of those than the latter and I had to admit to myself that I'm a pretty lucky guy. There is a lot of strife in the world and I don't think that there has been a time when I've felt more grateful to live in Canada and in this safe and stable community.

I thank you, the reader of this blog, for being a big part of this year as well and I'm thrilled that I was able to meet many of you on the trails and at events this year. There are lots of new things in the works for 2016 and I'm pretty excited about the future.

With that, we wrap up another year. In the words of Edward Abbey, "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds."
Merry Christmas to you and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sawmill Trail Musings

December 12, 2015 arrived like a late fall day, not at all like one would expect just two weeks shy of Christmas. Wearing just a light hoodie, I found myself working up a slight sweat within minutes of navigating the hilly terrain of the Sawmill Trail. The soft ground yielded under the tread of my hiking boots and I noticed that the grass was still holding onto its green colour, determined to not fade into its winter sleep. I can’t recall a December ever being this mild, at least not in the years that I have been exploring the valley. It’s difficult to complain about it although it does seem a little unsettling for it to still be this warm.

Rounding a bend, I stopped abruptly as Stella found herself nose to nose with a young raccoon. Eyeball to eyeball, they stared at each other as I initiated a quick retreat to introduce some space between us. As a rule, I keep Stella on a flexi leash while on the trails, simply due to the frequent encounters with other hikers, mountain bikers and deer, and today I was glad that I had stayed true to that practice.

We are under a rabies alert here at the moment and based on the fact that this raccoon was fearless and not about to move out of our way, I knew that something was clearly not right. We stared at each other and I took this photo before moving on, momentarily leaving the trail to give the raccoon a wide berth as it simply watched our travels. If you are prone to allowing your canine companions off leash while in the valley, I would strongly suggest to you not to do that, particularly during this season. I know that if Stella had been off leash, this encounter would have had a much different and a potentially tragic outcome.
We eventually found our way to the Sawmill Pond, a beautiful oasis in the valley. The Sawmill Pond is a part of the Stacey Meadow, named after former Conservation Authority chairman Alan G. Stacey.

It is a tranquil and quiet spot, ideal for picnics and observing wildlife. This pond, connected to the North Spring Creek, is a source of food, water and shelter for many species and it is common to see Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers and Blackbirds here as well as both painted and snapping turtles. Under the grey sky of today the surrounding cattails and trees created crystal clear reflections of themselves in the still water, and we picked this spot to sit for a minute and just take in the view.

An interesting feature of these ponds is the addition of two small gravel beds. When it was noticed that the resident snapping turtles were laying their eggs in the nearby parking area, these beds were created. This created a safe area protected from vehicle and foot traffic for them, increasing the chances for their eggs to hatch.
Hearing a sound, I looked up to see a pair of deer stepping out from the trees across the pond. They froze when they noted our presence, withdrawing back into the brush. So as to not disturb them, we chose to move on and continued back on the trail, leaving them to their drink.

Turning back, I was amused by the sign on the dock warning of thin ice. Maybe not this year, I thought, at least not for a while.
We headed back down the trail and through a stand of young pine trees, more green on this December day than they should be. This really is a remarkable December, I mused. I can’t wait to get back out here tomorrow.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Yay, My Book is on!!

Okay, I'll admit that this blog post is a deviation from the norm and is really nothing more than a shameless plug. Just being totally up front with you on that. I was just a little excited and wanted to share.

I'll be the first to admit that the whole process of writing and self-publishing a book has been an unbelievably positive experience and I've enjoyed it immensely. Seeing it in print for the first time was almost a surreal experience, a completed work with my name on the cover, I was more than excited.
The whole experience of a book launch was again, amazing and was filled with so many interactions and conversations.

This morning for the first time, I noticed my book finally showing as "available" on and even more surprising , a few units have been sold there already.

So with that and considering that the holiday shopping season is upon us, I wanted to share the link to my book. In my opinion, this can make a nice gift for anyone interested in exploring this area.

If looking for a Christmas present for the outdoors lover in your life, it may the perfect addition to their library.

Going forward, I promise not to bombard you with these kind of plugs and will resume sharing the stories and photos of the area that we all love and enjoy.

Thank you for your ongoing support.


Friday, December 4, 2015

A HUGE Thank You!!

It's time for me to give you a huge "thank you"; a sincere, bottom of my heart, humble note of appreciation for letting me communicate with you on this forum and for the unbelievable feedback that you have given me in return, particularly in recent days.

