It's a rare day when the 18.5-kilometre Tay Shore Trail is without walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers, keeping volunteer trail watchers like 82-year-old Howard Crichton busy passing out promotional literature and other education tools to trail users. 'I find it very enjoyable,' says Crichton, who was there to watch the last train go through town in 1994, and jumped at the chance to patrol a section of the trail that now follows the abandoned rail corridor. (Photo courtesy Township of Tay)

Port McNicoll, Victoria Harbour, Waubaushene benefit
as Tay Shore Trail unites community, boosts tourism

Bicyclists use it. Walkers use it. So, too, do people in wheelchairs, folks on rollerblades and Moms pushing strollers. Even residents who vowed never to step foot upon it are using it.  

That “it” is the Tay Shore Trail, a path through nature that’s become so popular that visitors to Tay Township plan their holidays around the 18.5-kilometre paved multi-use gem that’s off-limits to motorized vehicles year-round.  

And people who might have been a little hesitant to buy a cottage along what had been an abandoned rail line are now moving in, pleased that locals living in Port McNicoll, Victoria Harbour and Waubaushene — the three Tay communities linked by the multi-use trail along Georgian Bay — are signing up as ambassadors who keep watch over the trail.  

Meanwhile, other locals are arriving at the Tay municipal office to plop down money to sponsor a bench for the trail, strategically placed overlooking the bay, or to help pay for flower beds, bike racks and signs — even garbage cans.  

“This has put Tay Township on the map,” says Councillor Bill Rawson. “They’re no longer stopping at Midland. Now, people are coming to our towns and villages.”  

Rawson, who is chairman of the Tay Trail Committee, has seen the trail go from dream to reality. He was a member of the committee tasked in 2004 with the job of investigating the development of a recreational trail along the abandoned CN rail corridor. Since the trail was fully opened in 2007, the councillor says he has received countless emails from visitors from across Canada who wrote to express their appreciation for a job well done.  

“I’ve been a councillor for seven years, and in terms of positive impact, the Tay Shore Trail far outweighs anything we’ve done,” he says.  

' ... one of the Cadillacs of trails up here'

Bryan Anderson, the town’s recreation coordinator who oversees the trail, agrees it’s important, both as a tourism draw and as a way of connecting Tay’s “community of communities” along the route. “It’s been tagged as one of the Cadillacs of trails up here, so we’re pretty proud of that,” he says.  

While other communities are fighting with homeowners over the development of trails that crisscross private property, the Tay Shore Trail project was amazingly smooth. Rawson credits Tay planner Mara Burton with laying the foundation for the friendly relations that exist today.  

“People are quite pleased with how it’s worked out,” says Rawson, referring to property owners, many in Waubaushene at the trail’s eastern end, who didn’t want people traipsing past their land, fearing they would be targets of vandalism. Others didn’t like to be told to move trailers and gardens encroaching on a rail corridor that had not seen any traffic since the last train went through town on Oct. 7, 1994.  

But since the opening ceremony, Anderson says things have been “pretty good.” Even objectors are using the trail.  

The municipality has a summer employee dedicated to the Tay Shore Trail, travelling its length every day to clear up obstructions and make sure no one is cutting away shrubs or grass along the pathway. “We want to keep it natural,” Anderson says. “Our job now is to maintain it and find ways to make it even better.”

Helping the municipality do that are “trail watchers,” citizen volunteers who are responsible for educating trail users and keeping their eyes open for encroachments or other problems. They report their findings monthly, ensuring that concerns are resolved quickly.  

“I find it very enjoyable,” says Howard Crichton, an 82-year-old trail watcher who patrols the section of the Waubaushene path between Tanners Road and Pine Street.  

'Goodwill ambassadors' praised

Crichton, who has had one knee replacement — his wife, Vi, has had two, he adds — says he tries to walk his section every day, armed with a bag of goodies including trail guides and bags to ensure dog owners obey the poop-and-scoop rules, among the trail’s “etiquette” terms of use.  

Unlike the western end of the trail at the border with Midland, where the Wye Marsh and Martyrs’ Shrine attract plenty of tourists, Crichton says there’s not much to see in Waubaushene, a former lumber town. But there’s plenty of wildlife and fantastic views of Georgian Bay to go along with the area’s rich history, which Crichton loves to impart to newcomers. He has even put up his own 8 x 10 plasticized history signs along the trail, and is pleased to see people stop to read them.

“I meet a lot of interesting people out here,” he says.  

Councillor Rawson is high on people like Crichton — “the goodwill ambassadors” — who keep their eye on the trail and help promote it. The trail watchers’ efforts are one of the reasons the sponsorship program is so popular. People want to be a part of the trail, and are willing to donate money to make it better.  

“We started with the bench sponsorship program and within a month, they were all spoken for,” Rawson says. “We’re studying where we can put more without cluttering the trail. We’ve also had flower beds and trees donated on behalf of family members ... it’s bigger than we thought it would be.”  

In winter, the ungroomed trail is used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Because today’s modern snowmobiles tear up pavement, the snow machines were banned from the trail after the first winter. As a compromise, the trail was twinned to give snowmobilers their own route. “The snowmobile club paid for it — the snowmobilers are happy,” says Rawson, who adds that “growing pains” are to be expected with a project such as this.  

“Overall, it’s been fantastic,” Rawson says, adding that one of his favourite sections of the trail is on the way into Port McNicoll, where a lookout offers a gorgeous view over Hogg Bay. “There’s swans and ducks. It’s just so nice to relax and take in the view.”  

There are many great vistas and points of interest along the 18.5-kilometre trail. In fact, you could spend the entire day on the trail, visiting landmarks such as the Martyrs’ Shrine that honours the Jesuits who lived and died there more than 350 years ago, and the Wye Marsh, which is teeming with wildlife and where you can rent a bicycle.  

Not to be missed are the communities themselves, with the trail guides serving up heritage walking tours of Port McNicoll, Victoria Harbour (please see separate profiles on Port McNicoll and Victoria Harbour) and Waubaushene. And don’t forget your swimsuit — there are incredible beaches along the route. And picnic tables, too, so don’t forget the food!  

Best of all, there are now portable toilets on the trail. A Cadillac trail, indeed.  

As Crichton says: “It’s terrific!”  

MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — August 2010