A bit over a year ago, Daegan and I were looking for a bike ride to take in the countryside outside of Toronto. After a bit of searching I found just the thing. We headed out around lunchtime and rode our bikes to the train station. Once there we boarded an east bound commuter train to Whitby, just east of Toronto – one stop before the end of the line.
A technical note for folks who cycle in and around Toronto. Riding from the station in Oshawa, the end of the line, might seem like the best choice for heading east from Toronto but in the end, it’s a pretty bad choice. The roads are extremely busy – divided highways and high speed limits make for a stressful ride. You might ride a few more kilometres in the end, but riding to Whitby means a short, downhill ride on a much quieter street to the waterfront trail.
Taking your bike on the GO train is a relatively easy experience. Aside from a few spots where you’re not allowed to bring your bike on the train it’s pretty simple. Wait for the boarding time, roll your bike in to the designated area and ride to your destination. If your destination requires a bus ride as well, there are racks for two bikes on each bus.
Off we went with a destination in mind: Camp 30. Just outside of the city in Bowmanville, Ontario is the former site of a boarding school for troubled boys. However, during the second world war it became a prisoner of war camp for high ranking Nazi officers soldiers. In 1942, after the Germans announced the “Command Order”, essentially saying that all allied commandos found in Europe or Africa should be killed immediately without trial, the Canadian response was to try to shackle 100 prisoners in the camp. When no volunteers came forward, they tried to shackle 100 of the men by force. The prisoners fought back, and between 1500 and 4000 people barricaded themselves in the cafeteria, arming themselves with makeshift weapons. Several days later, after a battle in which a few folks were wounded, the Canadians came in with high pressure water hoses and the prisoners surrendered. Today, though, the camp lies abandoned.
Our ride took us along a dedicated path next to Lake Ontario. Once we passed the town of Oshawa, we no longer had a dedicated trail. However, the roads that are part of the Waterfront Trail network are relatively low traffic and took us through the beautiful Darlington Provincial park and onward past the Darlington Nuclear Generation Station. We got to our first abandoned site. The Fifth Wheel truck stop and motel was operating the last few times I rode by it on the way to Montreal back in 2010 and 2011 but now the entire site is fenced in.
Finally we got to the village of Bowmanville where we grabbed a bite of lunch at Tim Hortons. As it was getting pretty warm by now we were also glad to get our beverage of choice for our Canadian cycling trips: Frozen Lemonade – well worth enduring the brain freeze.
Bowmanville is a pretty small town – barely more than a crossroads where we were and before long we were back out in the countryside.
About 15-20 minutes after our lunch break, we started to see a few neglected buildings and not long after that there were a bunch more along with a couple of cars parked – other sightseers.
The site is pretty neglected and vandalized today. There has been talk for some time about restoration and apparently since our visit, some of this work has begun – including the demolishing of some of the non-heritage buildings. Here’s how it looked when we visited.
This last photo, by the way, is inside the former cafeteria building – the one that the prisoners barricaded themselves in.
While we were there were a handful of other people who were also wandering around but it still felt eerie – especially in some of the darker basement areas. At the edges of the property you could sometimes hear the sound of children playing in the distance – like the memories of the boys who went to school there decades ago.
We wandered around for quite some time, taking photos and exploring the area before it was time to go – we didn’t bring lights so we needed to be back home before sunset. And so we rode back to the train station. This time we tried the Oshawa station I mentioned above and confirmed that it was, indeed, a pretty awful ride – the last kilometre or so was too stressful and we walked on the sidewalk for that last bit.
The combination of cycling and transit makes for an excellent city escape. While cycling downtown isn’t too stressful for many, the inner suburbs with their heavy traffic and high speed limits can be intimidating for cyclists. However, add a trip on transit to the mix and you can fast forward past the horrible riding in the inner suburbs and end up on some beautiful country roads. For a few suggestions for rides to do in the country, check out bikesandtransit.com.