Sometimes there's a travel adventure right in your own backyard. This is such a story.
Visit the lovely town of Grimsby nestled between the majestic lush landscapes of the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario, and you will discover that the town's website descriptor "it's a little slice of heaven here on earth" is correct.
Grimsby, population 26,000, was formally established in 1816 and named after a post office in the town of Lincolnshire, England. However, it was first settled in 1787 by a small group of Empire Loyalist families escaping the American Revolution. It was then known as The Forty for the river that winds through the centre of town (and still does). It's called The Forty because it is 40 miles (64 kilometres) from the Niagara River to the east.
I started my visit with a walk in the woods at the 50 hectare (123 acre)
Beamer Conservation Area
atop the Niagara Escarpment on Ridge Road West. This is one of the most extensive escarpment forests in the Niagara Region. Before my hike, I climbed an observation tower at the edge of the forest and joined a group of birders who were looking for birds of prey. Until the end of May, (daylight hours) eagles, hawks, falcons, and vultures can be seen flying over the area during their spring migration. A ten-minute walk from the tower along a stone (wheel chair accessible) pathway took me to the edge of the escarpment where I saw a superb view of Grimsby. On a clearer day, I could have seen the outline of Toronto across Lake Ontario. Along one trail I discovered
Forty Mile Creek cascading over two large waterfalls. If this doesn't make you feel alive, nothing will.
As you go back down Mountain Road into the heart of the town, you will discover a place where you can go to church, shoot billiards and have a drink - all at the same time. Different Strokes is a bar-eatery-billiard hall, found inside a deconsecrated Baptist church built in 1913.
Next door, there is an interesting 19th century gothic revival-style home that now has been converted into the 13th Mountain Street Restaurant.
Nearby at 6 Murray Street is the Grimsby Museum where you learn about the settlement of the community by
United Empire Loyalists. Outside the museum is the town's original bell which, "for 75 years it tolled out the old year and rang in the new one." Pick up a walking map showing the history of many of the town's heritage homes. One such home is Nelles Manor, a Georgian-style home at 126 Main Street W. once occupied by Col. Robert Nelles. It's considered the oldest (circa 1780) inhabited dwelling between Niagara and Kingston.
Lovers of antiques and pottery will like the Forks Road Pottery and Antique Store housed inside a former 1855 Great Western Railway Station. Even though the station is closed, trains that travels between Toronto and Niagara still stops here four times a day. The shop at 53 Ontario Street is a cozy place to relive the past.
Before you leave Grimsby you have to visit Historic Grimsby Beach along Lake Street at the east end of town. This is where Canada's first Chautauqua community was established in 1859 as a Methodist Church camp.
Chautauqua communities were popular in the 19th century. It was where families could gather during the summer months to learn about religion, culture and entertainment. Many of the original cottages at Grimsby Beach have been restored and are now occupied throughout the year. On Temple Lane, Auditorium Circle and Grand Avenue you'll see colourfully painted red, yellow, pink and blue "doll houses" with gingerbread trim.
From 1910 to the 40's this was also the location of a popular park where you could go swimming, later take a carousel ride, go to a motion picture theatre or ride a Figure 8 Roller Coaster. When the wind is blowing right off Lake Ontario if you listen real hard, you can still hear the voices of those who long ago frolicked along this shore.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.
If you go