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Ontario Travel: Discovering Hamilton by Bicycle

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Published on Oct 9, 2009

As an avid cyclist and the proud owner of a brand-new bicycle carrier, I was ready to embark on my first out-of-town excursion with my bike. So on a sunny late morning of September 6, 2009 I grabbed one of my friends and together we put the bikes on the car and made our way west of Toronto towards our destination: Hamilton.

Now, many Ontarians perceive Hamilton as a steel-producing town whose waterfront is marred by the smoke-stacks of heavy industry. But after doing some research I realized that Hamilton, Ontarios third largest city, has a lot more to offer than what people might expect. First of all, Hamilton is bisected by the Niagara Escarpment, the limestone cliff that winds its way through Central Ontario from Niagara Falls to Tobermory. More than 100 waterfalls drop down the steep cliff of the Niagara Escarpment within Hamiltons boundaries. The city also has numerous conservation areas and a protected wetland called Cootes Paradise.

Other key sites include Dundurn Castle, a National Historic Site and stately home dating back to 1835; the Royal Botanical Gardens (officially located in Burlington); the McMaster Museum of Art with its collection of over 6,000 works of art; the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology, housed in a former late 19th century pumping station that is now also a National Historic Site; and many others.

We started our route at Dundurn Castle and explored the grounds of this impressive mansion. Riding northwards on York Boulevard we reached a bridge over the Desjardins Canal that connects Lake Ontario with Cootes Paradise, a scenic wetland area. The view from the bridge in all directions was amazing. Then we carried our bikes downstairs a large staircase to connect with the Hamilton Waterfront Trail.

A wide bicycle path accommodates 4 to 6 riders beside each other on extremely smooth pavement and offers a great view over Hamilton Bay. We rode through the peninsula of Bayfront Park, past a big festival at Pier 4 Park to Pier 8 which houses the docking areas for the Hamiltonian Tour Boat and the Hamilton Harbour Queen. The adjacent Williams Coffee Pub features a great outdoor patio and is a popular gathering place. A few steps away is the Parks Canada Discovery Centre, home to innovative and interactive exhibits as well as three galleries.

From here the industrial landscape of Hamiltons steelmakers came into full view as we cycled past large warehouses that featured paintings of Hamilton Harbour created by local school children. Around the corner is the HMCS Haida, a 1943 naval destroyer that served in various armed conflicts including the Second World War, the Korean War and the Cold War. This National Historic Site is now accessible to the public as a museum.

We then started riding away from the Waterfront Trail into the City of Hamilton and took a spin around the downtown core. Although much of Hamiltons historic architecture was razed in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the Urban Renewal era, many impressive historic buildings are still left. We stopped to look at the Central Elementary School, a stunning structure from 1853. After criss-crossing the downtown core we cycled back to the waterfront, headed north and cycled beside the Desjardins Canal over to Cootes Paradise. From here we tackled a fairly steep but short climb up to the north end of Hamilton. Our final stop was the Cathedral of Christ the King, the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton. This impressive building was consecrated in 1933.

Our great day in Hamilton had shown that this city was an excellent choice for an out-of-town bicycling excursion. Next time I hope I have a chance to explore more of Hamiltons downtown, its architecture and neighbourhoods

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