My Own Backyard

Our son Adam snowshoeing in Palgrave Forest.
Our son Adam, snowshoeing in Palgrave Forest.

So I step out my front door, cross the courtyard and skirt my neighbour’s deck. Distance so far: roughly forty metres.

Now I cross one fairway of the nine-hole-course surrounding our property. Distance? Fifty more metres, thereabouts.

A wire fence, a wooden sort of gate (to be honest they don’t like you crossing here, but to be even more honest I’d rather do that than walk the extra two hundred metres to reach the “official” opening), a quick climb over. Now I’m in the forest.

Basically smack-dab in the middle of my own backyard.

Sunrise in the Palgrave Forest.
Hiking as the sun rose in the Palgrave Forest. Played a lot with moving the camera and using a very slow shutter speed.

This is the Palgrave Forest and Wildlife Area, a 306-hectare preserve of pine and maple and oak, boasting three distinct trail systems. Maintained as part of the Metro Toronto Conservation Authority, it shelters something like two hundred species of flora and fauna.

The Palgrave Trail rises and falls like a rollercoaster, serpentine, through dense forest, following the Humber River, stopping for a rest beside forest wetlands and the significant geological landform called the Oak Ridge Moraine. This trail, thirteen kilometres long, is regularly used by mountain bikers, hikers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

The Oak Ridge gives its name to another great trail here – it’s only five kilometres long but boasts some of the most diverse and attractive scenery. Pass forest glades, mixed vegetation, swampland, a stream or two. Go north along this path toward Finnerty Side Road and you could be a thousand kilometres from Toronto.

Big surprise though – and part of the appeal – you’re only around sixty-three kilometres from downtown Toronto. And maybe – out here on the Oak Ridges Trail – a kilometre or two from my front door.

The third trail, a path with a mission, slicing the south end and climbing ridges and descending gorgeous valleys as it makes its way west to join its more famous sibling, is a side trail of the Bruce Trail system.

Our glorious maple leaves in transition - Palgrave Forest.
Our glorious maple leaves in transition – Palgrave Forest.

Nice backyard, eh?

Get back to nature here and share your “wilderness” experience with a flock of wild turkeys, the occasional deer who may stop and check you out before bounding through the bush, a fox, perhaps a coyote. Cross paths with your neighbours, walking their dogs, with big-city mountain bikers, some of whom consider the trails here among the most challenging in the Golden Triangle.

Stop and reflect on the shores of a bubbling tributary that will ultimately flow into the Humber River.

Come and visit me.

Because that’s the whole raison d’être for today’s lesson: travel the world all you want, but don’t forget your own backyard.

I was guilty of doing just that until a few years ago, when the editor of a publication just coming on stream at the time – Sideroads of Dufferin County – approached Sharon and me to do a travel column, with one proviso. Whatever we covered had to be in the immediate area. If not right in Dufferin, darn close.

Have you ever been to Dufferin? It is very nice, but its history is soporific, it doesn’t boast any mountains, there’s no Great Lake or ocean nearby and there’s no city anywhere in it confines.

But we did it – for something like four years. Every couple of months we’d discover hithertofore unseen and unsung attractions and we learned to look around us with new eyes. We sort of became “staycation” pioneers.

Experimenting with multiple exposures in the Palsgrave Forest.
Experimenting with multiple exposures in the Palgrave Forest.

I live in Caledon. So did James Cameron of “Titanic” fame. The Billy Zane character in that movie is called “Cal Hockley”.  Short for “Caledon Hockley”. Hockley’s a really pretty valley just down the road.

Norman Jewison once lived here. So did Robertson Davies and Farley Mowat, two of Canada’s most  iconic writers. Elton John has a retreat in Caledon.

Noted Canadian painter David Milne painted for a while along these trails and side roads. One of his landscapes depicting the village around the corner from my house hangs in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada.

I have a nice backyard. I admit it. And reflecting on that fact once in a while teaches me an important life lesson: no matter how much I lust after destinations more seemingly alluring or appealing, there’s no place like home.

Playwright Henry Miller once wrote that “one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

If you learned a new way of seeing things, what could you discover in your backyard?



  • Seeing as how I’m taking the holistic approach I’m going out on a limb and claiming all of Ontario for my backyard. Have a look at my “metaphysical” abode:
  • For a bit of background on my own personal forest, go to

2 Responses

  1. Laura Byrne Paquet

    Nice piece, Mark! Very true–there’s so much to see in our own backyards. And I never made that connection to the Cal Hockley character in Titanic! I just posted a link to this post on my Ottawa Road Trips Facebook page.

    • Mark Stevens

      Thanks Laura. Always easy to overlook those close-to-home attractions. Other cool things from literary standpoint – if I didn’t mention them. Jewison has a place here, Farley Mowat and Robertson Davies both lived here! In good literary company.