To Walk the Streets : Burlington to Hamilton

Trekking across the Greater Toronto Area, especially in temperatures that reached the mid to high thirties, has taken its toll on us. Although slack-packing has been a real treat, it has added between 6 and 9 kilometers of walking to each day, as well as a train ride to get to and from our accommodations. This has made for very long days and very little sleep. Added to this has been a rising problem in our world and family issues which have developed in the last week or so. As a result, although we were awake at 7:00 am this morning, we didn't manage to get ourselves back onto the Great Trail in Burlington until just after 10 am.

We were extremely happy to discover that it was only about 20°C today, and there was a cool breeze blowing. Patches of ominously dark clouds scudded across the sky, but thankfully never rained on us.


The Burlington waterfront park is a well-groomed greenspace that includes the Brant Street Pier, a wide, paved, promenade through Spencer Smith Park, a playground and splash pad, and a large glass fronted restaurant with a view over the lake. It is also home to a humbling memorial to WWII Veterans.

There were quite a few people out on the promenade as we passed through the familiar park. A group of Double-crested Cormorants bobbed in the choppy waves, while Ring-billed and Herring Gulls soared overhead in the wind.

After leaving the park, as we left the Waterfront Trail behind and crossed under the QEW highway we found construction again. Soon we were in a quiet, old, neighbourhood that contained both new, large, mansions and some older, smaller houses. Large trees dominated the community, and the houses were set back on large, shady, and well landscaped properties.

As we hiked along the hilly and winding road a couple on bicycles stopped for a chat. They recognized us from our presentation, and had a few questions about our trip. It always amazes us when we meet people who recognize us, especially in a city of over 6 million people. Their enthusiasm for our hike gave us new energy.


The road soon brought us to the prestigious Burlington Golf and Country Club. This large property is located right on Hamilton Bay, giving a view over the water. Somewhat unfortunately, right across the bay is the active industrial section of Hamilton. Large, dark, clumsy and complicated looking metal factories dominated the opposite shore. Smoke stacks with towering flames escaping the tops rose above the murky buildings below. Out in the bay clouds of smoke or steam were rising from parked barges. It made us think that some waterfront views are more picturesque than others.


LaSalle Park was the next highlight as we continued around the bay. This 57 acre park has a sports field, playground, wading pool, splash pad, and picnic area. It is also home to the Burlington Boating and Sailing Club. As we climbed through a small forested section we spotted a flash of orange as an American Redstart darted across the trail. A Northern Cardinal called persistently from someone's backyard, and several American Robins moved about in the tall trees on either side of the path. We stopped at the beautifully landscaped Great Trail Pavilion in the park before continuing on down the road.

As we approached Hamilton we skirted around the Royal Botanical Gardens. This 1,100 hectare property includes five separate formal gardens, as well as over 700 hectares of nature reserves, all of which are surrounded by the slopes of the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. There are 27 km of nature trails running through the gardens, which present fantastic opportunities for birding, but sadly the Great Trail weaves around and not through them.

As we continued to Hamilton we walked through the 40 hectare Woodland Cemetery. This large, peaceful, treed, cemetery on the bay has been in use since 1919, and includes hundreds of graves, including dedicated sections for Canadian soldiers, and a memorial to those who lost their lives in the Hungarian uprising of 1956. It is always interesting to me to read the names on the gravestones, to see who formed the community, and to see how the familiar names are scattered throughout the sections and interconnected. It was sobering to walk among the graves of so many that came before us, and think about the mark we will leave, or not, upon this world when it is out time.

As we climbed out of the cemetery and onto the busy York Blvd to cross the bridge above Hamilton Harbour we found plaques commemorating the 'Around the Bay Road Race.' This is the oldest long distance road race in North America. It was first run in 1894, three years before the Boston Marathon. The challenging course is 30 km long, and it is still run every March.