When Dundas Valley Outdoors started in 2011, it was meant as a vehicle for me to share a few stories and some of my photos. I wanted to share my passion for the Dundas Valley with my friends as well as for people who may have been considering a visit to the area. Over the years it has grown and I have made many more friends and contacts as a result and have received tremendous feedback. The blog eventually led to a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, gaining more followers along the way. Eventually the writing and photos grew to the point where a book became a possibility and through the encouragement of many, my book Exploring The Dundas Valley was finished.

Sharing a book launch with 3 friends and fellow writers, our event held in Dundas on November 13 was a huge success and we were overwhelmed with the response. I enjoyed many conversations and opportunities to meet you face to face and I savoured every second of it.

This past Wednesday night was the icing on the cake. When I found out that I had been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award in the category of environmental journalism I was stunned, but to attend this event and actually win was another thing altogether. Totally unexpected, I was blown away and will never forget accepting my "Maggie" in front of a room filled with brilliant local media players. These are the writers, filmmakers and creative geniuses that share their stories and their passion, adding their contribution to the rich arts tapestry that makes Hamilton so special. I had a chance to meet some of the writers that I follow, the ones that I often draw inspiration from and it was great to make so many connections. I've lost track of the messages, texts and phone calls offering a message of congratulations since that evening. Again, just another reason to feel humbled and grateful.

The MC for the evening was Hamilton City Councilor Matthew Green. A rookie councilor, I have been impressed with the energy and level of commitment that he has brought to City Hall. It was great to have a chance to meet and to briefly discuss local issues with him. City leaders such as Matthew Green bring a fresh perspective to our community and to see him supporting this group of passionate advocates for the city and change makers is refreshing and encouraging. We can use more like him, and I feel confident that the positive momentum that we are seeing in many aspects of our community will continue.

This event and award just serve to inspire me further. I am working now to improve this blog and to create a better website to host it. My goal is to develop more content, and to showcase more stories and pictures of the areas that are so important to me and many others. There are conservation and environmental issues that negatively affect and threaten our forests and waterways and I will strive to uncover those and use this medium to help build awareness and drive change. I also have another book in the works, a project I am totally excited about. I look forward to sharing more details on this soon.

So with that, a hearty thank you. I sincerely thank you for your support and your feedback and for those who took the time to vote for me and ultimately allowed me to win the Hamilton Independent Media Award, I am deeply grateful and humbled by your support. I would be remiss if I didn't offer a thank you to the HIMA's team as well, a vibrant and dynamic group working hard to promote local journalism and talent. Their passion is infectious and it was a pleasure to meet Kevin, Sherri, Amanda and others and have the opportunity to learn more about Maggie Hughes as well as their organization.

Again, thank you for your support and loyalty. I promise to work hard and continue to bring you the latest stories and news from the Dundas Valley.

With fellow award winners Joey Coleman and Hamilton Seen's Cody Lanktree. Photo by Zena Hagerty and used with permission.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hermitage Restoration, One Stone at a Time

One of the most well-known landmarks in the Dundas Valley is the Hermitage. This ruin dates back to before 1855 and has a very interesting history.  According to the historical plaque at the ruins, stones used in construction were quarried from local sites, the red bricks from the Dundas Valley and the limestone sills from the Credit River Valley. The Hermitage had several owners before it was acquired by George Gordon Leith in 1855. 

After George’s death in 1901 his daughter Alma Dick-Lauder bought the estate from the rest of the family and lived there until 1934 when a fire broke out during a party and burned the house down. Even after this fire Alma continued to live on the site, building a modest home within the ruins where she lived until her death in 1942.

A popular destination for hikers visiting the valley, the site had fallen into disrepair over recent years and eventually required structural bracing to the walls and fencing off of the area due to safety concerns. There was even talk of taking down the walls and reducing them to the height of about a metre. It would have been sad to see this structure removed but with the risk of further deterioration, something had to happen.

Fortunately, the Hamilton Conservation Authority along with local government and private donors came up with an ambitious plan to preserve the 160 year old structure.

You should see it now! Reinforced with internal steel supports, the walls are going back up. To keep it as authentic as possible, every single stone was numbered and catalogued to ensure that when rebuilt, it would resemble the original structure as closely as possible.

