Trans Canada Trail, the T'Railway, Mile Zero to Bowring Park
The Trans Canada Trail
The Trans Canada Trail project was initiated in 1992 to celebrate Canada's 125th anniversary. The concept was a trail running from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific ocean, and the Arctic ocean, connecting every province and territory. Currently over 20,000 kilometers long the trail is 86% complete, and will be just under 24,000 kilometers when fully connected.
The trail begins at the Mile Zero (Km Zero) marker in front of the Railway Coastal Museum in St. John's Newfoundland, an appropriate starting point as the entire 883 kms of the trail in this province is built on the old railway bed (the railway in Newfoundland was shut down, and the tracks dismantled in 1988) and is the reason that the Newfoundland portion of the trail is called the T'Railway. There is also an entrance to the trail just west of the museum, directly from Water Street, that passes through a pavilion that marks the beginning of the trail. Inside is some basic information about the trail as well as the names of corporate and private donors that contributed to the construction of the trail.
The first 4km incorporates two sections of the Waterford River Walk, part of the Grand Concourse System Arboretum Walk: The Waterford River Walk (east section), and the Waterford River Walk (central section).
The Waterford River Walk (east section)
An easy 1.6 km of mostly level grade trail of compacted gravel the Waterford River Walk (east section) begins at the old Riverhead Railway Station, which now serves as the Railway Coastal Museum. Though the railway began operations in Newfoundland in 1882 the Riverhead Railway station on Water Street didn't come into service until 1903 when the end of the line was moved from the East End Station. If planning to begin a walk from this location it is well worth taking some extra time before starting out to tour the museum and enjoy the grounds
The first floor of the old station has been converted to house the museum, while retaining much of its historic charm. The admission wicket looks like an old time train ticket window, the old platform is still visible, and there is a diorama depicting a 1940's passenger car. There is also a museum gift shop where one can pick up a souvenir of the visit or a unique gift for someone else. All proceeds from gift shop sales go back into the museum to fund its programs and operations. The upper two floors house the City of St. John's archives and records, and the social rooms of the CN pensioners.
Outside on the beautiful grounds, just to the east of the main entrance, is the Maid of Industry Monument. It was built at the turn of the twentieth century by a stonemason for the Reid Newfoundland Railway, named Charlie Henderson, as a tribute to his co-workers. It was carved from a gatepost of the old Anglican Cathedral, after the structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892.
Following the trail from the monument to the west end of the building the visitor will find the "railway yard". This area houses a restored engine and passenger cars from the era of the 1940's (passenger service in Newfoundland ceased in 1969), as well as a restored trolley car, sitting on preserved sections of the old railway track. There are also grassy areas and park benches where one can sit and absorb the sites and sounds of the City, the historic ambience of the area, the hustle and bustle of the St. John's Harbour and dock yard, or perhaps just enjoy a light picnic lunch before continuing onto the trail.
Exiting the museum grounds the trail leads the walker to the Helen Fogwill Porter Footbridge (dedicated to the popular Newfoundland writer and activist), which crosses over to the south side of the Waterford River. Looking east from the bridge affords the walker an interesting view of the St. John's Harbour dry dock, and to the west a stunning view of the river.
Starting along the trail the walker will first see to the left what remains of the old CN freight shed. This building was much larger when the railway was in operation and served as a warehouse and shipping facility for goods coming into and going out from St. John's on the train. To the right, along the bank of the river, are a number of interpretive signs providing information on the flora and fauna of the area.
Though the trail runs right along the south side of the city it does not feel like being in the city but like strolling through an urban park, where the walker is treated to tree lined pathways, historic views of the city, the sight of beautiful south side heritage homes, and the sounds of chirping birds and babbling brooks. There are also plenty of benches along the way where one can stop for a rest, or just take in all the breathtaking sights and sounds.
The first such bench the walker will come to faces the city at Patrick street and provides a spectacular view of the Historic and impressive St. Patrick's Church, which was built in 1881 with stone quarried from the city's south side.
The trail continues on along the Waterford River to where it crosses Blackhead Road (which provides access from Water Street to the Southside Road and Shea Heights) at the once mostly Irish part of town known as Riverhead. This is also the area that was once the broad, shallow Waterford Estuary, with it's shorelines being Water Street to the North and the Southside Road to the south. The industrialization of this area in the 19th and 20th centuries saw the gradual filling in of the estuary, narrowing the Waterford River to what it is today. Some of the old factory buildings still exist today, though used for different purposes, and many foundations of old mills and industry buildings, long since torn down, can still be seen along the rivers edge.
Once across Blackhead road one must walk along about 100 meters of the Southside road before the trail takes up again at a little rest area that had been the original Mile 0 for the Trans Canada Trail before it was moved to water street.
From here the trail continues another 800m to Symes Bridge, where the east section of the Waterford River Trail ends and the Central section begins on the other side. At this Junction between the two sections of the trail one will find the Cyril J. Abery Memorial park, which provides a pleasant little rest area to take a break before continuing the walk.
The Waterford River Walk (central section)
The central section of the Waterford River Walk runs from the west side of Symes Bridge 2.3km to Bowering Park, following along side the Waterford river. Trees line the trail on both sides for most of the way, in places creating a canopy of leaf covered branches that give the effect of walking through a lush living tunnel. Aside from the occasional clearing where the trail crosses a roadway one almost has the feeling of strolling through the countryside. At the corner of one such road crossing is the site of what was formerly the Valley Car Shop, where CN used to perform repairs and maintenance on the trains. There is an interesting story board giving some history of the railway and the Valley car shop.
Past the old Valley Car shop the trail crosses over Waterford Lane, which provides access to both the Southside Road and Waterford bridge Road, before continuing its tree lined way westward approximately 1km to where it enters Bowring Park. Along the way, in addition to the alluring scenery, the walker will encounter the monument to the Newfoundland Rangers, and the beautiful and historic Corpus Christi Church on Waterford Bridge Road.
The first four kilometers of the Trans Canada Trail, the T'Railway, from the Railway Coastal Museum to Bowring Park, is a breathtakingly beautiful and historically significant stroll through the Waterford Valley area of St. John's, and should be on the to do list of every walker and hiker. With a little planning and the cooperation of the weather one could easily make a fantastic day of it, enjoying the museum at the east end of the journey and the park on the west.
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© 2016 Stephen Barnes