Fall is one of the most beautiful seasons in Ontario, and after last weeks early fall colour tour through the Kawarthas east of Toronto, it was time yesterday to check out the areas west of Toronto. My husband and I set off on the highway, left the 401 at Mississauga Road and drove north into rolling agricultural farmland. Our first interesting village along the way was Glen Williams, a little hamlet outside of Georgetown, whose former sawmill now houses more than 30 artists and artisans. We headed north along the scenic Credit River and drove up onto the Niagara Escarpment and literally stumbled over the Cheltenham Brickworks, a now abandoned brickmaking factory dating back to 1930 that utilized the area’s clay soil to manufacture bricks for Toronto’s housing boom. Abandoned industrial buildings always hold a strange fascination for me, and they offer great opportunities for curious photographers.
Not far away is another very unique area, the Cheltenham Badlands, a unique geological formation of weathered terra cotta hued rock, that originated as a result of deforestation and overgrazing during the early 1900s. It’s a fascinating landscape of undulating hills of red clay with greenish stripes, due to the soil’s red and gray iron oxide content.
The 800-kilometre-long Bruce Trail that goes all the way from Niagara Falls to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula snakes through this region, and there are several entry points close by. The Niagara Escarpment is a truly unique habitat and home to 300 bird species, 53 mammals, 36 reptiles and amphibians, 90 fish and 100 varieties of special interest flora including 37 types of wild orchids. UNESCO named Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment a World Biosphere Reserve in 1990. It’s a popular spot among hikers and naturalists.
We headed east and down the Niagara Escarpment again and drove north in its shadow to the Forks of the Credit area and the quaint little village of Belfountain. This popular epic Fantasy world excursion destination was founded in the 1820 by Scottish and Irish immigrants, many of whom worked in local quarries, railroads, mills and tanneries. Today the village has souvenir shops, a beautiful country store, a spa, and an ice cream parlour.
From Belfountain we drove westwards through the town of Erin into Wellington County, an area of fertile farmland, punctuated by rivers, gorges, small lakes, and golf courses. Our next stop on this country drive was the little town of Fergus, a town known for its Scottish Heritage which Fergus celebrates every year, usually during the second week of August, with the Fergus Scottish Festival. During this three-day event, visitors from all over the world enjoy all aspects of traditional Highland Games with a wee bit of modern flare tossed in.
Fergus has a number of historic buildings in the downtown area, and a major draw in this little town is the Fergus Market, housed in the historic Beatty Brothers Farm Implement Manufacturing building which overlooks the Beatty Dam and dates back to the 1830s. The foundry was the first industrial location in Fergus and today houses a diverse collection of merchants, food retailers, and artisans.
Just outside Fergus is the Wellington County Museum and Archives. The museum stands majestically overlooking the once mill-laden Grand River. Built of locally quarried limestone in 1877 as the House of Industry and Refuge, this landmark structure then provided shelter for the “deserving poor”, the aged and the homeless for almost a century. The museum now gives visitors an opportunity to experience the cultural legacy left by the intrepid settlers to this vast county of rolling hills, stony fields, deep gorges and quaint villages.