This history will focus particularly on the vision of the founders of the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association Inc., Patricia Lawson and Jack Goering, as well as those who followed in their hiking steps to develop and maintain the Ganaraska Trail.
Credit for the idea of a hiking trail to head north from Lake Ontario at Port Hope is given to Harry Gadd, President of the Willow Beach Field Naturalists (WBFN) in the early 1960’s. The group was looking for access to unspoiled countryside in Northumberland County for naturalists to bird watch and explore the natural environment. Group member Jack Goering took up this project after Harry became ill. Jack began to study maps of possible routes for the trail. Harry had proposed one which ended at Rice Lake, about 50 kilometres north of Port Hope, but Jack had bigger ideas. Another trail in southwestern Ontario provided inspiration.
Beginning in 1959 Ray Lowes and Robert Bateman of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now Ontario Nature) had the vision of a public footpath to span the entire Niagara Escarpment. Eventually this resulted in the establishment of the Bruce Trail in 1967. In March of that year, with the Bruce Trail in its infancy, Secretary Ray Lowes was invited to address the monthly meeting of Willow Beach Field Naturalists. Pat Lawson was President with Jack Goering as a member of the Executive. Following Mr. Lowes presentation there was hesitancy from some members when asked to consider the development of a trail in this part of Ontario. After all, the group was small with less than 20 active members and the task was large. Pat’s powers of persuasion led to a decision to start a 15 to 20 km trail from Port Hope to Campbellcroft where, she enthused, “others will take it from there”. Jack suggested a plan to follow the abandoned Midland Railway line which had operated from 1858 to 1893. It cut through a very scenic and historic section of the Ganaraska River watershed. It iss worth noting that Pat also asked at that meeting that members help to save the wolf population in Southern Ontario. Her interests in the natural environment went beyond hiking.
These early developments speak to both Pat and Jack’s strengths and why they were a good team. Jack had a background in engineering, loved to hike and was very good with technical issues such as mapping and route planning. Pat was a born organizer and passionate advocate for the environment. It has been said that it was just about impossible to say “No” to Pat.
The Willow Beach Field Naturalists decided to take up the development of the trail as a 1967 Centennial Project.
As Pat had suggested, others did step forward to help. She and Jack spearheaded talking to landowners along the proposed route and marking trail with the assistance of other naturalists. 40 kms of trail had been blazed by May 1967. A decision was made to form the Ganaraska Trail Association (GTA and later renamed the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association Inc.) and to sell annual memberships for $2.
In December 1967, the first meeting of the GTA was held at the Lawson home in Port Hope. 17 members were present including representatives from Lindsay, Peterborough, Millbrook, Port Hope and Cobourg. A motion was passed to extend the trail to Lindsay. Various groups assumed responsibility to blaze and maintain trail sections, a practice which continues to the present.
The official opening of the Ganaraska Hiking Trail was held April 21, 1968. There was a variety of hikes that day of 8, 16 and 25 kms, all ending on a railway bridge on the 10th Line in Port Hope (Ward 2) where the opening ceremony took place. Ray Lowes cut the ribbon with President Jack Goering looking on. 300 people attended including 75 hikers from the Bruce Trail Association (now the Bruce Trail Conservancy). Following the ceremony, they hiked an additional 6 kms to the Kennedy Farm for a pancake festival. Writer Scott Young, who lived in the area, lamented in the Globe newspaper that the only thing that restrained him from joining the opening walk was that it never went anywhere near a pub.
Jack Goering left notes describing later developments. In 1969 a decision was taken to extend the trail to meet the Bruce Trail at Glen Huron, south of Collingwood. Following a 1970 meeting with people from Barrie, Orillia, Midland, Wasaga Beach and Port Hope, these 5 Clubs were established. Midland was referred to as the Mission section. It is worth noting that in 1973 Jack wrote a proposal on behalf of the Association to stop the city of Toronto from landfilling 6 million tons of municipal waste in our region. The plan was eventually defeated due to resistance by many groups. Once again, the concerns of the Ganaraska Trail Association and its founders extended beyond hiking.
Along the way there were significant challenges faced by the Association. In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Ganaraska Trail was incomplete and divided into two large unconnected areas. An immense amount of work was needed and it was unclear if the human and financial resources were available. At the Association 1983 AGM a motion was presented to dissolve the organization and donate all funds to the Bruce Trail Association. The motion was defeated and a new group of enthusiastic volunteers was elected to the Board.
There remained a large unexplored section, roughly between Bobcageon and Orillia. Newly elected President Paul McCreath proposed the use of snowmobiles to develop the trail. Canoeing, hiking and camping were also used to map the trail in the Wilderness section which is now part of the QEWII Wildlands Provincial Park. In later developments the Wilderness section was hiked end-to-end for the first time in 1990 and in 1992 the first organized series of end-to-end hikes of the entire Ganaraska Trail took place.
Over the years the Ganaraska Hiking Trail has seen continual growth and change as members strive to make improvements such as moving it off roads whenever possible. The 500 km plus trail is quite an accomplishment by hundreds of volunteers giving thousands of hours to their local Club and to the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association.
Founders Patricia Lawson and Jack Goering both passed away in June 2016. Pat was 87; Jack was 92. Their lives exemplified vision and dedication, fun and a great work ethic. It is doubtful that they knew how their 1967 dream would be accomplished. However, they were always confident that good things happen when people come together.