The biodiversity among the bird population is also significant, with orioles, blue herons, bald eagles and osprey standing out. Southwestern Ontario has Canada’s most diverse eco-system in terms of trees, plants, animals and birds. Half of all of Canada’s bird species can be found here. A wide range of mammals lives here as well, from badgers, white-tailed deer, foxes and coyotes to beavers, otters and minks.
Victorian architecture in Paris, Ontario
Jamie put the area into context and explained that it has historically been fairly thinly populated, and the surrounding countryside is mostly used for agricultural purposes. I also learned that the Grand River is a designated heritage river due to its historic significance. Our river guide explained that for more than 200 years, people of different backgrounds have lived together here in harmony: from the early Iroquois settlers who came here in the late 1700s after the American Revolution, to the Mennonites in the upper Grand River near Elora and St. Jacobs, the Scottish settlers of Fergus, the German immigrant populations of Kitchener and Waterloo, and the residents of Brantford, most of whom are of English heritage, the human history of this area is diverse as well.
Historic architecture in Paris
The fall colours were just starting to come in during this early October weekend, and we enjoyed the quiet tranquility of the Grand River. Jamie pointed out the primitive plaster mining shafts in the riverbank which have been abandoned for more than 150 years now. Ospreys were soaring high overhead on this beautiful day.
The fall colours are starting to come in
We slowly floated by local sights such as the remains of the corduroy road, a timber log roadway that was used more than a century ago to transport the plaster alongside the river. Another major sight is Sarah’s Island, a long island that is named after a native woman who made her home here during the summer months for many years until she passed away in the late 1990s. We also passed underneath the bridges of Highway 403, a fairly recently constructed highway that finally made this region more accessible to travelers from Toronto, Detroit and Buffalo.
Highway 403 made this area more accessible
After about two hours we had finally reached our destination, the Brant Conservation Area, where our local tourist expert Melissa picked us up. We thanked Jamie for this interesting and informative journey down the historic Grand River. Chilled to the bone, Melissa took us to a local café in Brantford called Blue Dog Coffee Roasters.
Blue Dog Coffee Roasters in Brantford: time for lunch!
We finally warmed up with a nice lunch and Megan, one of the café’s employees, took me on a tour. The menu features a wide variety of breakfasts while the lunch and dinner selections include various salads, grilled panini sandwiches and a fresh selection of daily soups. The most stunning feature in this historic structure is the oversize portrait of a blue dog on a red background, depicting the owner’s favourite pet. Megan even showed me the upstairs meeting room which is made available for meetings to local groups free of charge.
The portrait of the Blue Dog which gave the café its name
Now strengthened by a nice lunch we continued our explorations to the historic Dufferin Avenue neighbourhood which features an impressive collection of Victorian-era mansions, many of which overlook the Grand River Valley. In the late 1800s Brantford became Canada’s third largest manufacturing centre, and the wealth of the local industrialist families can be seen in the imposing architecture in this city.
The former Cockshutt mansion – now the Glenhyrst Art Gallery
During the sunny afternoon we made one more stop at the Glenhurst Art Gallery and Gardens, originally a 1920s mansion owned by one of Brantford’s industrialist families. In 1957 Edmund Cockshutt, of the Cockshutt Plough Company, bequeathed his estate to the City of Brantford which created an impressive gallery and sculpture garden. We had already toured the mansion a couple of days ago on a very rainy day and enjoyed the architecture and art collections. Today, on this gorgeous sunny fall day, I finally had a chance to take in the scenic gardens of this complex which is often used for weddings and special events.
The sculpture garden of the Glenhyrst Art Gallery
Finally, we ended our adventures in Brantford with a phenomenal lookout over the Grand River Valley from the Brantford Golf and Country Club. Our two-and-a-half days in Brantford had come to an end and I could not believe how much we had seen and experienced. I realized that this mid-size town about an hour from Toronto offered a wide range of things to see and do. It had been the perfect destination for a weekend getaway.
A great view over the Grand River Valley