Part 2: Woodend to Brock University
Date: Wednesday 11 April 2018
Start: Woodend Conservation Area
End: Glenridge Avenue, Brock University
Distance covered: 12.8 km
Total distance covered: 25.3 km
14. Given the very cool temperature today (only 5C when we started out), it’s surprising that the first wild creature we come across in Woodend is this lively common garter snake. Here are two things about this reptile I didn’t know: 1. Its saliva is slightly poisonous, though its bite is not seriously harmful to humans; and 2. In the spring, the first male garter snake to emerge from hibernation releases a female pheromone to delude his rivals into thinking he’s a female ready for mating. Then once all the guys are milling around outside looking for the non-existent gal, our sneaky hero quietly returns to the burrow and mates with as many sleepy females as he can. Can this be the origin of the well-known British proverb, “The early worm catches the bird”?
15. One of the joys of walking the Niagara Escarpment is getting close to geology in action. (Not too close: one wouldn’t want to be around when this bus-size slab fell from above.) The Escarpment still exists today only because its softer strata like shale are protected by a hard cap of dolomitic limestone. But when rainwater and other erosive agents get at those softer rocks they crumble, undermining the cap. So the Escarpment wears away backwards. At Niagara Falls, the accelerated rate of retreat caused by all that falling water has been just under 1 metre per year or 11.4 km over the past 12,300 years. The Falls are getting closer to Lake Erie by the minute!
16. Now we’re in an area of more interest to the industrial archaeologist than the geologist. This stretch of derelict waterway is part of the Third Welland Canal (completed 1887), itself an attempt to improve on the First (1829) and Second (1845) versions. The aim of the Canal builders, of course, was to provide a waterway for shipping that, bypassing the unnavigable Falls, offered a smooth passage through the Niagara Peninsula between Lakes Ontario and Erie. But the Escarpment was still in the way!
17. Here a Trail blaze is painted on what must surely be an ancient concrete mooring bollard.
18. Soon we transition from archaeology to engineering. What replaced the Third Canal, too narrow for modern shipping, was the Fourth and current incarnation, a.k.a. the Welland Ship Canal (opened 1932). It’s 43.5 km long and is a crucial part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, as it allows ships up to 225.5 m long and 23.7 m wide to sail between Port Weller on Lake Ontario and Port Colborne on Lake Erie. A ship takes on average about 11 hours to navigate the length of the Welland Ship Canal. Ahead of us looms a tall steel structure …
19. … Bridge 5, a standard-truss vertical lift bridge that carries Glendale Avenue across the Canal. It was opened in 1928, and it’s an impressive structure in pretty good condition for its age. Local drivers and pedestrians, however, no doubt find Bridge 5 an annoyance, as while it’s up the Canal cannot be crossed at this point. As for us Bruce hikers, we’re ambivalent: disappointed not to see the bridge slowly raised 36.6 m in the air so a huge ship can slide under it; but pleased that we can cross without having to wait or take a lengthy detour.
20. Lake Erie is 99.5 m higher than Lake Ontario, so the Welland Ship Canal needs locks, eight of them in all. (There were 40 on the First Canal.) What we see looking south from the lift bridge is the entrance to the Twin-Flight Locks 4, 5, and 6. These three locks in close sequence allow two ships at once to soar in different directions over the giant 42.5 m step of the Niagara Escarpment. A CN railroad bridge runs over the top of the entrance to Lock 4.
21. Here’s a final view of the Glendale Avenue Lift Bridge from the west side of the Canal looking north.
22. Later the Trail crosses one of the remaining (partially reconstructed) locks on the Second Welland Canal in Mountain Locks Park, St. Catherines. This Canal, which at this point lies to the west of the current one, was dug by hand. The Second Canal allowed boats up to 750 tons through; the current Canal can accommodate ships up to 32,000 tons.
23. This waymark at the exit to Mountain Locks Park is one of the more confusing set of directional signals that we have so far encountered!
24. Now we find ourselves on property owned by Brock University. The only university in the Niagara region, it was named after Major-General Sir Isaac Brock (1769-1812; that’s his silhouette on the sign). Brock is considered the Hero of Upper Canada for his actions in leading the defence of the British colony against American attack in the War of 1812, during which he was fatally wounded. Brock University opened with 127 students in 1964; it currently has 18,700 of them (rather more than when Nick taught a course there 38 years ago.) We do wonder what “Passive Use” signifies, and hope our use of the Bruce Trail here isn’t considered “Active” enough to offend the university authorities!
25. It’s always a relief to find the car parked where we left it! However, Mike’s look says, “You’re not getting into my nice clean vehicle with those filthy shoes on.”