This article was originally published in the 2020 Fall Issue of Invest In Style Magazine.
With their gaping mouths that lead into shadowy recesses, Bruce’s Caves are dramatic on a visceral level. This collection of caverns and hollows in the Niagara Escarpment cliffs, near Wiarton, serves as a dramatic illustration of ancient lake levels and how they shaped the modern landscape.
Prehistoric Lake Algonquin covered most of the area encompassed by today’s Upper Great Lakes – Superior, Michigan, and Huron. Filled with meltwater from the receding glaciers, it was much deeper than the modern lakes (the waterline was about halfway up the Escarpment’s cliffs). Bruce’s Caves were formed between 12,000 and 8,000 years ago when the waves of ancient Lake Algonquin repeatedly crashed against the shoreline, scouring and eroding the rock. Robert Bruce, after whom the caves are named, was born on the Orkney Islands, Scotland, around 1820. A soldier in the Scots Guards, he deserted at the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 and sought refuge in Canada where he settled on a wooded, 300-acre lot in Wiarton. Bruce was a recluse who lived the life of a hermit. For a few years, he worked in railway construction gangs, building during the summer, then paying to lodge in the local jail over the winter. But for most of his remaining years, Bruce lived in a modest cabin at the entrance to the caves and supported himself by charging admission to curious visitors.
Business must have been good because when Bruce died January 24, 1908, he was found to have several thousand dollars in the bank.
Bruce’s property is now protected by the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority. The main attraction is an enormous cave with a distinctive double arch at its entrance. Against the back wall of this cave, a crack in the rocks offers a peek into an inaccessible second cave. Many other caves – some large enough to walk through, others mere crevices in the rock – can be found along the escarpment face on both sides of the main cave, enough to keep you exploring for several hours.
All you need is a flashlight, a good pair of hiking shoes, and above all, a sense of adventure.
This was written prior to the Ontario-wide state of emergency and lockdown. Please continue to follow the government guidelines to stay safe during COVID-19.