Hamilton is all too frequently missed on the drive from Toronto to Niagara Falls or vice versa. While it once was a city with serious air pollution, a virtually inaccessible waterfront and lots of heavy industry, it now has clean air, a beautiful park on Hamilton harbour in Burlington Bay and the steel mills are not the massive polluters that they once were. So leave the Queen Elizabeth Highway and have a visit. There is much to see. Here are a few recommendations.
The Royal Botanical Gardens
Hamilton’s great glory are the Royal Botanical Gardens. Hamilton should really be called the City of the Gardens because the Royal Botanical Gardens stretch all along the northern boundaries of the city from Burlington where the Headquarters of the Garden are located, around the wonderfully named Cootes Paradise Marsh to the edge of the town of Dundas.
About 90 % of the Royal Botanical Gardens are nature sanctuaries that take in the Niagara Escarpment, forests and wetlands. These are accessible on some 27 kilometres of walking trails made up of thirty individual groomed trails with lookouts, boardwalks over marshes, and many stream crossings. The trails link up with other regional trails including the Bruce Trail. For the really avid hiker the Bruce Trail provides an 885 kilometre walk along the Niagara Escaprment from Queenston near Niagara Falls to Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Lake Huron.
The Indoor Garden Displays at the Royal Botanical Garden Headquarters are a good place to start your tour of the formal plantings. They provide a wonderful year round educational experience with particular emphasis on the botany of the Mediterranean climate habitat. Adjacent to the Headquarters building are outdoor gardens with remarkable displays of lilies, roses, vegetables, scented and medicinal plants and the botany of the world. In season a walk around this massive display will take well over an hour. You can walk from the rear of this garden on trails leading down to the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary.
Drive a few minutes from the Headquarters and you will come to the Laking Garden where the crowning display is of an almost infinite variety of Irises. If you are interested in adding hosta, ornamental grasses or perennial borders to your garden this is the place to check them out.
Again just a few minute’s drive will bring you the world famous Rock Garden with its Flowering Cherry collection. This site is frequently crowded in the height of the summer as it is very popular with Hamiltonians as well as tourists. The large number of elegant “just married” couples posing here before an equally elegant floral background reveals how much this site means to residents of the Hamilton area.
A little further off is the Arboretum which has a remarkable display of Magnolias, Lilacs and Crabapples as well as a comprehensive collection of deciduous and coniferous trees. It is not to be missed in the early summer when the most magnificent trees are in bloom.
The effect of the Royal Botanical Gardens can be seen in private gardens that surround many of the homes along the bay in Burlington, and throughout the city of Hamilton and the town of Dundas and off up the escarpment to Ancaster and beyond.