Part 52: 7th Street West Side Trail to Centennial Tower
Date: 19 July 2020
Start: 7th Street West Side Trail, Owen Sound
End: Centennial Tower, 9th Avenue East, Owen Sound
Distance Covered: 11.5 km
Total Distance Covered: 641.7 km
631. For the first time, we are doing two hikes on consecutive days. That’s because we are now in the vicinity of Owen Sound, and as it takes two and a half hours to drive here, as there are convenient places to stay here, and as the area is now in Stage 3 of reopening after the pandemic lockdown and welcoming tourists again, we are staying overnight at a local motel and will do hike #53 tomorrow. But as soon as we arrive in Owen Sound there is a tremendous thunderstorm, boding ill for hike #52. Soon, however, the downpour dwindles to a steady drizzle, and we set out. Today we decide to begin at the northwesternmost point of the two hikes, i.e., at what would normally be the end point of our second hike, and walk southeast. That’s because we can take advantage of early forest cover against the rain. For in spite of being only metres from suburban Owen Sound backyards, we find ourselves immediately in the dense forest of the West Rocks Conservation Area. It’s cool, damp, and slippery but far from unpleasant. As the poet said,
“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”
–Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Inversnaid,” written 1881.
632A & B. Emerging from West Rocks, we find ourselves on Concession 3 in suburban Owen Sound, the drizzle tailing off. We admire this bungalow with its neat English front garden, sporting these beautiful pink lilies.
633. Inglis Falls Road is closed to traffic for a major reconstruction project. The latest addition to my portfolio of construction and agricultural machines is this JCB 427 front-end loader, here being used to block off the road. JCB Ltd., founded in 1945 in England, is one of the world’s leading makers of such machines. “JCB” are the intials of the firm’s founder Joseph Cyril Bamford (1916-2001), and JCB is still a Bamford-family-owned firm. And so ubiquitous are these yellow monsters that “JCB” has become a colloquial expression for all such machines, and now has its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, with the illustrative quotation, “Dump trucks and JCBs are already flattening the site.” There are 22 JCB factories worldwide, but none in Canada; the nearest is in Savannah, Georgia. You can pick up a nearly new JCB 427 for about $200,000.
634. Inglis Falls is the most spectacular waterfall we have seen on the Trail so far. Though at 18 metres it’s nowhere near as high as the 30 m plunge of the Beaver River over Eugenia Falls, the Sydenham River makes a more spectacular fan-shaped cascade over the Escarpment here, especially since it has just rained heavily. This waterfall was “discovered” by Peter Inglis, a Scottish immigrant, in 1845 and by 1862 he had built a four-storey grist mill and a sawmill on opposite sides of the lip of the falls. The Inglis family closed their milling business in 1932, selling the property to Owen Sound. The last remaining mill on site burned down in 1945. Now the site is administered as a historic property by Grey Sauble Conservation Authority.
635A & B. Eastern white cedars, some of which may be 600 years old, seemingly grow out straight out of dolomitic limestone boulders at Inglis Falls. These images suggest the muscular grip of these extremely hardy trees on the rocks on which they sit.
636. An 1843 stable is all that remains of the Inglis Grist Mill that produced flour, bran, and animal feed. This small stone building is now an Escarpment Discovery Centre (currently closed). Its side wall carries an image of what the mill once looked like.
637. Inglis Falls is the southernmost point of today’s hike. As we start to turn northeast through Inglis Falls Conservation Area, we enter a paradise for fern lovers. Did you know that there’s a word for loving ferns … too much? Pteridomania, an irrational passion for pteridophytes, namely ferns and their relatives, was coined in 1855 by the novelist Charles Kingsley to refer to a kind of madness then sweeping Victorian Britain. Between about 1830 and 1890 many rare British ferns became endangered through over-collection and one writer called for “Fern Laws” to protect them. “No other single craze affected so many Victorians or such a cross-section of Society. Even the farm labourer or miner could have a collection of British ferns which he had collected in the wild and a common interest sometimes brought people of very different social backgrounds together.” See Peter D.A. Boyd, “Pteridomania – the Victorian passion for ferns”, in Antique Collecting (1993).
638. Nels Maher (1933-2005) must have been in his element here in Inglis Falls CA. The world has rather fewer pteridomaniacs these days, and most of us know little about these beautiful and ancient spore-producing vascular plants. Here’s a fern factoid: one species, Osmunda claytoniana, a.k.a. the interrupted fern, seems to defy evolution, as it has remained absolutely unchanged, even at the molecular level, for 180 million years! On the spot I vow to identify and photograph examples of the rare hart’s tongue fern and walking fern, both found in this area.
639. As the going gradually gets more difficult, we find ourselves pausing frequently to record the ever wilder vicissitudes of the Trail …
640 … over a stretch of about 4 km that, we both agree, is probably the most physically demanding length of Trail we have yet encountered, especially since it is damp and slippery after rain. It is also one of the most beautiful sections, but for obvious reasons our eyes are generally fixed on our feet. Indeed, the Bruce in the Palisades, as this area is called, is often a Trail in name only. Rather, it’s a scramble up and down a rocky talus slope under the top edge of the Escarpment, the rim separated from us by either a sheer or an overhanging wall of rock up to 30 m high.
641. And this is what the surface of that wall looks like when it overhangs.
642. Finally we emerge into civilization at the southeast edge of town. It’s been a while since we passed by a settlement of any size. The seat of Grey County, Owen Sound (pop. 21,500) is located on an inlet of Georgian Bay. This inlet was named “Owen’s Sound” in 1815 after Admiral Sir Edward William Campbell Rich Owen (1771-1849), ultimately Commander-in-Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet (1846-49). The namer was his younger brother William FitzWilliam Owen (1774-1857), also a naval officer and a notable hydrographic surveyor, who surveyed this area of the upper Great Lakes for the Royal Navy. (I’m sure young Bill realised that since he and brother Ted shared a surname, he was commemorating himself, too!) The town, now city, of Owen Sound was founded as “Sydenham” in about 1840. Since 1836 there had been a native village and reserve, Newash Ojibway, established by treaty in what is now the northwest part of the city. But in line with then current colonial practices, most of the aboriginal inhabitants were forcibly removed farther up the Bruce Peninsula in 1857. In that year, when Sydenham had a population of about 2,000, it changed its name to match that of the inlet. At the turn of the 20th century, Owen Sound was a busy port noted for drunkenness and debauchery, but thanks to an overzealous local temperance movement, it went “dry” in 1906. Alcohol could not be sold here until 1973! Owen Sound was the birthplace of WWI ace fighter pilot Billy Bishop, and has close links with artist Tom Thomson, who grew up in nearby Leith; there are museums dedicated to both men in the city.