THE NIAGARA ESCARPMENT
FROM HAMILTON TO BLUE MOUNTAIN
In part 1we covered the entry of the escarpment into Canada and followed
it around the shore of Lake Ontario and up to the Hamilton area.
In part 2 we will take its general route from Hamilton north to Georgian
Bay. This is a very diverse section
and can only be covered in a general manner highlighting the interesting
changes. Some specific areas may be
featured in other newsletter articles.
As it leaves Hamilton it circles around Dundas Valley
Conservation Area which was formed by pre-glacier erosion that cut deeply into
the escarpment. Later erosions of
the surface deposited rock and created lakes and exposing spillways.
The lower portion of the valley is part of a moraine with gravel
deposits. This area is
characterized by 1,200 hectares of Carolinian forests, a variety of slopes,
fields, cold water streams and a variety of rare plants, birds and wildlife. Just
to the north is Spencer Gorge Escarpment Valley where Spencer Creek has two
branches; one forms a small steep sided valley that penetrates the escarpment
and the other has a spur from the valley that meanders to the west.
Both have waterfalls at their heads and displays of bedrock.
The escarpment then continues
through Hamilton-Wentworth and Halton regions.
This is still part of the Greenbelt area and much of it is forest.
The south side in particular has a warmer climate resulting in uncommon
plant species. However as you approach Milton there is more large boulders and
sections of shale or limestone especially on the Milton Outier which is a
detachment of the escarpment. This is the sport enthusiast’s paradise with
numerous hiking trails up the escarpment, rock climbing at places like
Rattlesnake Point Nemo and Kelso and Golf courses around Milton.
In winter there is cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Halton area has 7 waterfalls and 12 conservation parks most of which
offer numerous hiking trails which traverse forests, valleys, wetlands meadows
and the escarpment. Lookout points
offer spectacular views of valleys, cities, towns, gorges, ravines, farms, and
Highway 401. From some of the trails you can see Guelph on the east side which
has the benefits of being close to Hamilton and on Highway 6, which is a main
route running from north to south from Owen Sound on Georgian bay to Hamilton,
and North of Guelph is the Elora River that plunges over a number of rapids and
into the Elora Gorge which features several kilometers of 80 foot cliffs,
caverns, rapids and quiet pools. From
the riverside trails and scenic outlooks there are views of the river below
where kayakers and tubers fight the rapids. Crawford Lake Conservation Area however leans more toward
education and conservation. Here
you wil find an interpretive centre, an archaeological site and a partially
reconstructed Indian Village. There are also opportunities for orienteering,
nature study and historical study.
The communities at the edge of the escarpment on the south east side grew and became industrialized quickly because of the easy access to Toronto by the major highways and go train service. As it heads north it becomes a barrier that divides the communities on the east from the ones on the west side often making it necessary for motorists to drive miles out of their way to reach the other side. As you travel north the communities become smaller and less industrialized. The town of Halton Hills is made up of a number of historic towns and villages of various sizes. As the escarpment continues north through the North Halton/Caledon Hills area and on through Peel it becomes even more diversified and is rich in history. It is the junction of two vegetation zones, the Carolinian and the Great Lakes St Lawrence, some of the more southerly regions have a mixture of both. The Credit River and its tributaries run through this portion of the escarpment creating deep stream channels rolling hills, cliffs, and moist woodlands. The escarpment splints the rivers causing them to separate and run in different directions. In some places they spill over the escarpment creating beautiful waterfalls. Just south of Caledon you will come to the Cheltenham Badlands, in this area there is no soil or
vegetation, just red clay that has formed rounded
hills and gullies. This creates a
contrast from the meadows and forests that surround it.
Some portions of the Escarpment also run through the Oak Ridges and
Oangeville moraines. All along this
stretch there a hiking trails and conservation areas and it is home to a wide
variety of animals and birds which you may see along some of the trails.
