Protect, Connect and Celebrate…and Ride
Canada’s Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River
July 2008 was the inaugural Great Waterfront Trail Adventure or GWTA. Then, it was an 8 day, 720 km, cycling holiday from Niagara to the Quebec border along the entire Trail. Hosted by the Waterfront Regeneration Trust (WRT) in partnership with communities and First Nations, it was designed to celebrate the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, showcase communities, and fulfill the Trail’s tourism potential. But, like the Trail itself, the GWTA has become so much more.
The GWTA is fun; it inspires an appreciation of the waterfront’s rich natural and cultural heritage; and a gratitude for the legacy work transforming it–making it clean, green, accessible, connected, diverse, affordable, useable, open and attractive. Participants experience what works and see where we need to do better.
The Waterfront Regeneration Trust has leveraged feedback from participants to build support for significant improvements to the Trail, for example:
- Signing an interim route in eastern Toronto;
- Constructing a new trail in west Whitby that connected the Trail to two provincially significant wetlands and took it off a busy regional road;
- Resurfacing 38km of trail along the St. Lawrence River;
- Extension of the St. Lawrence River trail to meet Hwy 2’s cycling lanes at the western terminus eliminating a confusing and dangerous crossing.
- Expansions–After three tours along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, participants began to call for the Trail to expand to the next Great Lake, Lake Erie, and Lake Huron. There have been 5 major expansions since 2012, making the Trail 3,600 km from Quebec to Prince Township, west of Sault Ste. Marie, where it touches Lake Superior. Work to expand along Lake Superior is well underway.
After 15 years, the GWTA has elevated the public’s awareness of the Trail and is building Ontario’s reputation as a premier cycle tourism destination.
The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail is a fantastic walking and cycling facility. However, the WRT chose cycling as the signature awareness event because it was a practical way that we could give people a sense of the scope of the work and the power of connecting these spaces. As early as 2002, our research indicated that cyclists viewed the Trail as a tourism attraction and that they represented an attractive market for Trail communities.