Venturing out on Maggie Way, a hidden hiking trail in Scarborough that became a sanctuary during my days living there, felt like revisiting an old friend.
As I descended the stairs from the northeastern corner of McCowan Park, memories flooded back and I marvelled at how this unassuming, simple little trail had become a companion in my life.
A strong sense of sentimentality overcame me as I entered the trail with my excited companion Tuli, remembering the thoughts and feelings I had in those years when I spent most days here.
Choosing the western side of Highland Creek over the eastern route, I meandered through the winter landscape – unusually mild and barren of snow this January – taking muddy challenges head-on with the help of my trusty ‘muck-about’ Blundstones.
Blissfully ignorant of the muddy perils, Tuli revelled in the adventure, splashing through puddles, weaving through tall reeds, exploring the duck pond, and playing in Highland Creek.
Though the trail lacked the diverse wildlife encounters of my past – perhaps due to the noise of my four-legged walking partner – evidence of deer in the form of a jawbone with intact teeth added an element of intrigue.
Encountering a college of cardinals on that colour-lacking January day was a gift from nature, a bright highlight during my reconnection with Maggie Way.
It reinforced the idea that even in the heart of winter’s oftentimes bleak quietude, there exists a kaleidoscope of life and colour, waiting to be discovered by those who choose to seek it.
Meeting fellow trail enthusiasts with their dogs, stopping for small chats, it was reinforced that Maggie Way is still a communal effort.
Unmarked and unmaintained by the city, locals over the years have taken it upon themselves to maintain its cleanliness and construct walkways through notorious muddy patches, showcasing a shared commitment to preserving this local trail.
When the foot-trail merged into the official Highland Creek Trail System path, I followed the familiar path, crossing two bridges and shortly reconnecting with Maggie Way.
The eastern side of Highland Creek presented a different angle to appreciate the beauty that surrounded me. Here, the trail beckoned me with a promise of new discoveries and a continuation of the familiar sights that had once been a cherished part of my routine.
This wooden sign adorned with paw prints marks the trail entrance with a heartfelt memorial to a beloved dog named Maggie. An emotional touch that showcases the locals’ deep connection toward this hidden gem.
Observing a small makeshift camp about 20 metres from the path offered a stark reminder that, for some, Toronto’s parks and trail systems aren’t just recreation; they are places of shelter.
Navigating past the muddy shore trail of the duck pond, Tuli watched the muck squishing beneath his paws, adding his paw prints to the other short-term memorial of other pups’ muddy escapades.
As we trod carefully along the water’s edge, the sound of squelching mud beneath our feet was accompanied by the gentle rippling of the pond.
The duck pond, historically frozen in time during typical cold winters, now reflected the uncharacteristically mild January weather with its liquid expanse.
In past winters, the frozen surface had invited me to strap on my skates and revel in the simple joy of gliding across the ice. This time, however, the duck pond was a murky mirror, reflecting the surrounding trees and creating a serene atmosphere that made the muddy trek worthwhile.
Undeterred by the muddy conditions, Tuli playfully explored the pond’s surroundings, trying his best to catch the attention of the seemingly carefree ducks.
His excitement was infectious, reminding me that the beauty of these trails lay not just in the tranquility, but in the shared moments of joy with friends, furry or otherwise.
As we continued our journey, the muddy trail gave way to wooden boardwalks, leading us to another element of this hidden gem in Scarborough… the climb.
I encountered my only down-point in this trail – the challenging climb to the highest point, using tree roots as small steps and handholds.
When I used this trail daily, I had tied a rope to one of the trees to offer support to individuals making the climb; to my dismay, standing at the bottom looking up, that rope was long gone.
Upon finishing my ascent, I was overcome by a memory of a magical encounter with a group of majestic deer in this spot during an early morning run many years ago.
A cedar forest presents a serene conclusion to this 2.5 km loop. I spent some time exploring off the trail with Tuli, watching him roam and revel in the scents of fallen trees and the mysteries of the woodland.
Exiting the trail, the bridge at the bottom of the stairs served as a gateway back to reality, and a sight of abandoned waste underlined the bittersweet truth that not everyone views this space with the same reverence.
Despite locals’ efforts to combat the issue of litter and illegal dumping along Maggie Way, it’s a sad reality that some people will never show our precious green spaces the respect they deserve.
Maggie Way, despite its imperfections, remains a hidden treasure in Toronto. A refuge from the urban hustle, it encourages introspection, appreciation for nature, and a commitment to responsible stewardship.
As I left the trail, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the memories it had woven into my life, hoping that others would discover and cherish this natural jewel in the heart of Scarborough.
McCowan Park is located at 475 McCowan Rd. You can find the access point to Maggie Way on the north-east side of the park.