Fenced off during the construction process, the progress is interesting to see. The stone work around the former main entrance door and windows is beautiful and reconstruction work is continuing up to the second floor. The project is slated for completion in the summer of 2016. If in the area, check it out.

The Hermitage can be found while hiking from the Dundas Valley Trail Centre and is located on the Main Loop. That loop is about 3.5 km and is moderately easy to walk.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dundas Eco-Park Update

Have you been by the Dundas Eco-park gateway area lately? This new park which follows the northern shore of the Desjardins Canal is still in its development stage but is coming along nicely.

Those of you who have been watching with interest will recall that this parks sits on the former site of the Ben Veldhuis Greenhouse complex. This large operation once hosted around 20 greenhouses producing more than 3 million cacti a year. This landmark gave Dundas the “Cactus Capital of Canada” moniker and is still remembered annually during Dundas’ always popular Cactus Festival.
The greenhouses are now long gone with the exception of an original two story chimney which is home to a protected at-risk species of chimney swifts. This chimney has become a focal point of the park and has recently been enhanced with an art installation inspired by the former greenhouses. These were provided by the Rotary Clubs of Dundas with a plan to add information panels and benches in the spring of 2016.

Last year, trails were built and hundreds of trees planted. Pilings were also installed in the water to support a future structure. It’s great to see these steps being completed and plantings getting established. With each passing year, this area will become even more inviting.

Additional work is still to come which will include a walkway over the edge of the old canal as well as interpretive displays. Even now, you can see these elements all starting to come together and the overall result so far is excellent.
The Dundas Eco Park Campaign is the Hamilton component of the ambitious Cootes to Escarpment Eco Park campaign, which ultimately will include lands from the waters edge to the Niagara escarpment and will include over 3000 acres in total, a protected and diverse greenspace to be enjoyed for generations.

Guaranteed to become another “must visit” destination in Dundas, we will continue to monitor this exciting project and look forward to seeing it progress.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Book Launch

Although this had been a great year for hiking, kayaking and generally enjoying the outdoors, it has been a challenge for me to keep up with my blog. No real good reason other than time outside is not time in front of a computer. Couple that with a busy year filled with family and work, lots of projects on the go and other priorities and the year really has been a blur.

One project that I am thrilled about however, is the development of a new book which I have written on the Dundas Valley. This book entitled Exploring the Dundas Valley is now complete and a launch event is coming up.

I have collaborated with 3 other Dundas area writers who all have books ready to go and we have sceduled the event for Nov 13. Details are below.

You are invited to join us and I hope you can. This evening promises to be lots of fun and the more the merrier.

Come on out. I look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Getting Clear on an Overcast Day

There is just something about the beach, some sort of unexplainable connection that I love. I don’t know if it is the water, the rhythm of the waves or the open space but it draws us, and holds us there as though hypnotized.

Being the only person there, a lone soul on a deserted shore, just intensifies those feelings and that sense of connection.
This morning I walked the beach alone, a light drizzle falling. This beautiful section of Burlington, Ontario's South Beach is gorgeous and has become a recent favorite of mine. The only sound competing with the waves was a few seagulls going about their business. I followed a group of nervous sandpipers, lost in my thoughts, the rainy surroundings invoking in me a very weird and difficult to explain sense of both melancholy and joy.

It definitely feels like fall today, I thought and with that, the fading of yet another summer that has gone by much too quickly. Is this the way it’s meant to be? The perception at least, that time speeds up as we age, that our youth is replaced by responsibilities and commitments and sunrises become a luxury to be enjoyed only sporadically?
Heading further up the beach, I came across two older gentleman, clad in shiny black wetsuits, returning to shore from an open water swim. An admirable pursuit, I thought and maybe a way to hang on to summer as well as to vitality just a little bit longer.

I turned back and started walking in the direction from where I came. I noticed my footprints in the sand, the only ones on the beach. An interesting metaphor I thought. Life, a journey, spent interacting and intertwined with others, but ultimately travelled alone. Perhaps this was the source of my mixed emotion, each step representing an exciting step forward but also one less step to look forward to.
I veered away from the beach, but paused to look back one more time. Soon my footsteps would be washed away by the rain and the water, all signs of my visit erased.

