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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Day 3 of the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure

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Just one of the many different beautiful spots along the shores of Lake Ontario.

I like adventure. I like to ride my bike. I like to ride it along the waterfront. So when I was asked to go on part of the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure, I couldn’t say no.

The Great Waterfront Trail Adventure (GWTA) is an 8-day, 680 km fully-supported bike tour from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border that takes riders through 41 communities (mostly) along Ontario’s waterfront. It ended July 11 in Riviere Beaudette, where riders received medals for completing the adventure. Congratulations! Riders were greeted by local dignitaries and the announcement of new signs and a kiosk marking the meeting of the Waterfront Trail and the highly acclaimed and extensive Route Verte trail system.

The GWTA partners with dozens of communities and great organizations like the Bike Train, the Ontario Power Generation, Racer Sportif and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. CIBC is the founding partner and has donated $1.25 million in support so far. A further $250,000 was announced to kick off Day 3 of the tour at Fort York. Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Peter Fonseca, was also there to help celebrate the tour. (Pictures at bottom.) Toronto’s Bike Union had an impressive showing with members volunteering for the Toronto portion of the adventure, as well as the entire ride.

Waterfront Regeneration Trust executive director and organizer of the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure Marlaine Koehler, says she was simply amazed at how the cycling community came out in support of the project. “I’ve never experienced a more supportive community showing. I am just blown away by all the amazing people who are working so hard to make this a great experience.” Koehler added that the criteria to be a volunteer – aka “yellow jersey” – to ride with the group for the entire trip, making sure people don’t get lost (or lonely if you were at the back like me) was quite rigorous, yet she still had numerous qualified applicants. There were 17 yellow shirts in total plus four hardworking core staff, who made sure we all got to where we were going with relative ease.

Koehler says she is far from being a “hardcore cyclist” and more than half of the 170-plus riders for this inaugural annual ride had never ridden the trail from end-to-end before. She was managing everything, yet clearly having a great time too. Her young daughter and sister joined her for the adventure. Riders ranged from young families (a mom hauling her 4-year-old on a tandem) to older couples (a very sweet grey-haired woman saying “you kids go ahead” to me and another rider on a hill) to cycling tourists from other countries, like one of our yellow shirts from Cleveland.

Despite all of this, I still had anxiety getting ready to ride. Although I couldn’t say no, I did hedge. I was not sure if I had what it took to do a bicycle tour like this. Here is the process I went through as a non-touring commuter city-cyclist, pre-adventure.

Excuse 1

I don’t “do” bicycle tourism! For starters, I don’t yet have a “good” bike. I am still looking for a suitable (14 or 15-inch frame) road bike or a decent hybrid that isn’t too heavy. Having a good bike is absolutely key for long rides. Since I decided to only do one day (Day 3 – from Toronto to Darlington Park) of the great adventure, Marlaine graciously offered me a loaner bike.

Excuse 2

I have nothing to wear! And, how do I carry supplies on a loaner bike with no racks? I enlisted the advice of my friend, Tanya (aka Crazy Biker Chick) who loooves long (and short) rides. She suggested many things, including that I buy a smallish Velcro top tube or handlebar bag, or borrow her camel back pack. I hit MEC where I was able to get what I needed, including the Pod Sling pack which proved perfect for carrying my light Nalgene-free water bottle, emergency snacks, sunscreen, thin long-sleeve shirt, camera and note pad. I also purchased a top tube bag and mesh-backed vest with pockets (which I did not use.)

The sun shines whenever I ride my bike, so I knew I’d need a hat and some clothing that wicked away moisture. I found my MEC cycling shorts and layered baggy cotton shorts over top. I added a sleeveless gym shirt with mesh back and was finally ready to go. (Note: It was not very far into the ride that I removed the over shorts and became “one of them”…wearing my delightfully bulky-crotched spandex shorts proudly for all to see.)

Warning: Do not skimp on good bike shorts. My cheap shorts did not serve me very well, although they were better than none. I will be investing in better shorts next time.

The GWTA also offers great trip advice here in their FAQ section.

Key notes

Everything is measured in kilometers on tour.

“Sweep” is the person or people who stay near the back to keep stragglers from getting lost.

“Broom truck” is another name for the support vehicle, which may take occasionally take what the sweep gathers up to the next stop.

Final Disclaimer

I was only there for one day. I took the GO Train home from Oshawa Sunday night, which was very easy to do, as Donald Wiedman is showing with his successful semi-guided GO-by-bike to Ajax promotion this year.