There are also escarpment outcrops around the Forks of the Credit
Provincial Park, the most outstanding is Devils Pulpit which rises 100 metres
above the valley and the upper cliff of the escarpment overhangs the lower cliff
suggesting a pulpit. It then reaches the Hills of Headwaters’ region where
five major river systems, the Nottawasaga, the Credit, the Humber, Saugeen, and
the Grand originate.
Violet Hill Channel features a minor re-entrant valley where the Boyne River
flows. Bedrock is seen where the
river has cut through the thick glacial sediment and there is a major meltwater
channel that separates the Orangeville and Singhampton Moraines. The moraines and spillways almost bury the Escarpment in some
areas and produces most of the raw materials for the many sand and gravel pits
in the area.
There is a scenic route on escarpment plan land through this area from
The Forks of the Credit Region weaving along a variety of sideroads, town lines
and Airport Road up to Violet Hill on Highway 89.
As you go through Peel and approach Dufferin County you come to Glen
Haffy Conservation Area which is parkland which is partly on escarpment land and
the rest is a portion of the Oakville Ridges Moraine.
In this area Highway nine called Broadway within Orangeville’s city
limits, bisects the escarpment allowing motorists a route from west to east.
From here it continues north through Dufferin County through Hockley
Valley and up to Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. Some features of the escarpment in
this part are; crevice caves, wind stunted white cedar, a variety of ferns
upland limestone planes and talus slopes. Activities include hiking and cross
country skiing. The route then takes you up through the Violet Hills that take
on a purple hue in the morning sunlight.
Another scenic route begins at Primrose on Highway 89 and takes you through the northern portion of Dufferin with its small villages and hamlets with old churches, businesses established in the late 1800s and in some places just signs indicating that settlements used to be there and relating a bit of their history. Along the way you will see, hills, valleys, rivers, forests, Victorian farmhouses, farmland, and pioneer cemeteries. It then continues north where it divides Simcoe and Grey Counties, through the Pretty River Valley and ski country. In this area there are number of fissure caves which has been formed by extreme temperatures forcing large blocks of rock away from the face of the escarpment and gradually shifting downward. These caves can be found from Osler Bluffs to Craigleith and throughout the Blue Mountains. Craigleith is on Highway 26 which runs between the Blue Mountains portion of the escarpment and the southern part of Georgian Bay called Nottawasaga Bay. Here evidence of the escarpment and the eroding waters that formed them are observed by the number of fossils found on the shoreline in Craigleith Provincial Park. Off shore you can oberserve the Mary Ward Shoals. All the towns, hamlets and former settlements nestled in this part of the escarpment are grouped together and are known as the Towns of the Blue Mountains.
The newest of these communities is the Village a Blue which is a popular
with stores, a chair lift, fire pit, cobblestone streets, restaurants and more.
At various times during the year they have concerts, buskers, horse-drawn
carriage rides and other special events.
The Escarpment reaches some of its highest elevation along the Simcoe
stretch giving you view of the Nottawasaga Highlands. One
of its features is Devil’s Glen Gorge which is cut deeply into the rim of the
escarpment there are open cliffs, forests, and a fast flowing cold water river
with a small area of moraine along the northwest side.
From here the terrain changes as we approach the Blue Mountains.
There are high bluffs and deep valleys featuring Ontario’s best ski
resorts. This area of the escarpment stretches from just outside Collingwood on
the east to the Municipality of Meaford on the west.
There are numerous trails, caves, areas for rock climbing, and on
Georgian Bay swimming, boating and fishing making it a year round resort area. A
big tourist attraction in the Blue Mountains is the scenic caves, they are high
in the escarpment and give wonderful views of Collingwood, Georgian Bay, and all
the surrounding area. With a
backdrop of limestone cliffs the caves go hundreds of feet down revealing
passages and rock formations from past eras.
At one point it plunges so deep that it retains snow year round.
All around are rare exotic plants.