The Trail that Jack Built

Sunset Centre Bluff
Sunset Centre Bluff
This is what we were looking at
This is what we were looking at
Dyer's Bay
Dyer’s Bay
West Bluff Sunset
West Bluff Sunset

The Johnstone family made an enormous contribution to the creation of the Bruce Trail. To celebrate their gift, two different writers have each offered a tribute.

J. P. and Shirley Johnstone (Written by Dave Tyson)

When J.P. Johnstone died in the spring of 1978, Grant Bell, one of the early pioneers of the Dufferin Hi-Lands Bruce Trail Club, wrote that the section of the Peninsula club from Tobermory to Dyer’s Bay “might be called The Trail That Jack built.”

J.P. (Jack) and Shirley Johnstone, and their children (Carol, Ken, Don and Linda), played a major role in the early days of the Bruce Trail with their wide-ranging involvement in many aspects of the development of the Trail on the Bruce Peninsula..

The first formal meeting of a group in Tobermory to discuss the Bruce Trail project was organized by Philip Gosling and held at the Fire Hall, at 8:00 p.m., Friday, May 17, 1963. The group included Alfred K. Adams, J.C. Munn, A.J. Watson, J.P. (Jack) Johnstone and Lloyd Smith.

At that time, J.P. (only his family called him Jack) and Shirley Johnstone were the proprietors of Hidden Valley Lodge and also operated a beef cattle farm and lumber business. J.P. was active in local politics and was Reeve of St. Edmunds Township. He was approached by Philip Gosling and quickly saw the potential for tourism from development of the Trail.

Hidden Valley Lodge would become a home away from home for many Bruce Trail workers and the location for several B.T.A. Board meetings. J.P. later became chair of the Bruce Peninsula Planning Board and when the Niagara Escarpment Commission was formed in late 1973 he was appointed as the representative of Bruce County.

The next meeting of interested persons was held on September 27, 1964 in Tobermory and the Peninsula Bruce Trail Club was formed with Alf Adams as Chairman, Shirley Johnstone as Secretary-treasurer and Board members J.P. Johnstone and J.G. Munn. Family membership at that time totaled a mere $2.00! The new club was to be responsible for the Trail from Dyer’s Bay to Tobermory. J.P. later became president and served for several years. At the BTA AGM held on Oct. 3, 1964, it was reported, on behalf of J.P. Johnstone, that 25 miles of trail had been completed. J.P. and his family along with Tom Adams, Howard and Bruce Krug and a number of other volunteers were given credit for this achievement. J.P. also served on the BTA Board of Directors for several years. The Johnstones were heavily involved in organizing the Trail opening in June 1967.

In November of 1968 Delbert E. Firestine, a Director of the local Bruce Club, wrote to the BTA Board of Directors that, “J.P. Johnstone spent more time working on the Bruce Trail and for the Association than all other people of this area combined. … He has furnished transportation and help for people using the Trail. He has used his good name to influence land owners to give permission so that the Trail could cross their property.”

All hikers in the Bruce Peninsula should be thankful to the Johnstone family for all their contributions to the Trail. Without their vision and involvement, the Bruce Trail would not exist today as a continuous footpath north to Tobermory.

J. P. and Shirley Johnstone (Written by Grace Telfer)
In the early 1960’s a group of men with a vision met to explore the idea of a walking trail from Niagara to Tobermory. J. P. Johnstone who lived near Tobermory on the Hidden Valley road was contacted by Philip Gosling and asked if he would be interested and if he would start a trail in the upper Bruce Peninsula. Mr. Johnstone could see the tourism potential for the Bruce Peninsula and he became a Bruce Trail Director. Next came the task of obtaining the landowners’ names and addresses from the municipal office. A letter was compiled and sent by Mr. Johnstone as a Bruce Trail director to the landowners, asking permission to cross their property. The landowners were very cooperative and with the help of a few others the work soon began.

With compass in hand, the trail was walked and flagged all the way from Dyer’s Bay to Tobermory by J. P. Johnstone and road superintendent Baise Munn. Tom Adams helped as well and was available to drop them off and pick them up. The Upper Peninsula was very hard to access as there were very few roads that went to the Georgian Bay shoreline.

Over the period of a year Howard and Bruce Krug, Tom Adams, Tom East, Eldon Yundt and others did the major saw cutting and brushing as the trail continued through the bush. The Johnstone family all participated with sons Ken and Don and daughters Carol and Linda cutting and brushing the smaller growth.

The early trail went along the shore and escarpment edge from Tobermory to Dyer’s Bay. At least once a year the Bruce Trail members in the Peninsula would have a group hike and a dinner. The dinners were held along the shore at Jack Whitsitt’s (and his brother’s) cottage in the Wingfield Basin/Cabot Head area. Harry Hopkins, the lighthouse keeper at Cabot Head, was well known in the area for his whitefish dinners and would cook a hearty meal for the members.

Finally in June 1967 the Bruce Trail was ready for its official opening. It was an exciting and full day, with dignitaries, guests, and members meeting at the Johnstones’ for a luncheon and then all proceeding into Tobermory for the official opening at the cairn. A short afternoon hike was planned, followed by a dinner… An early evening slide presentation was held at the Community Hall, and a later evening dance completed the day.

In the early days of the trail the Johnstones were called upon to find missing hikers and to transport injured hikers to the medical facilities at Lion’s Head. For ten years the Johnstone family went out every spring, braving the blackflies, to brush, trim and blaze the trail from Dyer’s Bay to Tobermory.

It is through the dedication and perseverance of the J. P. Johnstone family that the Peninsula section became a reality. We applaud their efforts and thank all those involved who made this great scenic trail possible.

#JPJohnstone #ShirleyJohnstone #GraceTelfer #DavidTyson