Saturday Trekking

Sunday 3 November 2013
The nine-kilometre trek between my apartment in downtown Hamilton and my parents' house in Burlington is rife with history. Until a recent Saturday, I had never made the journey by foot to learn more about the history that stands between my parents’ house and mine. In what other nine-kilometre stretch can you find a castle built by a leader of the Canadas, an early 19th-century cemetery with mass graves from a cholera epidemic and the Spanish Influenza epidemic, a royal botanical garden, and battlegrounds from the War of 1812?

Hamilton is a city rich in history and rich in stories. These are just a few of them.

Since 1835, Dundurn Castle, now a National Historic Site of Canada, has been one of Hamilton's most notable landmarks. Anybody who grew up in this area knows from many school trips to Dundurn Castle that it was the residence of Sir Allan Napier MacNab, a lawyer and politician who gave the city its railroad and first bank. Featuring a combination of Classical and Italianate features, today the castle has been restored to the year 1855 and is open to the public.

Urban legend tells us that there are secret underground tunnels built beneath Dundurn Castle, but when we asked our guide on a recent tour she answered (a little bit too quickly), "There are no tunnels!" The grounds also feature the Hamilton Military Museum and a small building rumoured to have been used for cockfighting to entertain guests of Dundurn.

Recently called a "strange little war," the War of 1812 brought soldiers to many battleground in the area, including Burlington Heights, which is also a National Historic Site. Two hundred years ago, Burlington Heights was the stronghold for British troops against the Americans.

My favourite story of the T.B. McQuesten High Level Bridge is the story of its statues — or lack thereof. Each of the four columns that make the bridge so noticeable still have empty niches, originally meant to house statues. Recently, Paul Wilson at the CBC addressed the noticeable gaps:

"As the bridge was being completed, McQuesten contacted four prominent Hamilton families about whether they’d like a bronze statue in the niche. Turns out all four were Presbyterians and an uproar ensued. The niches have been empty ever since."

My favourite photo of the bridge is not one I've taken recently, but a photo of my grandfather skating near the bridge in, I think, the 1940s.

According to Lonely Planet, "With 1000-plus hectares of flowers, natural parklands and a wildlife sanctuary, the Royal Botanical Gardens is only one of six world gardens to be designated 'royal,'" yet despite it being so close to home, I haven't been there in close to two decades. I'll add that to my list of things to do in the Spring.

York Boulevard, which becomes Burlington's Plains Road, has long been of importance to the growth of the city. Before highways began crisscrossing the landscape, York Boulevard was "the pre-Confederation northwest gateway to Toronto." And today, thousands of people drive by every day on their way to and from work without realizing the historical importance of this stretch to the city of Hamilton. Nine kilometres is a long hike, especially in flip flops, but it's one I would recommend in order to better understand this rich city's past.

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