Harbouring lots of history

How much do you know about the Hamilton Harbour? For most of my time living in Hamilton, I’ve taken for granted the beauty of Bayfront Park and the Waterfront Trail. I’ve spoken to many students who claimed Bayfront Park to be their favourite “natural landmark” in Hamilton. And there’s no doubt that the Harbour has become a beautiful landmark and recreational space. But what many students may not know is that the bay area hasn’t always been this way.

Historically, the harbour area developed to be a hub for both recreation and commerce. It was an important port for the transport of industrial goods. Prior to the 1920s, it was also lively with swimmers, fisherman, and turtle catchers, and in the winter, companies prospered from ice cutting that was used for refrigeration. This all came to an end when the bay was closed off in the 1920s due to extreme pollution from industry and landfill. As a result of the Hamilton Harbour Commissioner’s Act in 1912, huge landfill projects were underway. In the east end of the harbour, the steel companies, Stelco and Dofasco, were filling the harbour with slag waste and using the new land to expand their companies and docking facilities. In the west end, 50 acres of water lots were filled by scrap metal dealers to build “Bayshore Village” without public consent. After public outrage and extensive environmentalist lobbying, this project was eventually cancelled. “Bayshore Village” became Bayfront Park, and the beautiful Waterfront trail was built to extend from Princess Point to the North End.

More recently, the Remedial Action Plan was developed (in 1992, updated in 2002) as a step to take the Hamilton Harbour off of the list of “Areas of Concern” determined by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The plan is being implemented by the Bay Area Implementation Team, and public participation is encouraged and overseen by the Bay Area Restoration Council. The stakeholders involved want the Hamilton Habour and its watershed to include sustainable ecosystems, while increasing recreational prospects and maintaining economic utility. The plan is hoped to be complete, with the harbour delisted, by 2020.

Until recently, I can honestly say that I did not know the Bayfront Park was built on landfill. I’ve enjoyed numerous bike rides down the Waterfront Trail and partaken in activities at the park without even realizing its rich history. People may say that Hamilton is a “dirty” city, but how can we truly judge without knowing the full story? Sure, we are still faced with significant environmental challenges, but credit must be given to the effort that has been and is currently being invested to improve the quality of our local waters and the health of our community (see below links for more info!).


  1. Freeman, B. (2001). Hamilton: A people’s history (pp. 156-176). Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company Limited.  Online version available through McMaster Library Catalogue
  2. Remedial Action Plan: http://www.hamiltonharbour.ca/RAP/index.htm
  3. Bay Area Restoration Council: http://www.hamiltonharbour.ca/whysave-threats.htm