Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: August 2021
John E. Pearce Provincial Park is a day-use park located along Lake Erie that is known for its colourful display of spring wildflowers and bird watching. The park contains two hiking trails and a few historic buildings that provide more information about the natural heritage and history of this area and the importance of wetland and meadow habitats.
We arrived at John E. Pearce late in the afternoon. There’s a narrow gravel road that loops through the forest and leads to a small parking lot with restrooms and a single picnic table. There used to be an overlook here of Lake Erie from atop a 33-metre high cliff, but it has since been fenced off with signs saying no hiking and that the area was closed.
By the parking lot there’s a circular monument for John E. Pearce to recognize his contributions in donating this land to the province and in dedication to the memory of his ancestors who settled in this area in 1809 and who were mainly responsible for the founding of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in 1827.
We then drove out of the park to access the two trails. We first hiked along the Spicer Trail (1.5km, rated easy), which is located across the road from the park entrance. The trail is named after Lorne Spicer, a local naturalist who helped create this trail.
The trail consists of two connecting loops, a red trail (for a shorter hike) and blue trail (for a longer hike). We first started off along the red trail. After crossing the bridge, the trail splits off with the red trail to the left and blue trail to the right. We followed the blue markers to complete the longer loop through the forest.
The trail leads through an old hardwood forest and includes a variety of trees that can be found within the Carolinian zone, such as tulip trees and sassafrass. Some of the trees even contain a plaque to help with identification.
The trail then passes an open field and connects with the Wetland Storey Trail. The trailhead at this junction isn’t marked. If it wasn’t for me going out into the field to take a picture and finding an interpretive sign, we would have missed it all together. I guess this junction also marks the end of the Spicer Trail as there’s a map and more information about the trail located here.
The Wetland Storey Trail (1.5km, rated easy) is a self-guided interpretive trail that weaves through three new wetlands surrounded by tall grass prairie and offers 15 informative interpretive panels along the way. These storyboards provide more information about the park, the early settlers and the importance of the wetlands.
The trail is named after Mary (Patterson) Storey who arrived in Dunwich Township with her son and daughters, her brother Leslie Patterson and wife Lydia Backus and her sister Frances with her husband John Pearce. Mary and her son were granted some land that is now part of John E. Pearce Provincial Park. She also donated 10 acres of her land for St. Peter’s Anglican Church, rectory and cemetery.
The trail meanders through a significant wetland restoration area and also passes through a pine plantation of white pine stands. This is the first stage of restoring the field into forest. Pine trees are fast growing and resistant to browsing by small animals and deer. The shade from the trees helps control the weeds. These pines will eventually be thinned out to allow more sunlight into the understory and allow hardwood trees, shrubs and wildflowers to grow.
The trail ends (or starts) at the Backus-Page House Museum. The house was built in the 1850s for Andrew and Mary Jane Backus and was the first all-brick structure in the area. Andrew inherited the lot from his grandmother, Mary (Patterson) Storey. When Andrew died in 1884, he left the farm to his son, Andrew Storey Backus. He then sold the south half of the land to John E. Pearce, the person the park is named after. John E. Pearce then donated his portion of the land to the Ontario government in 1957 and it officially became a provincial park. The owners of the northern portion of the land later sold their property to the province to help expand the park.
The house has been restored and transformed into a museum, but it was unfortunately closed when we visited. We instead walked around the house and tried to peek inside some of the windows.
We then walked down the road to St. Peter’s Church, which is located close to the park entrance and where we parked. The initial nave was constructed in 1827 and was later expanded to include the belfry and tower. The nearby burying grounds contains the graves of some of the area’s early settlers.
We walked backed to our car and from here it’s about an hour and a half drive to Wheatley Provincial Park where we planned to spend the night.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here