Under a hot summer sun Monday, a crowd of donors gathered to celebrate the official launch of a fundraising campaign to restore the Upper Canada Heritage Trail.
Just two weeks into the campaign, and with a basket full of cheques collected yesterday, the total was already nearing the $15,000 mark, with a goal of $150,000.
The work began in 2017, when the NOTL Canada Sesquicentennial Committee identified improvements and enhancements to the trail as a priority, and a meaningful legacy for the residents and future generations of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The committee decided it was a multi-year project, and in 2019, the Heritage Trail Committee was formed to preserve and rehabilitate the 10 kilometres, which follows the path historic Erie and Ontario Railroad along Concession 1. This was one of the first railroads in the province and was used for more than 100 years.
“When you start a project like this, you don’t know what the response will be,” said Rick Meloen, chair of the committee.
“But the community has been very supportive,” he told the crowd of donors. “You being here is testimony to that.”
He said work on the trail “started out as a dream, two years ago, during our country’s 150th celebrations — a dream that this trail could be a legacy project, a trail that can be of benefit to the health of our residents, a trail that can enable us to enjoy the beauty of Niagara’s countryside and a trail that stands as a witness to our town’s history.”
The railroad men and women also had a dream, he said, that the railroad would bring prosperity to this community.
It’s been a “bit of a bumpy ride,” he said, “but today, no one can deny the prosperity of this town.”
The trail borders private and agricultural properties, vineyards and orchards, and there has been some “push-back from the agricultural community. Farmers have some concerns about the revitalization of the trail — and rightly so, says Meloen.
“There is a fear of people trespassing on farmland, and that’s a legitimate concern. We have to put up proper signage indicating it’s private property, no trespassing, and don’t pick the fruit.”
There are a few minor issues of encroachment by private property owners on the trail, but they are being dealt with, he said.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero told the crowd how important the trail is as people move toward a healthier lifestyle, “and as a permanent part of our lives.”
She encouraged donations to restore the trail, which belongs to the Town, not only because of ownership, “but because people have put their blood, sweat and tears into preserving it, into declaring it heritage, and into keeping it for all of us.”
The 20-metre wide trail requires a more permanent and durable surface, sections have become inaccessible, and some culverts need replacing. The portion between Line 9 and York Road needs substantial work.
Signs have been made up for the entrance at King and John Streets and at East and West Line to indicate the progress of the fundraising campaign.
Donations can be dropped off at the town hall, and cheques can be made out to the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, with Heritage Trail indicated on the memo portion of cheques, and mailed to Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1593 Four Mile Creek Road, PO Box 100, Virgil, ON L0S 1T0.
Donations over $25 will receive a charitable donation tax receipt from the Town. Contributions over $1,000 will be recognized publicly.