Edward Wedler says Kentville had some of the most pleasant walking trails between Bridgetown and Truro.  – Jennifer Hoegg

Connecting the roads to Georgetown

By Jennifer Hoegg

Three Annapolis County residents wanted to walk from Yarmouth to the Georgetown Conference in eastern P.E.I. along former railway lines, but they found a few barriers in the way.

Edward Wedler, Bob Maher and Heather Stewart attended a one-day Road to Georgetown Conference in Lawrencetown in the spring.

“The emphasis was to gather up stories from Annapolis County region and then be able to take these stories to Georgetown in October,” Maher said.  “ We decided if we’re going to be authentic, we needed to walk the talk  – hence the walk.”

“We originally wanted to do it as one long stretch together but what we found the infrastructure is really not set up to do that,” Edward Wedler said “You don’t want to travel off the trail to get to a (bed and breakfast) and to camp for that long a time and not have access to where to buy food  – it became unwalkable.”

Other parts of the trail, his companions Bob Maher and Heather Stewart discovered, had gaps where there was no way to cross streams or rivers.

Despite the obstacles, the trio was determined to immerse themselves in the geography of the rural communities, so they walked most of the way from Yarmouth to Truro here and there on day trips – leapfrogging from where they parked one car to another.

“There are three ways we travelled: we travelled on the abandoned railroad tracks, we travelled on roadways, we travelled on trails,” Wedler said. “There wasn’t one consistent ways to get from one to the other.

“We are travelling when it’s rainy and when it’s hot – we’re travelling in all sorts of conditions,” Wedler noted. “I’ve travelled in downpours which makes the trip twice as long because you’re skirting around puddles. After a while you say ‘well I’m already wet so you just walk through the water.”

Stewart and Maher did most of the Yarmouth to Bridgetown walk; Wedler handled Bridgetown to Truro. (As of Sept. 27, the three were still finalizing planning the Truro to Caribou and Wood Islands to Georgetown for the Oct. 3 conference).

Connections lost 

Wedler estimated the walk about two-and-a-half weeks of seven to eight hour days on the trail. The walking was easier in some places than others, they found. Few rest spots were provided aside from in Kentville, for instance, and between Windsor and Truro he had to walk Route 236 instead of the grown-over trails.

“There are some towns really look after the people who pass through the town and some places haven’t pulled up the railroad tracks and created a trail,” he observed.

“We chose the core of the route to go along the abandoned railway track,” Maher said, “but that varies with jurisdictions. Yarmouth County has done a fantastic job fro doing the trail from one county border to the other side.”

Clare was also good, Maher said, Digby lacked signage and Annapolis was missing bridges.

From Wolfville to Windsor,  “you have to bushwhack,” he added.

The trails tell a story of lost economic connections, as well as lost physical connections, Stewart noted.

“When we went through the Yarmouth and Clare trail they had real amazing pictures of the old railway stations, huge storyboards,” she said.

“All the little vignettes in those communities told a story of lost commerce.”

These forested trails, she noted, were commercial areas in the first half of the 20th century.

“The line that we’re (looking at) going on from Pictou up to Oxford is now the TransCanada trail. It used to be CP short line: they had enough coastal commerce that they needed an additional short line long the North Shore,” Stewart pointed out.

‘They had a little more economic activity.”

Sharing trails is also about connecting different user groups.

Along the rail line there are communities where who uses the trail – walker, cyclists, horseback riders and ATV riders  – has been contentious, Wedler said,  but he realized the benefit of shared use on his hike.

“I felt the ATV is actually something good to have because they’re the people that most use the trail and help it stay open,” he said. “There are noise issues that can be solved.

“I changed my views a little bit.”

Places and people along the trail 

Walking the trails “raises your awareness of how the rural landscape is being used from an immersion point of view,” Maher said. “What is going on in this landscape?”

“If you’re walking it forces you to see the landscape and therefore you run into serendipitous things,” he added. “People you meet en route and facilities – things like mink farms –  you might never see.

While there weren’t as many people travelling the formal and informal trails along the old railway lines as they expected, they did collect stories to share.

On one day’s hike, Maher and Stewart came across “the duck toller lady” – a well-known dog breeder.

“We bumped into these people and you realize there are people making a livelihood in these locations,” Maher said.

Wedler met a young filmmaker he describes as a “next generation entrepreneur.

“He purchased a farm and also wants to set up an international film studio in the Valley.

“I’ve met people from all over the place. They have come from all over the place,”

Wedler said. “I would like to see us identify the under the radar people – identify them and then find ways you can support them and nurture them and have them be able to bring wealth into the area.”

Looking down the road 

“I think the whole idea is a good one from the experience of having done it and see what sort of issues and problems and challenges there are,” Wedler said, but he would like to see improved infrastructure.

The region could be a tourist destination for trekkers, he said, and he would like to see Nova Scotia’s College of Geographic Sciences help plan for it.

“In Spain they have the El Camino (Santiago),” Wedler noted. “We are looking at maybe a business model that would fit that European template. Would this work in Nova Scotia?”

He proposes future Georgetown conferences build such a walk into the conference in creative ways – a relay, maybe, that incorporated storytelling into the experience.

“Imagine people walking around Atlantic Canada, gathering stories and connecting with rural,” Wedler said.  “So they’re looking towards Georgetown, while getting healthy in the process.”