Hike #48: Balls Falls Conservation Area

Distance hiked: 5km
Location: Balls Falls Conservation Area, Ontario
Date: October 25 2020

During the American Revolution, the Ball family maintained their allegiance to the English Crown. In recognition of their loyalty, Jacob Ball and his family were issued Crown land grants in Niagara. Two of Jacob’s sons, John and George, received 1200 acres of land in Niagara in 1807. The Twenty Mile Creek on their property provided a source of power for the brothers to operate a flour, saw and then later woollen mill. Part of this area, along with the historic buildings have been preserved and are now part of the Balls Falls Conservation Area.

There are two parking areas for the Balls Falls Conservation Area. The first is the official parking lot, but requires a small fee to park. The second is a side parking area located on the shoulder of Glen Road and requires hiking along the Bruce Trail for a couple of kilometres to reach the conservation area. We opted for the latter since we are trying to complete a hiking challenge.

On the drive to the side parking area, we took a wrong turn and ended up at the Calamus Estate Winery. This seemed like a good sign that we should go in. The winery offers a tasting of 3 wines for $5, but will wave the price if you buy a bottle of wine. This seemed like another good sign, so we did the tasting and ended up buying two bottles of wine.

We hopped back in the car and this time found the parking area. In order to get to the Balls Falls Conservation Area we had to hike just over a kilometre or so along the Bruce Trail, which also overlaps with the Twenty Valley Trail, a 2km trail that stretches from the Balls Falls Conservation Area to Lake Ontario and the Waterfront Trail.

The sun was shining and the leaves were at their peak in terms of fall colours. And the best part was that the trail itself wasn’t very busy. The trail follows along the Twenty Valley Creek down into the valley then climbs back up along the ridge.

Once we made it down the last set of stairs, we entered the Balls Falls Conservation Area. The conservation area features a few hiking trails, but the main attractions are the historic buildings, including the original Ball Family home, a blacksmith shop, church, carriage shed, and mill. There are a number of signs which explain the history of the Ball family, the Village of Glen Elgin, and what each of the buildings was used for.

In the mid-1800s, the village of Glen Elgin was a thriving industrial mill town. It was originally settled by brothers George and John Ball in 1807. The community grew with the establishment of first, woollen and saw mills. In 1849, George had a portion of his property surveyed to divide into a proper village to allow workers to own homes and property. This plan was never fulfilled and the village of Glen Elgin began to decline by 1858. Today, seven original buildings remain.

The Fairchild Cabin was built by the Fairchild family between 1797 and 1810 in a nearby town. This cabin represents what early settlers like the Ball family would have lived in when they first came to Ontario. A typical early settler household consisted of 10 to 12 family members, all living in a one-room cabin. The main floor functioned as a kitchen, living room, work space, and bedroom for the parents. There is a small loft upstairs for storage and the children’s sleeping quarters.

The St. George Anglican Church was built in 1864 to serve the growing hamlet of Hannon. However, the congregation prospered and they needed to build a larger church. It was dismantled, relocated, and rebuilt at Balls Falls Conservation Area as part of the recreated Glen Elgin village.

The Ball Home was constructed in 1846. The front of the house along Sixth Avenue was used as a general store for the village of Glen Elgin, while the family lived in the remainder of the house.

In 1809, the Grist Mill began operation and was used to grind wheat, corn, oats, rye and barley for the surrounding community. It was built by the Balls brothers and was operated with the power of the water from the Twenty Mile Creek. This mill provided flour for the British Army during the War of 1812. Production at the mill slowed down after the 1850s due to changes in water flow in the Twenty Mile Creek, technological advancements and transportation issues. It was closed in 1910.

Near the Grist Mill, there’s a lookout of the Lower Falls.

We then crossed Sixth Avenue and hiked along the Cataract Trail to Upper Falls (1.7km, rated easy to moderate with some rocky sections).

To get to the trailhead, we crossed over the bride and followed the Switchback Trail for a short stretch. The trail leads up a hill and passes by a few signs which provide some history of the additional buildings on the property. There used to be three and possibly four lime kilns that were operated by the Ball Family in the 19th and 20th century and were used to burn down limestone to produce lime powder.

There was also a Woollen Mill that was constructed in 1824 along the west bank of the Twenty Mile Creek near the Upper Falls. The mill is thought to have housed 8 looms that produced woollen cloth and yarns. Today, just the foundations of the building remain.

The trail then leads to the Upper Falls of the Twenty Mile Creek and provides a nice view of the surrounding area.

From the lookout, we turned around and hiked back the way we came, which involved passing by the historic buildings again, and following the Bruce Trail and Twenty Valley Trail back to the parking lot. We wrapped up our hike just after 1:30p.m and drove back to Toronto.


My progress on the 52 Hike Challenge can be found here

42 thoughts on “Hike #48: Balls Falls Conservation Area

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always neat to learn more about the history of the area that we’re hiking in. That’s been an unexpected surprise during our 52 Hike Challenge. The trail itself was especially beautiful in the Fall when all the leaves were changing colour. We had a wonderful time. It also didn’t hurt that we did a wine tasting right before!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      One of my favourite things about participating in the 52 Hike Challenge has been learning more about the history of Ontario. I’ve come to enjoy all the various signs and plaques that provide more details about how the area was once used or how the park was formed. The trail itself was also very lovely with all the yellow, orange and red leaves. And, the best part was that it wasn’t crowded. Thanks for reading.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      This is such a neat conservation area that offers a few hiking trails through the forest and to a variety of scenic lookouts and viewpoints of waterfalls and historic buildings. Thanks for reading.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We came to this conservation area for the hiking and didn’t even realize that there were all these historic buildings near the trail. It was neat learning more about the history of this little village and how it relied on the nearby river and waterfalls. We got to exercise our legs and our minds. Ha.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. This was such a neat area to explore and it was so interesting to learn more about the history of this village along our hike. It was especially beautiful in the Fall with all the leaves changing colour.