And sure, I love adventure, but I would NEVER have ridden to any of these places on my own without guidance and support. So in a way, you could say this is a great adventure that is especially great for the risk averse.

In short, there was no shortage of good vibes, water, food, wildlife, heritage walking tours and more… oh, and did I mention massage pit stops?

If you are looking for memorable experiences along the shores of Lake Ontario in both rural and urban settings with fit people who love bikes, then this is your trip. There’s more to tell… so let’s count down the 88 kilometers I was able to complete. I made my way east on the little loaner bike that could through familiar territory along the Martin Goodman Trail and the Harbourfront to the Beaches to a place where many downtown cyclists fear to tread: Scarberia!


Up and down, back and forth. From the lake back up to Kingston Road, back toward the lake and back up to Kingston Road again…

Panting heavily in the hot sun, and starting to worry, I angrily wondered to myself: Why can’t we just go straight? And, why can’t I see any water? Where are the bluffs? Don’t get me wrong, the streets in this part of Scarborough are smooth and wide and the houses are nice with well-manicured lawns, but this winding bit of the tour seems willy-nilly.

Paper signs on wooden stakes supplemented the far and few between official waterfront trail signs (an adorable green and blue logo of a bird, leaf and fish on usually a white circular plaque) and yellow shirts acting as sweeps helped us find our way. It did really feel like an adventure, but my strong legs were already starting to feel the burn.

(Later, I overheard that the “racer dudes” at the front of the pack went straight across Kingston road the whole way through Scarborough. “Right on!” I thought. Kingston Road is not good for cycling because of the speed of traffic and lack of trees or shade, but with a large group and support truck I would think it would be no problem.)

A waterfront trail through Scarborough is clearly long overdue. While we wait for an actual waterfront trail — along the lake’s shore — the very least the city and province could do it fund and help implement a clearly signed (and less winding and hilly) trail through Scarborough.

Who could possibly object to something as benign as few good-looking plaques, not to mention bragging rights (and suitable real estate rates) to property on the scenic Waterfront Trail?

Our first rest stop was 38 km in, at the beguiling Guildwood Inn and park. Starbucks baristas were there with some raisin bran muffins, coffee, water, juice and a woman from the MS Society thoughtfully brought an air pump.

Next stop: PICKERING

This is where we got massages. I don’t really have much else to say, except… MASSAGES!!!

Then we were greeted with cheering, police and pylons at the Millennium Square in Pickering.

Then a short bit of bumpy ride along the wooden boardwalk took us back to the path and around the OPG Pickering Nuclear plant and the Pickering Wind Turbine. OPG also provided a refreshment stop. That is about 50 klicks down. It’s really nice along here. I begin to really look forward to lunch — about 5 more km to go.


Ajax was the best stop of the day for me, due in large part to the freakin’ fabulous food provided for free and, of course, the scenic beauty of the lake shore here. Chatting with curious park-goers was fun too. The Rotary Park is very popular.

The locally-catered food was probably the highlight of the day for me. I have two regrets. I could not eat more, and that I skipped the homemade chocolate graham cracker crust lemon tart dessert. For the rest of the day I was regaled with taunting tales of the extreme deliciousness of the tart. I swear I will never skip the opportunity to eat handmade lemon tart again. The main course consisted of various gourmet salads (arugula with corn and snow peas and the blue-ribbon potato salad) corn on the cob, ribs, chicken, refried beans, lots of fruit and a delicious vegetarian option that I did not get to try.

The next 10 or so kms along the path were really beautiful, smooth and right beside the lake. Ajax has done a nice job on their waterfront.

It was easy riding… until we came to Halls road (I believe) and started heading north. Instead of going up to the busy, gravel-shouldered main road (Bayly St., I think) we were invited to “cut through” a freshly Bobcat-mowed path in a farmer’s field into what appeared to be a little bird watching spot.

This path had me saying out loud, “You have got to be kidding me?” But, we did it….

….and ended up here. Chipmunks with death wishes scooted under wheel at regular intervals throughout the woods on these lovely hard-packed dirt paths. You can see one of the ad hoc waterfront sign posts below, too.

We still had to go up to the main road to connect back to the Whitby Shores Greenway, which took us through a handsome residential area along the water and behind the Whitby Mental Health Centre into Port Whitby.


Here we were greeted by friendly local historians with apples, water and ice at the Rowe House Museum — the beautifully restored home of the first mayor of Whitby, Captain James Rowe.

