The East Is Red …

24 September 2015 – Or at least rouge. If approached from downtown Toronto.

Which is exactly what the Tuesday Walking Society does, this exuberantly beautiful fall Tuesday. (One day short of official fall, but who’s counting?)

The perfect day to revisit — after a 16-month gap, or so — Rouge Beach Park. So-named because it is at the mouth of the Rouge River; in turn so-named, back in the early 18th c., by French explorers struck by the red clay in its riverbanks.

Today this is the south end of Rouge Park (+40 square km., stretching north to beyond Hwy 407), and noted among other things for its magnificent wetlands — described in its promotional literature, not just as the biggest marshland in Toronto, but also “the best.”

These swans seem happy enough.

swans in the Rouge Beach Park wetlands

Phyllis & I stand there, woefully ignorant, but appreciative and at least able to distinguish swans from egrets, and ducks from geese. We even know about “GBH”! That’s thanks to the very patient, very helpful birding ladies we met right here a year ago spring, who taught us the slang for Great Blue Heron, and much more besides.

We plan to walk farther east along the Waterfront Trail, on the far side of the Rouge River, but first explore a bit along the lakeshore back west toward the city. Rolling waves, slight breeze, a marine tang in the air — and even one hit of street art.

Commissioned, I soon realize, but full of punch & sass for all that.

clubhouse back wall, at mouth of the Rouge River

We also walk the water’s edge along the river’s mouth for a bit, marvelling at all the bird tracks in the firm wet sand and the piles of feather-rubble all about. Enthusiastic groomers, these swans, but they don’t exactly tidy up after themselves.

one isolated e.g. of all the preened feathers lying around

We pass quite close to some Canada geese as we walk along. They give no signs of alarm, indeed show no interest whatsoever, so we simply walk quietly & keep moving. Different story with a grooming swan. Swans for all their beauty are hissy, irritable creatures, I have always thought, and this one raises his (her?) head to fix us with a beady stare. No fools we, we back off.

Never mind, there’s plenty more shoreline to be had, and a very handsome view on eastward. The cluster of white structures in the distance makes a satisfying resting point for the eye — even when you know it is a nuclear power generating station!

view east from mouth of the Rouge

Now we backtrack, to cross the Rouge via a pretty pedestrian bridge that angles over the river mouth on a sturdy white pillar. Parallel to it, but out of frame in this next shot, a railway bridge. Not pretty, but striking in an industrial-geometry sort of way.

pedestrian bridge across the Rouge

I’ve already carried on about the shaggy mad beauty of late-summer growth. Now I’m doing it again. Because — just look — it really is terrific. But what wouldn’t be, on such a sparkling day?

view over Lake Ontario, from First Nations Trail, part of Pickering Waterfront Trail

This is a delightful stretch of the Waterfront Trail, up on the bluffs, great views over the water, great sense of being lost in nature even though in fact the Trail here is practically ribbon-wide in most places, with the railway track running close on the northern side.

I keep forgetting about the scope of the Waterfront Trail; I reduce it to the stretch that snakes its way across lakefront Toronto.

Coming elsewhere, even somewhere as close as this next municipality of Pickering, reminds me what an achievement it is: 1,600 km. total along the Canadian shores of lakes Ontario, Erie and St. Clair, plus the Niagara, Detroit and St. Lawrence rivers, linking 75 communities and more than 405 parks and natural areas. I am again wowed, and grateful.

We slow our pace to read a sign that we can see has been posted regularly all along the luxuriant meadows that stretch between trail and cliff-edge.

posted  frequently along the trail

I had no idea of this kind of parkland management; how interesting, how sophisticated. As we walk on, we pass parks employees implementing the program. One machine levels the existing plant life (though some stands, e.g. of Staghorn sumach trees, are left); the next turns the remain stalks into the soil beneath. Several hours later, when we again pass this same spot, it too is bare.

We walk as far east as Frenchman’s Bay, with Pickering proper lying to the north, and then up the western shore of this sizeable bay before doubling back west. Occasionally the Trail takes us along stretches of city street. Most homes reflect their close relationship with the water — beach chairs, canoes, nautical garden froo-fraw.

One home thinks horses instead.

garden swing by Frenchman's Bay

The rubber-tire garden swing variety. I’m not sure it is actually “swingable,” if you follow me, but I must add it is very sturdily attached to a great tall tree. Either way, what fun!

Back we go, the return trip seeming so much shorter the way return trips always do — though also yielding some views we missed when going the other way, also a characteristic of return trips.

At Rouge Beach Park, I stand a moment under the railway bridge for a last look down the sandbars along the river’s western shore. People laughing, strolling, fishing; a couple, each carrying what appears to be one half of a snap-it-together kayak.

Then I hear a soaring voice. Contralto in range and singing opera, I think.

I finally pick out the woman, move closer, begin to distinguish some sounds, and refine my guess to Chinese opera. Not that I have any idea! It just sounds very formal, very traditional — I am quite confident that she is not boppin’ some Chinese equivalent of a show tune.

Her voice is good, her pleasure evident, and I am delighted to be here, at this moment. And it is only a moment — her friends catch up & she turns to talk with them instead.

An hour or so later, another musical gift. This time it floats above the ambient clatter as I stand on the Davisville subway station platform, waiting for a southbound train.

flautist on the Davisville subway platform

An urban Pan, as skilled, and as abosrbed in his music as the lady back in Rouge Beach Park.

How lucky I am, to have heard them both.

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  1. Wonderful tour, and a pleasant surprise with the music!!

  2. Looks like a fine walk!

  3. What a delightful walk!

  4. Love the Rouge! Haven’t walked it for years, something to plan for next year maybe? Thanks for taking me back. 😉

    • It’s really stunning. Next we hope to get east of Frenchman’s Bay — but that’s a long way to drive just to start a walk!


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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