Like everything else at Lake Ontario’s Hamilton Harbour, dawn arrived in its own good time. The flat black of night slowly deepened to a midnight blue that lightened in lazy steps, gradually giving form to the spike of a tree, the tongue of a weathered wood boat launch – and that was on a clear day. On this day, fog slowed the process of delineation, reducing the lake to a pool of milky glass and the shoreline to a haze wash of orange, gold and green where, normally vibrant fall colours would be. Details are lost in the mist, like the separation of reflections and the shore. The effect, with the air quiet and still, was that of a protective cocoon. It was a special moment, to listen to the silence and the water slowly lapping against the shoreline. That view of the lake keeps one focused and sane.
The sent of autumn is a fine seasoning in the air. It is a long steady sound with a dip at the end of the canoe paddle that gave the lake a primitive feeling to the autumn air. A gaggle of mallards emerged from the mist of the lake to swim past the boat launch at one point. The tiniest sough of water against the shore can be heard. This sound sends a hypnotic something to the serenity of the moment. If you sit long and quiet enough in a canoe, the swan family will think you are a tree ! Bugs hover, thunder rolls, lightening strikes and the swan family either sit on the shoreline or sit quietly in the water preening. Or, the young cygnets flutter their wings. Like statues, the swan family sits quietly taking in the serenity of the lake which is still and the reflection is clear. The pool of milky glass gives way to a vibrant reflection of the swan family in the lake.
The beauty of the night, the lake and the swan family was like a tight-woven tapestry. In October the water in the lake is cold. It can be coined as “Cold as a trout outta the lake in October.” Under the mud at the bottom of the lake, hides a timid frog. The morning air was cool, but not too cold. The air was clear and the fall foliage is gloriously reflected in the water as the sun comes over the horizon.
Hamilton Harbour is a significant cultural landmark, because it has played a central role in the development and industrialization of the region. Etienne Brule in 1615 was believed to be the first explorer of Hamilton Harbour. The harbour is naturally protected landlocked body of water that was created during the glaciation period. The past decade (1990 – 2,010) has dramatically changed the waterfront bringing with it new recreational uses and restored natural and cultural features. Hamilton Harbour is located at the western end of Lake Ontario, and comprised of 50 sq. km. The surface area of the harbour is 2,160 ha. In the water, the maximum depth is 25 meters, but the mean depth is 13 metres. Although the watershed is 500 sq. km., the centerpiece of this waterfront is the 45 km. of shoreline on Lake Ontario. Here, one -third of this shoreline is used for commercial fishing, including – warehouses, wharfs and terminals.
The food-web of Hamilton Harbour is important as it is a limnologiclally – unique (fish population) harbour. Although there is still a concern about PCBs in Hamilton Harbour, the Ministry of the Environment 2,007 study showed “PCBs relatively high, but not increasing, and it is consistent with urban harbour background concentrations.” Since its 1992 and $90,000,000 (Ontario wide) RAP implementation program . Hamilton’s RAP monitor fish and wildlife and the restoration and preservation of Hamilton Harbour and its ecosystem. The 1978 U.S./Canada Water Quality Agreement to restore physical and biological integrity of water in the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. Hamilton Harbour Area of Concern has had a third assessment, and Remedial Action Plans have been developed and are being implemented. The actions of citizens, government and industry illustrates the importance of the natural gift we have been given – Hamilton Harbour. For example, in the industry section, Stelco (now U.S. Steel) and Dofasco provided $76,000,000 in aid to improving water quality and restoring habitat in Hamilton Harbour. The Burlington Bay side of Hamilton Harbour has been know as Macassa Bay, Lake Geneva and Ouiqueton. When this area became more populated, the name changed to Head – Of -The – Lake, and by the early 19th century it was commonly known as Burlington Bay. Hamilton’s Harbour continued revitalization will serve industry, the environment and individuals in a sustainable manner.
Hamilton Harbour is a unique and busy working port. Actually, Hamilton Harbour is one of the most decentralized ports in Canada which is subject to little government intervention. In this unique harbour it was the 1846 statute that incorporated the City of Hamilton that gave authority over the Harbour to the City and not to the Provincial Government. The current proprietary ownership of Hamilton Harbour is the Hamilton Harbour Commission, an independent and autonomous organization. The Hamilton Harbour Commission is a public corporation with the power to develop and administer policies on behalf of the city. It has authority over Hamilton Harbour including piers, waterfront, property, docks, water-lots, shores, and beaches. The only areas not under the Commission are (1) Cootes Paradise which is RGB, and, (2) the Burlington Shipping Channel that comes under the Federal Government of Transport.However, the Federal Government does have the ability to affect the decision of the organization through legislative jurisdiction under the Constitution Act of 1867. What is unique about Hamilton Harbour is Hamilton Harbour is not subject to laws as other Harbours ( such as, Toronto Harbourfront). That is, the Harbour Commission Act of 1964 and the Canadian Port Act of 1982 do not apply to Hamilton Harbour.
Many festivals and cultural events are ongoing in Hamilton Harbour. Public swimming was utilized up to 1930, and reinstated in recent years, but is constantly monitored for public health safety. In fact, the most notorious public swim was in the 1970s with Shiela Copps, MP and Cabinet Minister swam in Hamilton Harbour. And the Horror Movie, “Marina Monster ” was filmed here in 2,005. The waterfront trail includes Dundurn Park, Bayfront Park, Pier 4 Park, and Pier 8, Canada’s Marine Discovery Centre and HMCS Haida at Catharine Street. The other branch of the waterfront trail is further east, the Hamilton Beach Trail. This trail follows Lake Ontario shoreline under the Lift Bridge to Confederation Park and into Stoney Creek (now part of Regional Hamilton). There is a new 2,010 path to cross Eastport Drive /Beach Blvd that goes under the bridge to Confederation Park, Van Wagner’s Beech and the Beach blvd side of the lift bridge. In the west end of Hamilton Harbour if you go just a bit further to Cootes Paradise there is an impressive staircase with a cycling trough leading to Dundurn Park and some amazing lookout cites. Several fitness groups now meet at the Hamilton Harbourfront and walk, cycle the trails.
The two Gazebo’s are utilized by many citizens and this past Spring and Summer the nesting, birthing and fledgling of new Mute Swan cygnets have been followed by several people. This was an excellent opportunity to view the improved Hamilton Harbour’s habitat restoration in action. Other people enjoy the 6 metres (20 ft.) wide trails, public boat launch, and fishing opportunities. Learning to have respect for the water and navigate on our large freshwater Lake Ontario is an important skill and opportunities are provided by the Macassa Bay Yacht club, the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club including the HHC Sailing School.
The bottom – line is Hamilton Harbour is changing for the better and when other communities frown upon Hamilton Harbour, you can smile and give up-to-date positive changes that are presently occurring in Hamilton Harbour, a centerpiece of our Hamilton community.