The other day, I was describing my Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto journey to someone, and lamenting how COVID-19 is cutting into my ability to do something similar this year. It seems like it was a million years ago that I did that walk, yet it was only last autumn.
Since we are (fingers crossed) slowly moving towards easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, and part of that recent easing includes the re-opening of some Niagara-area wineries for tastings, I thought it would be helpful to jot down where I stayed on my journey and where I had meals. If you are able to get out of Toronto, you might want to check out these places yourself.
If I were younger, I might have considered camping for at least some of my walk, in particular along the Bruce. If I had done that, I’d have had to stealth camp, because there’s no official overnight camping allowed in the various parks and conservation areas that the Bruce and Waterfront Trails cross.
Stealth camping means walking till dusk, setting up your tent and crawling in, and then waking at dawn to strike camp and get going before anyone comes along. Lots of Bruce Trail through hikers do it, and as long as you are discrete and respectful of private property, you can usually get through unmolested. Still, doing so would have meant carrying a tent, sleeping bag, etc. and that would have added 2-3 kg to my pack, plus extra food, and it would also have meant walking for longer days, dawn to dusk. I wanted the trip to be challenging, but I just couldn’t take the thought of it being that challenging.
Instead I opted for comfort. My muscles would be aching after a long day, so the thought of a nice hot shower each evening outweighed the thought of seeing if I could rough it. I picked all of these spots based on proximity to my route, more than anything else, but that said all of them were great.
- Shaw Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Great little place, a little bit off the main touristing stretch of Picton Street and yet only a few minutes walk away, and more importantly for me, just a few hundred meters from Fort George where I started my journey
- Stone Mill Inn, St. Catherines
- A converted warehouse property only a few hundred meters off the Bruce Trail, with welcoming staff, quiet, well-appointed rooms, and for me, HOT SHOWERS!
- Jordan House, Jordan
- One of the oldest taverns in Jordan, now with several rooms as well that are managed by the Inn on the Twenty. Simple yet close to the Bruce Trail and the bonus of a fab breakfast at the Inn
- Crown Ridge B&B, Grimsby
- A comfy B&B on the outskirts of Grimsby and literally across the road from the Bruce, where I had a large room with a balcony deck – it was great going to sleep to the sounds of crickets
- Waterfront Hotel, Burlington
- A clean, modern, mid-range hotel right on the Waterfront Trail by Spencer Smith Park in downtown Burlington
- Waterside Inn, Port Credit
- Another clean, modern, mid-range hotel right on the Waterfront Trail, this time beside the harbour in Port Credit
My basic plan, since I was staying at hotels, was to eat a hearty, healthy breakfast each day and a good dinner at night. That way, during the day on the Trail I could munch on snacks like dried sausages, dried fruit, an apple or orange, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and energy bars. When I’m working hard I don’t want a big meal anyway, and this meant I could have a snack at each rest break and keep my energy levels up.
The breakfast part worked out as I had planned, though the Inn on the Twenty where I ate after staying at Jordan House only served breakfast at 0800, so I lost a bit of trail time. Other than that, I really appreciated being able to fuel up in comfort each morning – instant coffee and oatmeal on the trail can’t compare to fresh fruit and a good strong cup of morning brew.
Similarly, being able to have a hot meal at the end of the day, and also I confess a good glass of wine, was a reward to myself. If you can’t earn your comforts and enjoy them, well, what’s the point? A good burger versus freeze-dried chili – what choice is that?
- Treadwell, Niagara-on-the-Lake
- A farm-to-table restaurant, they work with local Niagara-area farmers and producers to make memorable meals. Their sommelier is excellent and their selection of local wines means you can try stuff you’d never find on your own. It was a great way to get ready for my big walk.
- Zees Grill, Niagara-on-the-Lake
- We had breakfast there, as it’s attached to the Shaw Club Hotel. We were served outside on the veranda, and it was a lovely soft first-day-of-autumn morning.
- Jonny Rocco’s Italian Grill, St. Catherines
- This restaurant is attached to the Stone Mill Inn, which was just as well since my feet were tired and stiff after day 1 on the Trail. It’s a casual place with homemade Italian dishes, and their make-your-own-pasta was really tasty. I had penne, marinara sauce, fresh spinach, and flor di latte cheese. That’s how you carb-load for another day on the trail.
- Cora’s, St. Catherines
- This breakfast chain has a franchise on Tremont Road, where the Bruce climbs the escarpment, so you’re just meters from the Trail. I ate there the morning of Day 2, and got a big plate of eggs, toast, and fried potatoes with coffee for under $10. There are many locations around Canada and they’re a great option if you’re tired of Tim Hortons.
- Jordan House Tavern, Jordan
- It’s a pub, and it’s got all the pub good things you’d expect. The food is fresh and prepared in-house, so the burger and salad I had were made from high quality local ingredients, and the beer was a local micro-brew called Bench IPA.
- The Martini House, Burlington
- I took my parents there since we’d connected for the evening as I was passing through Burlington. This restaurant is a favourite of my in-laws, though I guess it’s quieter when they go there for lunch than it was in the evening. The food’s pretty good – I had a fab vegetarian dish and the wine list is simple with some good value wines.
- Tim Hortons
- If you don’t know what a Tim’s is, then where have you been? While they are predictable, they’re everywhere, convenient, clean, and good value. Plus you get the bonus of listening in on the regulars that seem to congregate in every Tims I’ve ever been in.
Let’s hope that COVID-19 stays under control. Please do your part by respecting the advice of public health authorities. Together we’ll get through this, and back to normal.