Past a forest on the right, farmer’s fields hidden under heavy snow on the left, over a small rise, and at the end of the road sits Crawford Lake. It’s the site of a reconstructed Iroquoian village, a meromictic lake — the different water levels don’t mix —, and has kilometers of trails perfect for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The park offers special events throughout the year and now is the time to enjoy the Sweet Water Season along with great snowshoeing conditions thanks to heavier than usual snowfall.
As a local, I’ve been to Crawford Lake many times during every season, but have never taken advantage of the snowshoeing offered. I brought my family — none of us had any experience — we strapped on the snowshoes available for rent in the Visitor Centre, and headed out on the trails. While guided snowshoeing is finished for the season, the ideal winter conditions means that people can still rent, or bring their own gear, and explore the trails around Crawford Lake. Every trail is clearly marked and there are free maps available at the entrance of the park.
I can guarantee that if you can walk you can snowshoe. My children were running within minutes and heading off the groomed trails to test our skills in the deeper snow was easy.
After snowshoeing for over one hour we headed to the lake by way of the maple taffy tasting. It really is nature’s candy and I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never had any. This was a day of firsts. We (impatiently) waited as the maple syrup was boiled and then poured over snow before being rolled onto a popsicle stick. One was definitely not enough, but maple syrup is healthy so it’s all good.
The lake is small enough that a boardwalk surrounds it entirely. It is home to a variety of fish, birds, and turtles that are dormant until the ice thaws, but the walk is pleasant and takes the visitor through an old forest and past Niagara Escarpment rock formations. Anyone interested in photography will appreciate the points of view built into the walkway.
We headed back to the village in time to learn about different syrups the local Iroquoian people used for hundreds of years, and perhaps further back. On tap was birch syrup — which has a distinctive flavour and resembles molasses — and two different types of maple syrup: medium and amber. Taste them and decide for yourself which one you prefer. Later on there was a sweet water demonstration and, despite it being early in the season, a crowd gathered to learn how maple trees were tapped, the water boiled, and then consumed before modern technology facilitated the task. I’ll give you a hint: hot rocks. If you want to know more you’ll have to go and see for yourself.
The village at Crawford Lake is one of my favourite places to bring visitors who come to our area. Since the site was originally excavated in the early 1970s, the longhouses and Iroquoian village have been carefully reconstructed respecting tradition and knowledge of village life. There are currently two longhouses open for visitors and a new one is almost complete. The grand opening celebration will be held later in 2014.
Several kilometers away is the Mountsberg Conservation Area. There’s an informative Raptor Centre where animals are rehabilitated, a bison herd, and over 400 sugar maples. Mountsberg also has kilometers of trails and is a birdwatcher’s paradise in the spring, summer, and fall. During maple sugar season Maple Town opens and families can tour the forest on horse-drawn wagons, learn how maple water is collected, and taste the local syrup for themselves at the Pancake Pavilion. This is the syrup that in turn is used at Crawford Lake, so when planning a visit include both parks. March Break is ideal for discovering Crawford and Mountsberg.
Crawford Lake is just one of several parks under the umbrella of Conservation Halton waiting to be explored in the Heart of Ontario. During the late winter the parks work together to provide visitors a memorable outdoor adventure while enjoying the quintessential Canadian treat – maple syrup. It might be our backyard, but it’s one we never tire of exploring.