As we crossed the bridge over the Desjardins Canal we had a panoramic view out over Hamilton Harbour (formerly called Burlington Bay) on one side, and Cootes Paradise on the other. Originally the canal was built to facilitate water access to Dundas, which is farther inland and was intended to be the industrial center of the region. When transportation by rail overtook shipping by water Hamilton rose up as the center of development, and the bay was allowed to silt up and become extremely polluted. In recent years waterfront restoration has been undertaken to clean up some of the damage.


Looking south over Lake Ontario was like seeing history in action. Behind us and across the Bay were the green, treed hills of the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Woodland Cemetery. Ahead, at the outside of the Bay we could see the factories, smoke stacks, and open fires of the industrial section of the city. Farther inland we could see the glass condo towers and sailboats of the yacht club in the developed part of the waterfront. Beside us ran the Waterfront Trail and the railway tracks.

On the other side of the bridge were the treed hills of the Niagara Escarpment rising around Cootes Paradise. This natural area falls within the Dundas Valley and Dundas Marsh Important Bird Area, which supports a nationally significant community of forest birds. More than 1% of Canada's Hooded Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush populations can be found there (both threatened species). Other at-risk species that occur in this IBA include Cerulean Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Acadian Flycatchers. Over 100 other songbird species have also been observed there, and the IBA also provides important habitat for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, herons, raptors, gulls, and terns.

After crossing the bridge the trail took us past the Dundurn National Historic Site. This neoclassical, 40 room castle was built in 1835, and featured the modern conveniences of gas lighting and running water. The rooms have been restored to the year 1855 when the owner, Sir Allan Napier MacNab was at the height of his career. Costumed interpreters usually provide guided tours to museum visitors.

Once past Dundurn NHS we ventured around Burlington Bay.  En route we enjoyed the opportunity to revisit Bayfront Park, the revitalized Pier 4 Park, and the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club.

After enjoying the sights and sounds of the beautifully revitalized Hamilton Harbour The Great Trail toured through the city centre - an area that we have not toured for years. En route we discovered just how much Hamilton has become tied to Toronto.  A new Go station, no train lines, and a vibrant downtown stand as evidence of a city on the rise. 

Our pathway soon turned westward toward HWY 403, one of the busiest roadways in Southwestern Ontario, and Princess Point - a southern portion of RBG's Cootes Paradise. As we passed over the highway we could hear the call of a Red Tailed Hawk perched at the top of the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King.  It presented a stunning image to watch such a magnificent species sitting above the city in such a manner.  The architectural focus of the Hamilton cathedral  is its imposing Gothic bell tower. 

We are familiar with the trail system in the Hamilton Region, having explored some of it in the past. Among our favourite parts are the Bruce Trail, which is a 900 km footpath that follows the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Tobermory. The Chedokee Rail Trail and Waterfront Trail also provide interesting walks around the region. There are ample opportunities for jogging, cycling, hiking and viewing multiple waterfalls in and around the Hamilton region.

Strangely, the Great Trail guided us through the streets of Hamilton to the campus of McMaster University, before weaving us west to the beginning of the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail, also on roadways. It was hot, humid, and the sky was threatening rain when our circuitous route brought us to the beginning of the rail trail at 3:30 pm. We had another 15 km to go before we could reasonably expect to find a camping spot for the night. When another unexpected phone call brought more bad news, we decided it was time to take a break before continuing west.

We've hiked 800 km across Ontario this year, which is equivalent to walking the Camino de Santiago across Spain. It has been a time of great uncertainty and change, with both a global pandemic and a huge push to move towards a more equitable and just society. Each day has brought new hope, but also new disappointments and challenges, some of them very personal and close to home. Hiking across the city has been an interesting and wonderful experience, but it has done little to restore our energy or mental health. We've decided to take a few days off the trail to rest and find our new direction as we move forward.

See you on the trail!

Remember to follow our entire adventure here :


  1. *hugs* Looking forward to see if you will continue, and saying that whatever decision you take, I will think of you two.


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