  1. Ab says:

    I dunno, that wrong turn seemed awfully coincidental! 😂 You two truly are hardcore hikers to go on a hike after a wine tasting. That’s dedication and focus! I love seeing the old home and church. It is fascinating how early settlers lived compared to our standards today! Lovely recap!!!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We passed by it and thought, wine not? (Ha, I just couldn’t resist). Since K was driving, I ended up doing most of the sampling. In retrospect we should have done this after our hike, but we figured it might get busier in the afternoon, so just went with it. No regrets. This was such a neat hike as the trail passes by all of these historic buildings. I can’t even imagine what life 100 years ago was like in Ontario. Especially during those cold winters.

      • Ab says:

        Reading your comment, there might be a business idea in developing historical life experiences where you can camp out like someone in the 1800s! That would be fun.

        I hope you have a great time at the cabin tonight. Happy new year!!! One day closer to summer road trips!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        That would be a pretty neat experience. I’ve spent the morning packing and we’re going to take off for the cabin just before lunch. I can’t wait to ring in the New Year and be done with 2020!! Happy New Year to you and your fam. Cheers!!

  2. winteroseca says:

    That’s a great bit of history and nature there! Btw, I wanted to tell you that my Dad told me yesterday there will be an eclipse in Northern Ontario or Quebec this summer. I believe it’s June 10 if you’re interested. I’m already planning to go see it, and we’re hoping my Dad will be able to come too! My parents and I are eclipse chasers!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      That’s so cool that you and your parents are eclipse chasers!! I love that term. I’ll have to mark June 10th on my calendar. Fingers crossed we’ll have decent weather to view the eclipse. Are you planning on taking a road trip to Northern Ontario or Quebec to view it?

      • winteroseca says:

        We’ve been eclipse chasers since we saw the total eclipse a few years ago in Oregon. Yes, we are planning to do a road trip, and afterwards, maybe continue to explore the Maritime Provinces

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        What better way to explore Canada than by taking a road trip across the country. I’m planning on taking a few road trips this summer, but mainly around Ontario. If the Atlantic provinces open up, I wouldn’t mind spending some there too.

  3. Lookoom says:

    It’s funny that you show this place, I remember trying to get there, getting lost in the roads and finally spending the afternoon in St Catharines and Port Dalhousie. I’ll have to try again, it’s worth it.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I highly recommend visiting Balls Falls. I always giggle when I say the name, but it’s such a fun area to explore with all the various hiking trails and historic buildings. Plus, there are some great wineries nearby.

  4. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    What an interesting hike (and the colours – magnificent). It’s great that there’s hiking AND a winery. It’s something we’ve experienced a lot in Penticton and surrounding area (that’s where our home is) and have rewarded ourselves a lot that way. 😉

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Totally, although in retrospect we probably should have gone to the winery after our hike instead of beforehand. Oh well, when in Rome (or rather Niagara). I like the sound of Penticton … minus the extreme cold and bug situation. Wine is always a great reward.

      • Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

        I work in the Northwest Territories, so that’s why I make all those references to cold and snow. Penticton is very temperate as it’s in a deep valley (+7C and sunny there today) and is one of BC’s main agricultural areas. That’s why there’s so much wine there. Very few bugs, also. Spouse and I always remark on how bugless it is after we experience spring bug season in NWT.
        You would probably enjoy all the hiking there is. Quite different from Ontario.

      • Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

        The NWT is magnificent for hiking and canoeing, but you have to wear the hats with attached bug nets. Some people will wear full body nets. There are two narrow windows when it’s superb: spring before the bugs are out and fall after they have died off.

  5. ourcrossings says:

    This looks like a beautiful place to explore and photograph. I love your photo of the Lower Falls and beautiful autumn colours. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. The fall foliage in Ontario was simply stunning this year. I’m glad we had really nice weather and were able to get out and go for a hike on most weekends. I’m sure missing that weather now that it’s Winter. Take care.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I still chuckle whenever I say Balls Falls, but it really is a lovely conservation area. There are hiking trails, two waterfalls and a number of historic buildings. And yes, there’s a winery just down the road. There’s a bit of something here for everyone.

  6. alisendopf says:

    Imagine being able to buy wine on your way to the trail head. Love it!
    SO much history in Ontario. The Balls were definitely entrepreneurs, so I love how this area is being preserved. I think they would have appreciated it too. It’s a beautiful part of the country. Thank you for sharing!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It certainly was an interesting way to start the hike. We probably should have hit the winery up afterwards, but the parking lot was empty when we passed by, so we figured why not. It’s funny because at the start of the year we signed up for the 52 Hike Challenge to spend more time outdoors, but a side bonus has been learning more about the history of Ontario. The Balls brothers were real go-getters and I’m glad the city preserved this piece of history and charming village. Thanks for reading.

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