IN THE BEGINNING
Well, prior to 1970, folks followed the Radial Line electric railway that ran from Guelph to Toronto. In fact, the Rotary Club of Guelph, through the instigation of Phil Gosling of Bruce Trail fame, blazed a trail on part of it and had searched the land titles from Guelph Eastward to Crewson Corners.
In early 1970, Jill Leslie decided that a formal trail should be established towards the East from Guelph to join up with the Bruce Trail South-East of Acton. To put her plan into action, Jill wrote to the President of the Bruce Trail Association seeking advice and assistance. She took his recommendation and contacted the Caledon Hills Bruce Trail Club. At this Club's annual meeting, Jill presented her idea. As the Acton section of the Bruce Trail came under the jurisdiction of the Toronto Bruce Trail Club, the proposal was passed on to their executive.
Meanwhile, Jill called a meeting in Guelph of local residents belonging to the Bruce Trail Association. Over the next year, four meetings were held to discuss progress in obtaining landowners' consent, building of stiles and blazing the trail. By the Fall of 1971, with the help of some members of the Toronto Bruce Trail Club, and under the direction of Jim Pierce (Club President, at the time), the then-named “Radial Trail Club” had almost completed the trail to Limehouse.
By Winter of 1971, Phil Gosling encouraged the group to form a non-affiliated club and they took on a new name, the "Guelph Trail Club". At the first meeting in 1972, a tentative constitution and a preliminary budget of $100 to finish the Trail and publish the handbook was presented. The membership fee was set at $2 which included a handbook.
In June, 1972, Jill Leslie agreed to head up a study for a trail between Guelph and Preston. Through to Spring of 1973, work parties under the guidance of Jill and Mike Zerner blazed their way to Preston, so that on May 27, 1973 the Speed River Trail was officially opened by Mayor Norm Jary and Gord Chaplin, a Cambridge Alderman. And this was the year that also landed the Club's first end-to-end hike.
Growth of the Club
Since its inception, many partnerships, trail improvements, and advertising activities have continued the development of the Club’s benefits to the Community. Some of the milestones included:
Popularity of the Club continued, partly due to the increase in advertising—a new static display unit built to illustrate the Club's activities at meetings and in public display areas, a shelter and banner for outdoor event attendance, and a banner for indoor events. And of course, a website with online membership application, and hiking information was launched. The seasonal Newsletter was authored and continues today, with 3 issues per year outlining organized hikes and helpful information.
In 1998, we took on the stewardship & maintenance of the Guelph to the Grand River section of the Kissing Bridge Trailway. This added 13 important kilometers to our trail system. In addition, several new side trails (marked with blue blazes) have been established, "O.R" Side Trail (3 km long) and (Smith Side trail 4km long). The Club’s handbook has been revised several times over the years, highlighting all the sections of the 3 main trails, including side trails.
In 2014 the Club hosted a very successful Hike Ontario Summit in Guelph. This was a two-day conference to which attendees came from all the hiking clubs in Ontario.
In the spirit of exciting announcements, different types of hikes were started; including Kids’, Photo, and Bike. Trail Coordinators & Section Captains teams ensure that all parts of the trail are maintained throughout the year for safety and enjoyment. Several bridges and boardwalks have been built and rebuilt, to assist hikers with traversing creeks and wet areas on the trails. The Club actively engages in some City of Guelph community activities; for example, during the annual "Doors Open” event, we lead an historical/geological "Trails Open" hike on one of our trails close to the city boundaries.
Fun is certainly a goal that the Club perpetually strives toward. The Club's "Slide Nights", a 4-evening winter program about hikes and hiking, has morphed into "Trek and Tell". And with over 200 members supporting the Club annually, plus many more attending events and hikes along the trail ways, everyone can continue to participate in the enjoyment and safety that the Club ensures.
The archives of the Club are housed in the Archives and Special Collections area of the University of Guelph Library under the call number XR1 MS401. They consist of 10 boxes of minutes of executive meetings and Annual General Meetings, newsletters, early letters about the founding of the Club, constitutions, newspaper clippings, guidebook editions, etc., and are open to the public. Enquire on the second floor of the Library at the Archives Reading Room should you wish to view any of this material.