The Nith is the little sister of Southwestern Ontario’s Grand River. It’s the sibling that’s prettier, more graceful, calmer, slender and has a much more subtle charm about her.
She also gets less attention–and that’s a good thing.
As a youngster growing up in Milton, Ontario—once a farm community rather than an extension of the city of Toronto—I paddled a lot of rivers in Southwestern Ontario. The Credit, Thames, Big Creek. But never the Nith. I haven’t the sweetest clue why. It has so many possibilities. Countless put-ins and take-outs alongside road backcountry bridges and small hamlets create endless day-tripping possibilities.
The Nith is, however, a shoulder-season run. It’s water dependent and can only be paddled during spring runoff or after rainy days in the fall. My buddy, Andy, and I just recently chose a Sunday in November to travel a section and we rarely touched bottom.
There are three popular sections that make for excellent day-tripping. The upper stretch from the hamlet of Greenfield to the takeout at Frog Bridge at Drumbo (a.k.a. Silver Bridge); the middle run between Frog Bridge and the second bridge in Canning; and the lower portion from the Canning Bridge to Bean Park in the town of Paris.
The upper cuts through wooded banks and the occasional farmer’s field. The middle snakes its way through the tranquil countryside of Oxford County, cutting into high clay banks and stands of Carolinian sycamore trees. On the lower run the river picks up its pace, forming a stretch of class one and two rapids before flushing out into the Grand River.
Andy I chose the middle section. The upper would have been a longer day—a five-hour paddle rather than an easy three. The temperature was also a little too crisp to attempt any big rapids on the lower. The middle section is made up of flat water with a few swifts to navigate along the way. It was perfect!
The day was spent counting various bird species (herons, geese, sandpipers, kingfishers, ducks and a bald eagle). We also spotted three deer bounding up a wooded embankment. And except for a pleasant chat with dairy farmer, we had the river to ourselves the entire day. Even the rural homes along the way were hidden out of sight by the high river banks and dense woodlots
We ended our day well before dark at the Canning Bridge (Grand Experiences shuttled our vehicle for us). Canning is home to the original house where hockey legend Wayne Gretzky grew up. It was also once a hideout for outlaw Jesse James. This watershed is teeming with history, from ancient Aboriginal battle sites to forgotten ghost towns.
It also has some of the most unique present day festivals and social gatherings I’ve ever experienced: Woodstock’s Cowapolooza, Oxford’s Cheese Days and Embro’s Wienerfest Festival where over 1,000 Dachshunds (and their owners of course) gather to celebrate this adorable dog breed by diving for hotdogs and competing in costume and a yogurt-licking contests.
It’s a given that the Nith isn’t as wild a river as the ones that Andy and I have paddled in the far north. We spotted cows instead of moose and stopped for lunch under a trestle bridge rather than a knob of granite. But it was a good excuse to spend the day drifting down a semi-wild current and gawk at the countryside that I grew up in, creating a comfort in the familiar.