Small Town Canada Spotlight: The Tip to Tip Trail of Burritts Rapids, Ontario

In the second edition of Small Town Canada Spotlight, we’ll be learning more about the Tip to Tip Trail, which is located in Burritts Rapids, Ontario. This lovely path was brought to my attention by a family member who lives near the area. Before diving deeper into the walkway, it’s important to learn a bit more about the historic community of Burritts Rapids.

Burritts Rapids is a small village that was first settled in 1793 by Colonel Stephen Burritt. After the American Revolution, Colonel Burritt, a United Empire Loyalist from Vermont, fled to Canada and was attracted to the site because of the water power from the raging rapids. He believed that the area would be the perfect place to start a community.

By 1812, Burritts Rapids had transformed into a bustling hamlet. At the community’s peak, it was home to two general stores, a bakery, a millinery shop, two shoe shops, a tin and stove store, a grist mill, a woollen mill, a tannery, three blacksmith shops, three wagon shops, a cabinet shop, two hotels, a bank and an Orange Lodge, as well as two churches and two schools. A post office was also opened in 1839 under the name Burritt’s Rapids, and by the 20th century, the name of the town was officially changed to Burritts Rapids, which is what it remains to this day.

The Island in the Valley

Burritts Rapids was the site of the first fixed bridge across the original Rideau River, which was constructed in 1824 on the north side of town. It has since been rebuilt at least twice — in 1920 and 1983. As the canal was being built, a timber high-level fixed bridge was constructed on the south end of town. By the early 1850s, it had been replaced by a timber swing bridge in the location of the present steel truss swing bridge, which was erected in 1897.

The hamlet was able to grow at a rapid pace due to its natural advantages. With the construction of the Rideau Canal, the land was “sub-divided” and the uniquely shaped “island” became the heart of a thriving community. When the canal opened in 1832, it helped boost the area’s growth due to the convenience of water transportation.

By 1866, Burritts Rapids was a village with a population of about 400. With access to the Rideau Canal, the town thrived as a small milling centre, with many of its citizens working in the lumber business. Unfortunately, river traffic was eventually preceded by the railroad, which bypassed the community and stopped in Merrickville instead. This inconvenience caused the community’s commerce to decline, and the hamlet slowly dwindled in size.

Tip to Tip

The Tip to Tip Trail is an easy four-kilometre round-trip with pleasant views of the Rideau River. Numbered trail markers along the path are accompanied by texts highlighting features along the trail. These notable points were either influenced by or important in the construction of the Rideau Canal.

According to the book The Rideau Canal and Its Corridor: A Site to See by Patrick J. McManus, the responsibility of the canal switched from the Department of Transport to Parks Canada during the 1960s. This move was made in an attempt to electrify the entire canal system, which didn’t make sense as heritage and tourism seemed more appropriate for the canal system at that time over trade.

While the origins of the Tip to Tip Trail are a bit unclear, the path was likely created after Parks Canada took over the canal system. This move was made sometime between the 1960s and 1970s since there is documentation from that period of the Tip to Tip Trail.

On top of having an incredible trail, Burritts Rapids is also home to a wonderful walking tour that takes you through the historic 19th-century buildings that still stand today. Many of the area’s original buildings remain frozen in time, including the community hall built in 1840, the public library and Parks Canada building constructed in 1920, and the Orange Masonic Lodge built in 1857.

Today, a remarkable team from Parks Canada and incredible local volunteers assist with the upkeep of the Tip to Tip Trail, making it a wonderful space for the community to enjoy.

A big thank you to Heather Currie from the municipality of North Grenville for providing me with more information about the area.

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