That is 66 km. (It seems much shorter in writing than it did riding.)

We are now on our way to the final destination, passing through the Second Marsh Wildlife Conservatory Area and GM HQ to….


As we, the final few, showed up at the Day 3 end point one rider was heading back out… for a run!?! I could not contain my incredulity. I mean, COME ON! Is 88 km of biking in the sun not enough exercise for one day? I was informed that she was likely one of the triatheletes on the tour. Okay fine, I thought, it makes sense that this is what triatheletes do on vacation.

Oshawa treated two-wheeled campers to a BBQ dinner at 6:30 with live acoustic music (and eagerly-received shower facilities) on the massive campgrounds.

At the campground I met Kate Harries who is writing a very thorough and enjoyable daily blog about her experiences. She has some superb pictures too, so check it out! You can also join the Facebook group.

There were rumblings that next year the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure may go stateside, touring around the lake and ending back in Niagara, where riders could take the train back to Toronto along with Bike Train participants.

If you want to sign up for next year (which is sure to sell out fast) click here.

Tip: Do not recline after riding all day, unless you don’t plan on getting back up again.

The start of the day (below) at historic Fort York in Toronto. They fired the cannon when we took off!



  1. I’m almost getting terribly jealous…my biking reality remains bumpy, frustrating, somewhat risky Bloor St…
    We clearly need to have more longer-haul/touring routes including in and out of the City, where it seems the safest/best way of getting through the malled and sadly sprawled suburbs is to drive or somehow take transit.
    A possible hint for an easier Scarborough trip may be to do some of the Rouge trail from the Guildwood GO through the UofT Scarborough Campus to the Lakefront again, though maybe it’s better to get onto Lawrence near Meadowvale – I don’t know.

  2. Lacking money for a real vacation, I did something like this last year: riding to about Cobourg where mechanical difficulties and the 95F heat wore me down.

    The worst part of my journey was beyond Bowmanville where heavy construction traffic and loose gravel gave me a scar I still have. The trail there goes through a right-of-way in the middle of a creepy “gated” community and most of the trail markers in the area were missing. The highlight a little farther around Wesleyville because of the beautiful scenery and wildflowers everywhere.

    What surprised me most is there isn’t really a trail. While the Pickering and Ajax section is well defined mostly you find yourself riding on county roads checking the map frequently.

  3. It isn’t just Caronto the Carrupt, it’s Ontcario too! We are able to pump/give hundreds of Millions to prop up the mobile furnace makers, and ever-expanding road systems, and health care costs from the cars, but a safe route for longer haul biking?…
    go to Europe, or maybe Quebec.

  4. Great article and good ideas too! Not sure if I am up to a 3 day event but I could not agree more with your statement

    “A waterfront trail through Scarborough is clearly long overdue. While we wait for an actual waterfront trail — along the lake’s shore — the very least the city and province could do it fund and help implement a clearly signed (and less winding and hilly) trail through Scarborough.”

    Where DO you go after you reach the, finally reopened, Harris Filtration Plant at the eastern end of the Beaches?

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience and the great pictures as well – makes me think about dusting off the two wheeler and getting down to the waterfront.

  6. i like to take my bike on the GO train to Rouge Hill, where the waterfront trail is right by the tracks. from there it’s an easy (and fairly continuous) ride east through the more scenic parts of the trail, and you get to skip scarborough completely.

  7. Hamish> don’t hold your breath regarding bike lanes.It isn’t going to happen.I asked Gord Perks about Bloor street and he sheepishly admitted it just isn’t on the city agenda.Maybe a few kilometers but thats about it.When I approached David Miller about the bike lane situation he only assured me that Gord Perks had nothing to do with the city putting the issue to rest and not installing bike lanes on Bloor street.The bike lane issue is being reserved for the 2010 election so that the NDP candidates will have a recycled promise that they can fool the voters with again.A promise that they can fulfill “after” you vote them back in…….then they can again use it again for the next election in 2014.

  8. Last years ride was pretty phenomenal to experience. I am already excited about this years ride. Only two months to go!

    Great blog, thanks for sharing your experience.



  9. I went last year, and it was hot. It is a fully supported tour, in that if you are done, you can catch a ride. I loved it. Even though it was hard.
    Great article. I did only a third of the tour, but the experience of it, brought me back for another year. Eastern Ontario, is truly what makes the waterfront trail, an amazing experience.
    Loved it,
    Great blog.