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