Updated: Oct 17, 2021
WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Soulful walk on a pier by the canal + Dorsey James' surprising art in the Ancient Spirit Garden.
This summer I explored the waterfront from Rouge Beach to the Frenchman's Bay lookout on the west side of the canal.
We admired an elaborate sculpture carved out of an old telephone pole at the edge of the BeachPoint Promenade. It was the work of Dorsey James, an American-born sculptor who has been in Pickering for a long time.
In researching more about the artist, I learned that he had sculpted several pieces for the Ancient Spirit Garden in Alex Robertson Park, across the canal. I had to check out!
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The Nautical Village
The east side of the Pickering Canal, accessible from Liverpool Road, is much more developed than the west side. The quaint style of the houses has the feel of an ocean harbour, reinforced by the visitors carrying inflated rafts, the kitsch sign of the ice cream parlour and, above all, the welcoming "chip truck" 150 metres from the beach.
We arrived before 11 am and were able to get the last street parking spot but there is a large public parking lot at the end of Liverpool. Before heading to the beach, we stopped by the OpenStudio Art Café (617 Liverpool Rd, open 9 am to 7 pm on weekends, and 10 am to 7 pm on weekdays). It's open year round, and they serve light lunches, which will add to the pleasure of a fall stroll in this area!
The Frenchman's Bay canal was created in 1843 to connect the lake and the bay. It is a 10-minute walk from Liverpool Rd to the lighthouse on the west side of the canal. On the rocks bordering the belvedere, we can see fossils!
Returning on our steps, we continue eastbound on the Waterfront Trail to Beachfront Park. The beach that extends on this side for 350 meters was more crowded, with finer sand. It includes toilets, a lovely splash pad and some shelters creating a welcome shade.
At its eastern end is a pathway heading north through the large Alex Robertson Park and its large pond.iff and then retrace your steps to take the trail passing through the bushes to the east.
Alex Robertson Park
We were immediately seduced by this park. From the sinuous paved path, keeping to our left, we had a charming view of the pond. In less than 10 minutes, we noticed our first Dorsey James sculpture, discreet, elegant, blending into the natural background.
As we came to a roundabout, where other beautiful works were waiting, we noticed a ladder leaning on the most ambitious sculpture... and a car with its trunk wide open... and a tall man sitting in front, quietly enjoying his sandwich. Dorsey James himself!
The artist was pausing before resuming his restoration work. The friendly man, with his well modulated voice, obviously used to talking to students, explained to us that he was currently repairing the cracks in all his art pieces. They’ve been around the Ancient Spirit Garden for the past twenty years. The lengthy process requires him to carefully insert wooden splints into the fissures and then patiently sand the whole thing.
North of the roundabout, there is a small path that goes through the luscious bushes into the forest. Here, the imposing mature trees create a different panorama. Following it until the end, we joined a large public parking lot (at the edge of Sandy Beach Road).
It is in the last part of this path that we realized that Dorsey James had also left his trace there. A sign announced that we were in an "Area of Enchantment" created by the artist, including carved tree trunks. We retraced our steps to look for them and located a few. Done a while ago, they were a bit worn and hard to find but our treasure hunt was fun!
Then, we followed the trail to the right (just before the parking lot) to reach the hill with a a mythical arrangement of sculptures. (At the first fork in the road, take the smaller trail up into the trees). Eventually the trail joins the larger paved trail, and gets us back to the beach.
Good to know
From the Pickering Go Station, it is only 2 kms to Beachfront Park (turning west on Baily Street, then south on Liverpool Road) or 2 kms to the north entrance of Alex Robertson Park (taking Baily Street east, then Sandy Beach Road south to the parking lot and the trail entrance in the forest).
If you park in this public space, you can take a short 1.8 km walk around Alex Robertson Park, which will allow you to admire the sculptures in the wild.
Nathalie Prézeau is the author of the walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls, which you can get on amazon.ca
or by contacting the author directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can pick up the book at 299 Booth Avenue, the author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations.