One of the things we loved about moving from Toronto to Paris was the proximity of nature to our new home. We live a five minute walk to one of the entrances to Barker’s Bush, an expanse of forested hiking and biking trails. Now, unthinkably, part of that beautiful natural land is being developed for houses, so we wanted to capture it the way we want to remember it.
We would venture to say most people in Paris have walked through Barker’s Bush, yet it’s a place that is shrouded in relative obscurity. Newcomers seem to happen upon it accidentally and fall in love with it long before they know its name. It is gifted with the loveliest golden hour of light, huge canopies of trees, gurgling sounds as it follows the river. Have you ever noticed how different forests have different sounds? Some whistle, some creak; this one babbles quietly along.
When our 11-year-old and 9-year-old nieces visit from Florida, they pretend it is a magical forest full of fawns and wood-elves, characters borrowed from the passages of Chronicles of Narnia which we read at bedtime. Pro tip: C.S. Lewis provides excellent material to engage the imagination when you are three quarters of the way through a hike, when legs are tired, mouths are parched, and kids are prone to whining!
Last winter, our own little girl was convinced (with some help from us) that the holes in the snow from melting icicles were fairy homes. This summer, the swaths of berries growing along the paths are fairy food. We look forward to our girls growing up with more of this magic in their lives.
The bush follows the Nith River, winding down around trees and farmland. There are entrances to the forest through Lions Park or off Broadway via a dirt lot south of the train tracks. But it turns out that much of Barker’s is privately owned. We had no idea. It makes sense now; we always wondered why it wasn’t better signposted, which appears to be for liability reasons. “Trespassing” has generally been accepted for many years though, and the trails are busy. When we take long walks we nearly always see cyclists, fellow hikers and ATVers.
Recently, we were stunned to see photos pop up on Facebook showing a portion of the land deforested.
We read residents’ reactions and searched for more information poring over articles from seven years ago breaking the story and covering the public outcry. Much is still unclear about this recent development, but we’ve read that the land was priced at 9.2 million dollars in 2009 and has passed hands to the books of an out-of-town developer with other housing estates in Paris, Losani Homes.
It’s a shame to see changes happening to Paris that detract from one of the large reasons we moved here. But we recognize the hypocrisy of recent Toronto transplants crying foul of a population boom. Change is inevitable and growth can mean progress… We only wish that it didn’t come at the expense of one of the town’s most treasured green spaces, a natural gem, an ancient home to animals, and a magical forest for our children.
I have three grandchildren […] Since the eldest was three years old, the kids and I have spent many happy hours together enjoying the outdoors all over the Nith Peninsula. I firmly believe the time we have spent in this natural area has provided balance in their lives. Dermot Kelly, representative for the now disbanded “Save Barker’s Bush” citizens group
On the loop back home from our regular path through Barker’s Bush we pass the phrase “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind” crudely graffitied at the middle of a railway bridge. The inscription has been whitewashed several times but the faintly ghosted lettering makes it all the more perfect for the lore of Barker’s Bush. (In a strange coincidence of life imitating art, the words are attributed to the man behind Narnia, C.S. Lewis.)
Our nieces chant these words when crossing the steel bridge at Penman’s Pass into the bush, which are meant to scare away the river trolls and guarantee safe passage through the forest. Let’s hope it works.