Rising clear from the dark loam, trickling down hillsides polishing stones, pouring in spring floods over dams... water continues to shape the Hills of Headwaters. It has for untold thousands of years. Glaciers tilled the plains, formed the hills and left the Niagara Escarpment in their wake. As the great ice melted its floodwaters helped carve the deep valleys we see today.
Water placed the settlements as new arrivals from Europe built mills powered by its inexorable flow. The names of the towns reflect this history: Mono Mills, Horning's Mills, and Macmillan's Mills. They also echo the Scottish and Irish roots of the settlers: Erin, Caledon and Orangeville.
Today as you drive along the rivers, down the Hockley Valley Road and River Road, for instance, you can see where dams and millruns once stemmed the flow and often the stone skeletons of the mills themselves. In our towns you might also notice small streams that join into rivers flowing to Georgian Bay, Lake Erie and Ontario. Today, in the Hills of Headwaters, many of our streams run clear and cold so speckled trout thrive with indigenous species, along with rainbow trout and others, which have been introduced.
In Orangeville, a creek trickles past cinemas, restaurants, and large stores to join the Credit River. Another branch of the river wanders south of the historic downtown neighbourhood in a faint echo of the past. On the main street, Broadway, bygone days are loud and clear in the rejuvenated Town Hall and Opera House and the many other downtown buildings, many of which predate Canada's Confederation (citizens in the area formed a brigade to march against the Fenian threat in 1866). Today, the broad avenue and wide sidewalks invite a stroll on a warm evening or winter afternoon, with fascinating boutiques to explore and places to dine tempting you to stay a little longer.
A stronger flow of river has been dammed just east of town to form Island Lake that is filled with canoes in summer and topped by ice huts in winter. You can swim here - there is a sandy beach - enjoy a family picnic, or paddle along the shoreline to find places that look like what the original settlers might have found when they first arrived in the hills. In spring, the geese nest on the shore and goslings parade behind their parents. You might see deer taking a drink in the early morning sunset. And, in the water, many a pike awaits your lure among the weeds.
The town of Erin was built around waterpower - a lumber mill first, then an oat mill and others. A boathouse in Stanley Park once offered lapstrake rowboats for leisurely turns about the lake. Today, a stream rushes past t he town, while people who stop to look around find new tastes to savor, old books to enjoy, ice cream and baking, antiques and furnishings. The hills around town have trails for walking, cycling and horses. And in Erin, as it is in Orangeville, Shelburne, Caledon and Hockley Valley, you are rarely any farther than a drive and a three-iron from a challenging golf course.
Caledon Village tops the "mountain" - the Niagara Escarpment must have seemed alpine as original settlers urged their oxcarts up that endless hill. They made good use of the water flowing down its sides. Shaw's Creek, the Credit branches and the Humber River powered yarn and blanket mills, then grist, flour and chop mills, as the land was cleared. Villages appear throughout the Caledon area, each offering an abundance of experiences, including shops, galleries, restaurants, inns and B&B's some of which locating in the remains of the original mills. The evolution continues. Sheep to grains and now many farms raise horses. The railroad that once carried people and crops to city markets is now private... but the water still flows. As a train rumbles over a trestle bridge high above, the river tumbles over the rocks below as it has for thousands of years. In Caledon East the railroad has taken another turn, evolving into part of the cross Canada walking trail. The Hills of Headwaters honours its history. With strong roots they thrive in the present and look forward to a vigorous future.
Dufferin County is the "ceiling" of Ontario. As air climbs toward the county from the Great Lakes, its moisture condenses, to rain or snow on our hills which explains the rivers, ponds and peat fens at the height of the land. The water helps grow enough potatoes each year to more than fill Skydome and produce as much as a million pounds of rhubarb. You'll find strawberries too, to complement the rhubarb and each spring churches and Women's Institutes across the county hold strawberry suppers. The potato salads alone are worth the visit! In the summer Shelburne's annual "Fiddleville" contest draws competitors and visitors from thousands of miles away to share the camaraderie of old time music.
Come and explore the Hills of Headwaters... so much for you to enjoy: places to shop, dine, and stay... forests to photograph... birds to watch and fish to catch... trails to challenge the avid hiker, unique vistas to drink in (a map drawn in the 1830's indicates an extinct volcano near the Pine River Valley). Artists share with you their creativity: sculptors, potters, painters, carvers, writers, musicians, singers, actors, and photographers all live and work here. You will find their studios down the country roads and, in the fall, you can join the studio tours and an arts festival that attract visitors from all around. You will hear their concerts in our churches and town halls, and enjoy their performances in our theatres. Inns and ubiquitous bed-and-breakfasts will make you feel right at home. The sights, tastes, and sounds will make your experience a lasting one, filled with fond memories.
To get to the Hills and Headwaters, take Highway 9 or Highway 89 west from Highway 400, Highway 410 and Heart Lake Road, Airport Road or Highway 10 north from the Toronto area, or Highway 124 east from Guelph. Come and see what more than ten thousand years of water have created.
-Tony Reynolds is a freelance writer who lives in Waldemar