Why does Hamilton have so many heritage buildings? How has the historical character of its downtown area been so well preserved? The largest number of heritage easement properties at the Ontario Heritage Trust are from the City of Hamilton. The city has a wealth of history, because of its development as a great industrial city, along with its location just south-west of the big city of York (Toronto) situated on Lake Ontario, and the Niagara Escarpment which provided the beautiful stone for some its magnificent heritage buildings. The answer to my question, is that with a decline in industrial prosperity during the 1980s and 1990s, due to competition from other developing cities around Toronto, including Oakville, Mississauga and Burlington, the city was not seeing much new growth. This lack of new growth meant that heritage buildings weren’t being taken down for that of high-rise developments. With a new surge in the economy in the last decade growth is beginning again in Hamilton, and many of the heritage buildings are being properly conserved, including a couple of properties that I got to see a couple weeks ago that have heritage easements.
The first was the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology, which was unbelievably cool to see. The museum is housed within the original 1859 Hamilton waterworks, a magnificent Italianate style stone building, with oculus windows, voussoir stone arches, detailed brackets under a wide eaves, highly detailed doors and one tall brick tower.
Inside houses two 45 foot high, 75-ton steam-powered pumping engines, that supplied drinking water to the city from 1859 to 1910. Today, they are the oldest surviving examples of their kind in North America. A must see if you are in the Hamilton area, it is like stepping back in time. I was amazed at the technology that they had in the late nineteenth century, still unsure of how they actually put all those heavy parts in place.
Next stop was the piece de resistance of Hamilton…in that of Dundurn Castle. How does one leave a legacy in a developing city and nation? Similarly to that of Casa Loma and Boldt Castle, one invests all their hard earned money into an extravagant over-the-top home (castle). Sir Allan Napier McNab, after not being able to rise in York, moved to Hamilton in 1826. Within a few years he was a successful lawyer in the city. In 1832 he purchased the property on which Dundurn sits on Burlington Heights overlooking Burlington Bay. The site originally was occupied by Richard Beasley in the early 1800s, who had built a red brick farmhouse. During the War of 1812, the Heights were utilized by British forces, in fending off the American forces. Remnants of these fortifications can still be seen on the property today. McNab wanted these elements incorporated into his castle, and under the design of Robert Weatherell, the magnificent building was completed in 1835. With more than 70 rooms, including highly detailed elaborate main rooms, bedrooms and servant quarters, along with a hand full of outbuildings and large gates, McNab created a picturesque estate worthy of being his legacy.
The best part of being with the Trust was that I got to see behind every closed door, crossed the velvet roping and even got to go on the roof! Which had the most amazing view, one can see right across Lake Ontario to Toronto. Dundurn has been beautifully preserved for generations to enjoy its grandeur and imagine themselves hosting the elite of Hamilton and Upper Canada.
The battery lodge on the property, is now the Hamilton Military Museum, which currently has a fantastic exhibit on the evolution of the the property from First Nations occupation to the last owner of Dundurn Castle.
Next site visit: Eldon House, London Ontario