Maybe this is also a part of our connection to the water, I thought. Clarity and a cleansing of the mind. Feeling now more joy than melancholy, I walked away, perhaps a little wiser, and I smiled.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rain Lake Reflections - Algonquin Park

It’s the silence mainly, that keeps me returning to this amazing place. Perhaps it's the magnitude of the park also, with stunning views in every direction. Being larger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island, the more than 1500 lakes and endless miles of trails in Algonquin Park make for countless possibilities.
It could also be the wildlife sightings, the chance to catch a glimpse of a bear or moose or shiver at the distant howling of a wolf pack. It could be the night skies and it's brightness, making me feel small and insignificant under its extreme vastness. It could be any combination of these factors but I am convinced that, for me anyway, it’s the silence.

Complete, and only interrupted by the welcome and equally soul-lifting cry of the loons, it seems to totally surround, wrapping your being in a cocoon of calm, deafening in its nothingness.
After a day of travel by car, by foot and by canoe, we set up our camp on an island located at the eastern edge of Rain Lake. Eight of us: brothers, sons, cousins and nephews connected by blood and by our mutual love of this place.

After setting up, I leave the group and paddle off alone, circling to the other side of the island. The water is perfectly still and flat like a mirror, but for the wake of my passage. The reflections of the clouds and the trees are extraordinarily vivid, another world viewed upside down in the black still water.

I stop paddling and take it all in. The silence is complete, perfect and soul-cleansing. I exhale fully and am at peace. I remind myself to soak it in and burn this scene to memory.
After some time, I reluctantly return to my group, joining in the laughter, the camaraderie and the fun. This family is a blessing to me and I am pleased with the knowledge that my sons will retain these memories forever.

At some point my youngest nephew says to me “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I agree. “Do you want to paddle around the island with me?” he asks. “You bet, Matt” I say, smiling. “There’s nothing I’d rather do.”

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The First Colours of Spring at Great Falls

After a long and cold winter, Spring was  enthusiastically welcomed in Waterdown Ontario last night with the lighting up of Great Falls. Thanks to Chris Ecklund and his group of volunteers from the City of Waterfalls initiative, this beautiful waterfall was seen by the many who came out, in colourful splendour.

For the first 15 minutes, the falls were lit up in red, in tribute to Sergeant Joseph Doiron, a Canadian soldier who was killed in Iraq 2 weeks ago.

After that, the colours changed to the hues of Spring.

The spring colours mixed with the significant water flow of Great Falls created a brilliant effect, very much appreciated by the many photographers and lovers of the outdoors who attended.

A job well done to the volunteers and a great way to kickstart the Spring season in this beautiful area that we call home.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter in Lasalle Park

“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder.” - Ansel Adams

Walking the quiet trails of Lasalle Park in Burlington this morning, I was struck by the simple beauty of the woods and of the waterfront area. A layer of fresh snow blanketed everything in white and the air felt crisp and clean.

Approaching the shoreline, the call of waterfowl became increasingly louder. Like a squadron of jet fighters returning from a mission, scores of swans and geese glide in precise formation into the area, joining their noisy comrades on the frozen lake.

It was neat to get off the trail and walk on the lake, a rare and unfamiliar perspective of the shoreline making my visit to a familiar destination new again.

The waterfowl called out warnings as I approached them but with patience, I was able to get very close. I stayed and enjoyed their company but eventually retreated when a large swan decided that I had overstayed my welcome.

A beautiful park made that much more striking with the impact of a fresh snowfall, I look forward to returning again soon to enjoy more magic and wonder.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

It's a New Year and the Trails are Calling

January 1, 2015. A new year, just full of promise and new possibilities, a fresh page as they say.
Like many, my thoughts turn to resolutions, goals and plans and one of mine certainly, is to devote more time to the things I love, with hiking being very near the top of that list.

With that on mind, I ventured out this morning with my always willing and eager canine companion and headed to a favourite stretch of the Bruce Trail. The trail that runs between Sherman Falls and Canterbury Falls is beautiful; rocky, hilly and picturesque with a couple of beautiful waterfalls to enjoy.

The look of the water covered in ice, surrounded by rock and the remaining fall leaves is particularly nice and I enjoyed the workout of traversing the hilly trail under grey skies and a cool wind.

The trail as it approaches Canterbury Falls provides great views of the valley below, particularly now with the trees void of their leaves.

A great trail and a fitting way to kick off 2015. Thank you for your readership and comments through this past year. Please accept my very best wishes to you for a happy and healthy new year filled with  outdoor adventures.