Finding the source of Ontario’s Grand River has been a hobby of mine for years. I think I came close once when I thought I had traced it to a farmer’s field near Dundalk. More likely, the river’s source is in a nearby marshy area.
If you know anything about the topography of southern Ontario, you will realize that the Grand River is a strange and winding anomaly. With its humble beginnings in the open highlands near Shelbourne, Ontario you might think that it would naturally flow north into nearby Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. It does not. Rather, the fledgling stream heads south, not east toward nearby Lake Simcoe. At this point it can be easily overlooked when you cross it on Highway 10 on your way to Owen Sound. The sign identifying it as the Grand River disappeared years ago and the name seems misplaced as it is barely a stream at this point.
The Grand River gathers strength as it heads south through Grand Valley toward Fergus. You would think that at this point it would begin to head toward Lake Ontario to the southeast, much like the nearby Credit River does. Instead, less than twenty kilometres from the Credit River near Orangeville, the Grand begins to turn away to the southwest and passes through the scenic Elora Gorge. The dams begin in mid-1800’s mill towns like Kitchener, Cambridge and Paris. Here the Grand begins to meander like a western prairie river in the open farmlands surrounding Brantford. It is also here that the river is big enough to form a water level route for a variety of highways, rail lines and trails.
Highway 54 begins just outside Cainsville on the east side of Brantford and follows the Grand River through Caledonia all the way to Cayuga. Here you are often passing through First Nations land and will run a gauntlet of “smoke shops” in Onandaga and Middleport. In Cayuga you will have to take a little jog east on Highway 3 before continuing south on Road 17 — the River Road — to Dunnville. Dunnville is the last dam along the Grand and the river is quite wide here, flanked by marshlands around Byng island.
From Dunnville, it is just a few kilometres before the Grand River finally empties into Lake Erie at Port Maitland near Rock Point Provincial Park.
Following the Grand River can form part of a loop south out of the Toronto area that passes back through Niagara, which Dunnville borders. The trip will take you through some of the most historic towns in the province and keep you away from major highways. Let me know if you find the river’s actual source…