An Apple Storage Building Spawns the Georgian Trail
The Georgian Trail has an interesting connection to local apple growers in Thornbury. This story comes from Gary Shaw.
The Georgian Trail was originally a section of the Northern Railway Line constructed in 1872. The line ran from Toronto to Collingwood and on to Meaford with twice daily service delivering passengers and goods (and later, skiers) to the Georgian Triangle. Service was discontinued in the 1960’s and by 1984 CN Rail, which had acquired ownership of the line, was ready to sell.
Gary Shaw and Tom Kritsch, partners in several apple orchards, had bought as a storage facility, the yellow brick building (now Tigs) beside the rail line in Thornbury. They later discovered the building only came with ten feet of property, which was insufficient for their needs. They looked to an adjacent property owned by CN Rail. Gary recounts: “…We went to Toronto to meet with them and they said they wanted that parcel to be sold with the railway corridor. The tracks had been lifted at that time. They wanted to sell for about $25,000.00. The whole thing from Collingwood to Meaford.”
According to Shiela Metras, Executive Director of the Georgian Triangle Tourist Association at the time: “…A lot of landowners adjacent to the rail line wanted to buy the land abutting their properties, but CNR didn't want the hassle of having some buy and some not, so they were only willing to sell it as a piece, which meant the municipalities were the only real buyers.”
Gary and Tom reached out to Anne Bennett who had a vision to transform the rail line into a 32 km recreational trail. Together with Shiela, they formed a group and set out to convince the municipalities to assume ownership. Gary recalls: ”…That was not easy. They worried about liability. The farmers and orchard people said walkers would enter their properties etc. The apple guys said people would steal their apples. They said people would sue them if they were spraying their trees etc.”
Shiela Metras chaired a lot of the public meetings and wrote the applications and briefs to CNR and various provincial ministries. She convinced Dave McNichol, Reeve of Collingwood Township, that the trail would be a good thing. Says Shiela: “He was hard to convince, but once he realized it was a good investment for the Township he got on board.” St. Vincent Township was the last holdout, angering Anne and her trail committee who were so passionate about their vision. It was Carman Morrison, CAO for the Town of Collingwood who went to St. Vincent Council and made a successful case for the trail. That broke the impasse and finally made the trail possible. All the municipalities were finally on board together. Shiela credits Anne Bennett for the group’s success. “It was Anne's commitment to the project which kept everyone motivated to see it through.”
And what about Gary Shaw and Tom Kritsch? Says Gary “…CNR asked the price of $25,000.00 for the rail corridor and the land behind the storage building. That seemed like a lot of money to Tom and me at the time. We made an offer of $15,000.00 and they accepted. If you think of it now, that was a steal…all that land with bridges etc. for that price! Neither Tom nor I can remember if we got our $15,000.00 back. We never would care as we got the piece of land that we wanted at our apple storage building.”
Contributed by Gary Shaw, (Originally published in 'Staying on Track!' – Spring 2017)