At the side of the road, hidden from view and not far from home, one of Canada’s jewels.
- Transit: By bike or bus from Niagara Falls; by car. If you felt like it you could even hike or jog along the Niagara Parkway. There are lots of things to see along the way.
- Cost: None.
- Crowds: There were about a dozen people on a Sunday afternoon in summer. See Environmental Impact note.
- Attractions: Some of Canada’s rarest old growth forest, hiking, panoramic views, photography.
- Accessibility: To get down in the Glen you have to be able to do lots of stairs and tolerate a somewhat dizzying stairway. The hike below varies from flat to steep, but it’s mostly manicured. Swimming would be a terrible, terrible mistake.
- Environmental Impact: The existence of the Glen as a conservation area preserves rare forest, but that forest is also in danger of being trampled by the people who come to see it. Please don’t wander off the paths.
I’m at the top of the gorge again, looking out over the shimmering aquamarine Niagara River, one of Canada’s most southern boundaries. When I was last here spring was just starting, the earliest flowers were newly opened. Four months later we’re in the height of summer and the gorge is blanketed in green. I’m eager to see the changes below, the differences between seasons.
Straight away I’m struck by the quiet, again, the seeming impossibility that somewhere that breathes such peace could be so close to the lights and clamour around Niagara Falls. But rather than feeling like it doesn’t belong here, this old forest brings into relief the artificiality of everything human-made nearby. Even the spraypainted path markers feel jarring.
In the spring the trees of the Glen held their leaves back and let the light through. It was warmer down here than at the top of the escarpment, giving every growing thing here a head start. Now the canopy feels like a solar-powered awning over the forest – it’s cooler down here, and still; the forest is powered by and protected from the sun in these long, hot days.
The results are often spectacular. I’ve come here, in part, to see a grove of some of the tallest hardwood trees in Canada – tulip trees that I’ve read reach forty metres up to the sky.
I take a picture of one of the lowest branches on one of them. The distance meter on my zoom lens tells me it’s more than seventeen metres in the air.
For a while, I just let that sink in. I take another shot, just to confirm.
This wonderful tree is right next to the path. I press a hand against it and look up, watching its distant leaves undulate in a far-away breeze.
My husband has long since moved on. I let myself have a moment here, a long, rich moment of thanks for everything that had to go right over the past two hundred years to leave this sliver of Canada’s original southern forest intact.
Not far away my other half is having his own moment with the aquamarine river. Like liquid turquoise with opal sprays, it whisks past – powered by the unseen and monumental force of Niagara Falls – at a speed that screams “Danger!”
Here our sylvan reverie is interrupted by the brief appearance of speed boats that zip tourists around the nearby whirlpool in the Niagara River. Screams of excitement briefly overcome the roar of the engines and the thunderous water, and are gone again in a moment.
We continue northward, a steep drop to the river always to our right. Maples and oaks cling to the edge and lean out over the water. To the left, the forest towers.
From the path I catch a glimpse of a gargantuan tulip tree, the broadest-trunked and, I think, tallest tree I’ll see in the Glen. Nothing around it compares. I crane my whole body to try to see the top. It’s highest branches vanish in the sunlight.
We loop away from the water and wind among great boulders that have fallen from the escarpment that we climbed down to arrive in the Glen. Their sheer sides are spotted with mosses and lichen, their tops with ferns, flowers, even shrubs.
We come across an ash and a maple intertwined. I know from my favourite book about old-growth forests that trees in these places will communicate, even feed each other from their roots. I can’t help but fancy that these two are lovers.
The light here, as in other old forests I’ve been to, is magical. The views from the path of the undisturbed forest are like galleries of green – dreams of a time before people took the saw to the whole province.
Ascending the wall of the gorge feels like coming back to the modern world. We begin to meet more people. Markings are more frequent.
As we climb back up the precipitous steel mesh stairwell, we’re treated to panoramic vistas of the forest we’ve explored. At the top of the escarpment on either side of the river are fences, buildings, signs of our era. But below, many layers of rock down, as though preserved long ago and unearthed by erosion, is the Niagara Glen.
It spreads out before us, a place out of time.