A group of volunteers is looking to create a single multi-use pathway that runs the entire 300 kilometre length of the Grand River.

It would run from the headwaters in the Grey County Highlands, through Waterloo region, Brantford, Six Nations to where the river empties into Lake Erie. 

The idea relies on the riverside trails that already exist in many of the communities nestled in the bends and elbows of the Grand, such as the Rotary Riverside Trail in Haldimand County or the Walter Bean Trail, which runs through all three of Waterloo region's cities.

Joy O'Donnel, Grand River trails project

Joy O'Donnell is one of the volunteers looking to create a single multi-use pathway that runs the entire length of the Grand River. (Grand River Financial)

"We're just trying to link them all together for one holistic trail experience," said Joy O'Donnell, a Brantford-based financial planner and one of the many volunteers on the project's informal steering committee.

O'Donnell said the committee includes representatives from any organization the project would affect, including recreation groups, the local tourism and hospitality industry, indigenous groups and government officials. 

Boon for tourism

The idea, O'Donnell said, would turn a day's outing into something more.

"More like a week-long vacation," she said. "People can start at headwaters and canoe or bike down, maybe a kayaking experience. They could spend a few days in one area, learn the history and the culture of the area and continue on down to the next location either through a bed and breakfast or camping."  

O'Donnell couldn't provide a cost, saying the idea is in its early stages, but she argues it's mostly a matter of connecting the dots. 

"There's not a lot of trails to build. There might be a few missing links," she said. "It's just a matter of linking that up, finishing up the north-end to Dundalk and connecting with the TransCanada trail."

Bald eagle at Wilkes Dam in Brantford by Anca Gaston

The Grand River Trail project hopes to leverage the watershed's natural beauty and history as an economic and cultural engine for all 30-plus communities along the river's banks. (Anca Gaston/Provided by Grand River Conservation Authority)

Geopolitics a challenge

"Ultimately once that's linked up, then marketing can commence and we're looking at bringing in tourism," she said. 

The challenge of the project lies in the sheer size of the sprawling Grand River, which, at 300 kilometres, is southwestern Ontario's longest and crosses dozens of jurisdictional boundaries, including 30-plus municipalities and two First Nations. 

So far, the group has agreements in principle with the largest communities, including Waterloo region, its three cities, as well as Brantford and Brant County. 

"We should have 50 per cent of the area covered and 80 per cent of the population covered by the end of May," O'Donnell said. "That's a good sign."


  • An earlier version of this article stated that the Grand River was the longest river in Ontario, when in fact it is the longest river in southwestern Ontario. The longest river in Ontario is the Ottawa River at 1,271 km.
    Mar 16, 2017 4:58 AM ET