Travel by Foot

Travel by Foot

Travelling by foot is perhaps the simplest way that people transport themselves from one place to another. However, there are inventions and equipment that make human powered movement easier, more comfortable and possible for people of all abilities.

Applefest at the Markham Museum

Photo: Heritage Apple Orchard at Markham Museum

Many of the first permanent European settlers in Markham were farming families that came from Pennsylvania by foot. Moving in to set up house and clear forest for farming required a lot of equipment. Their preferred method for transporting supplies was the Conestoga wagon.

Conestogas had large, sturdy wheels that could roll over holes, logs, stumps and uneven terrain. The bottom rails of the wagon bed were sloped toward the centre, which discouraged contents from falling out on bumpy terrain, and kept the wagon balanced. Conestogas would even float when crossing water! “Teamsters” who guided the horse-drawn wagons would usually walk alongside.

Concession roads and other pathways laid the first foundations for how Markham Township was developed, and walking still shapes how our City is designed today. Sidewalks, walking paths, pedestrian right of ways; all of these physical features have an impact on the form of our urban environment.

German Mills Oil Painting
Photo: German Mills. Oil painting in the possession of the Historical Society of Mecklenburg Upper Canada: after an unfinished pencil drawing by Albrecht Ulrich Moll, known as William Berczy. Markham Museum Collection M.2015.0.60a

Snowshoes are an innovation that make travelling by foot in winter far more practical. They prevent one’s feet from sinking into snow by distributing weight over a much wider surface area.

Snowshoeing was almost universal among Indigenous groups in North America outside of the Pacific and Arctic coasts. The shoe frames were usually made from durable, flexible ash wood, and the lacing from animal hide. This method of transportation was later adopted by European fur traders.

Wooden snowshoes
These wooden snowshoes are held together with nails and interwoven sinew. The square holes in the centre of the weaving are meant to allow the toe of one’s boot to go through. On these examples the leather foot harnesses are missing.
Markham Museum Collection, M.2000.0.62.a-b

People in Markham today use snowshoes mostly for recreational purposes. Like skates and skis, technology that was originally made to make travelling in winter easier are now mostly used to have fun!

Markham Civic Centre Ice Rink at  Night
Photo: Ice skating at Markham Civic Centre

Walking is also a beloved form of leisure, and Markham has many areas to enjoy a stroll or a hike. Parks Canada is developing an integrated trail system in the Rouge National Urban Park. When complete, there will be a continuous trail system from the mouth of the Rouge River at Lake Ontario, through Scarborough and Markham, to the park’s border in Stouffville.

Rouge Trails Map
Photo: Rouge Park Walking Trail Corridor and Visitor Facilities

The City of Markham is in the midst of developing a new Active Transportation Master Plan (ATMP) that aims to build a well-connected and safe network for cyclists, pedestrians, persons with assistive devices and parents with strollers.
Visit to contribute your ideas or to learn more.

Andre De Grasse takes travel by foot to a whole new level and is Markham’s fastest person.

Andre De Grasse
Photo: Andre De Grasse, Canadian Track and Field Championships. Courtesy of Athletics Canada.

Andre De Grasse Puma Sprint Spike
Autographed Andre De Grasse Puma Sprint Spike.
On loan from Envision Sports and Entertainment
Photo: Andre De Grasse, Rio Olympics, 2016. Courtesy of Athletics Canada

Mini Challenge Walking Markham
Going for a walk is a great form of exercise. Calculate the length of your typical route and compare it with the distances local residents travelled in times before jumping in the family car was an option.

How many times will you repeat your daily exercise route in order to complete one of these distances?

  • Pomona Mills to Thornhill Village (to take grain for processing at the local grist mill) - 1.2 km
  • Unionville Station to Markham District High School (prior to 1985 central Markham teenagers travelled to Markham village for secondary education, originally by horse or train and later using buses) - 6.1 km. 
  • Boxgrove to Markham Museum (Mount Joy residents collected goods at Sparta Wharfs transported north from Toronto up the Rouge River) - 6.8 km
  • Travel the borders of Markham - 72 km
  • Some of our early settlers travelled overland from Pennsylvania - 710 km

See the links below for information on local trails.


This chair provided Barb Wilkinson with added mobility as a child. Barb’s parents were active with the Cerebral Palsy Parent Council of Toronto. They were on the first board that raised the capital moneys to construct the pilot project Participation House on Butternut Lane in 1972. Today Participation House operates seven residential centres in Markham.

Gift of Barb and Joan Wilkinson. Barb Wilkinson here with Mayor Frank Scarpitti
Gift of Barb and Joan Wilkinson M.2017.28.1
Barb Wilkinson pictured here with Mayor Frank Scarpitti

Baby Walker

These devices gave children the ability to move about on a level floor and reach kitchen counters long before they were ready to take their first steps. Health Canada banned baby walkers in 2004, and for 15 years before that, major retailers had agreed to respect a voluntary ban.

Markham Museum Collection M.1985.0.305


Visit the Markham Centennial Skatepark to see some great tricks. 

On loan from Pfaff, BMW, Mini Markham

Roller Skates

These roller skates were made in Waterloo, Ontario by the Sunshine Waterloo Company Ltd. Roller skates were used as an easy and fun way for transportation and recreation for people of all ages. In 1937 roller skating between Markham and Stouffville villages was banned by council due to safety concerns.

Gift of Fern Lustig M.2010.32.27

Skates, Skis, Snowshoes

Travelling in winter by foot may require more than just a good pair of boots. The larger surface area of snowshoes and skis keep us from sinking in deep drifts. Ice skates make it possible to travel across lakes or rivers. But they can also be used for recreation.

Thornhill Womens Hockey Team
Photo: Thornhill Women's Hockey Team, 1914-1917. They played teams from Oshawa, Bowmanville, Toronto and never lost a game. Money raised from the games supported the war effort. Back row, left to right: Edith Clement, Gladys Grice, Mr. Albert Pearson, team manager, Marjorie Farr. Front row, left to right: Hazel Riddle, Margaret Boyle, Mary Francis, Winnie Simpson, Lillian Francis. Markham Museum Collection M.1987.0.1529

Fran Thomson (1929 - ) is a lifetime resident of Markham and enjoys an active lifestyle year round. Many of these activities, including cross country skiing in the Rouge Valley west of Markham Village, were family or social outings and included her husband Jim. Fran travelled to Tremblant and St. Sauveur, Quebec to ski, changing out of her Toronto office attire in time to hop on a weekend snow train. She would arrive back at Union Station on Monday morning just in time to start her work day.

Snowshoes: Markham Museum Collection M.2000.0.62.a&b
Telemark Skis M.2012.4.2.3 a-d, Cross Country Skis (Kivaylo), Gift of Fran Thomson M.2013.1.94.a-f

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