Lessons from Afar: Public Trails 1

On November 13 and 14, 2011, Amelia and I toured western Ontario. Two towns we visited provided examples of how we can do better in Mississippi Mills.

St. Mary's is a place I know well. My father grew up there. I spent many weeks there in summers as a lad in the 50s and 60s visiting my grandparents.

In those days, St. Mary's had an east-west rail line that crossed the Thames River on a high trestle and a north-south line that ended in the middle of town at a flour mill (now gone). The rail company closed both lines in the late 1980s.

The Town bought both right-of-ways within the town limits and turned them into trails. The southbound line follows the Thames River; so the town saved river access for the public. The trestle on the east-west line provides fabulous views and is part of a town-wide trail system. The Town raised a significant amount of the funds for the rail trails from local donations. Each plank on the trestle's deck has someone's name on a metal tag.
Trail built on the trestle
Architecturally, St. Mary's is stunning. Most of the commercial core, including a 19th century opera house (now apartments), is built of limestone. Older residential areas seem partial to yellow brick. At 6500 residents, the town has just 2000 more than when I was a boy. Growth has been modest and respectful of built and cultural heritage. New buildings, such as a Tim Horton's on the main drag, are built to fit in.

St. Mary's straddles the confluence of the Thames River and Trout Creek. Besides the rail trail along the Thames, parks grace both sides of Trout Creek. Unlike Almonte, where very little waterfront is public, St. Mary's makes it a priority.

We also took a drive through Goderich. The town, population 8000, sits on a high bluff overlooking Lake Huron. At the base of the bluff, most of the prime lakeshore is a park with lovely beaches. The top of the bluff is also park. Clearly, public space has a higher priority than developers' profits.

It is too late to save public access to most of our waterfront but a public rail trail through Mississippi Mills is still possible.


Wendy LeBlanc said...

Thank you, Shaun, for the information about St. Mary's railway bridge. We hope to accomplish the same when the time comes.
Here in Carleton Place, Council has committed to acquiring property along our beautiful Mississippi River, and although not all properties are joined, they are accessible by the public. One of these days I plan to work out the percentage of waterfront property that is publicly owned as it is considerable. We are proud of this vision and the work we have undertaken to make it happen. Mayor Wendy LeBlanc

Shaun J. McLaughlin said...

Good vision. Thanks, Mayor.