This section takes a look at how the hiking program of the Niagara Bruce Trail club has evolved from the occasional hike to the present day schedule of at least 7 hikes each week.
The Niagara Escarpment Trail, forerunner of the Niagara section, was officially opened in May 1964. The first recorded hike took place the day after the official opening with Bert Lowe and 5 others hiking the 42 miles, camping at Fireman’s Park and Kinsmen Park overnight.
At the first executive meeting of the Niagara Escarpment Trail Club in July 1963, they discussed the types of hikes the club could have, including all-day hikes on Sundays, 1/2–day hikes, and one overnight in winter. In the beginning the club envisioned a close relationship with the Foothills Trail Club from NY State, and there were some joint ventures with that group. More recently, the relationship has been resumed. There have also been joint hikes with groups such as the local naturalists club and camera club, as well as with other Bruce Trail clubs.
In the earlier years, there were fewer regularly scheduled hikes. In 1971, only 2 were held in October and November, and one in December. In 1972 there was an occasional evening hike, but no more than 2 regular hikes each month. In 1973-74 there were 23 hikes from September to May, ranging from 2 to 4 per month. In the winter of 1975, it was reported that 3 hikes were “weathered out” in less than a month.
In 1976, the club sponsored 3 special hikes to commemorate the centennial of St Catharines. However, there were more special hikes, including a children’s hike, cross-country skiing, a wildflower hike and a jogging hike. Other special-type hikes over the years included snowshoe hikes, and bike outings.
Regularly scheduled hikes remained at a low level in the 1980s. As recently as 1985, there was still only one hike most weeks. Occasionally, a Saturday or Sunday hike was replaced by a trail maintenance day. By 1989, the program was looking more like the current one with hikes every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday morning and night. The Wednesday morning hikes, begun in 1986, were originally described as shorter, easier, and intended for retired and older persons .They were described in one schedule as being for “the young at heart with tired feet”. Wednesday night hikes began in 1988.
The 1990s - Present Day
Alternate Hikes - Earlier, occasional hikes were labeled “alternate” on some Saturdays when the main hike was out of town or sometimes the out-of-town hike was the alternate. And in 1992, “Alternative super hikes” were organized – for example the Port-to-Port route in 2 outings and the Fort –to-Fort in 3. In 19--, a two-hour hike each Saturday morning was introduced as an alternative to the regular longer Saturday hike.
In 1997, Louise Libera organized shorter-easier hikes, presumably because the Wednesday morning ones had become no different from the Sunday hikes.
End to End - The first of the annual holiday–weekend hikes, the end-to-end of the whole Niagara section, was in 1984, with 25 hikers participating. Previously, there had been hikes labeled end to end, but they were done in pieces over several dates. In 1971, hikers could earn an end-to-end badge by participating in at least 6 of 10 scheduled hikes over the Niagara section, if they completed the rest on their own. In 2008, 96 hikers showed up, reinforcing organizer Fred Azzopardi’s hope of getting 100 someday.
The Merritthon - The 45-km Merritthon began in 1988, and the 58-km Fort to Fort in 1992 and again, the first of these was done in 3 outings. The 30-km Laura Secord began in 1992.
Out of Niagara Hikes - Over the years there have been out-of-town hikes to such locales as Letchworth State Park and Allegheny State Park in the USA as well as Algonquin Park , Crawford Lake, Forks of the Credit, Hockley and Dundas Valleys, Elora Gorge and other sections of the Bruce Trail. There were some Christmas hikes in Lewiston, N.Y. where they went to dinner after. There were several camping and hiking weekends at the Bruce Peninsula, and Alleghany , Algonquin, and Letchworth Parks, and some Thursday outings arranged to do the entire Grand Valley Trail. Some outings were “hike and dine” where they went out to eat after the hike.
Charity Hikes - “Heart hikes” at Queenston, planned as a fund raiser for Heart and Stroke organization, were run from 1995 and several years thereafter. The first of these 54 hikers raised $3000. Earlier, there had been at least one similar outing to help the Lung Association.
Hiking Process - Over the years, rules concerning hiking procedures have waxed and waned. In 1985, it was proposed that hikes be rated A, B, or C according to difficulty. Presently, all nine clubs use the same rating system showing pace and terrain for each hike.
Hike Leaders - The hiking programs could not have succeeded without Hike Leaders. From 1982 to 1992, an alternate Hike Leader was named for each hike in the schedule. Many club members have served as leaders. By 2012, most hike leaders have become certified through the Hike Ontario Hike Leader program.
Read more about Trail History