A brief history of our bay by Kathryn Smith
The history of Hamilton Harbour goes back far beyond our memories or any recorded history. In the early 1600s it was noted by Jesuit Missionaries that tribes of North American Indians fished the bay all year long, catching several species of fish. The first recorded visit was by Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle who left Montreal in 1669 in search of the Ohio River and a new route to China. The area on the Burlington shore now bears his name with a plaque. 100 years later white men had settled along the bay and a visiting Englishman named Peter Campbell wrote about this body of water that the settlers had named ‘Lake Geneva’. “Six miles one way and five the other” Lake Geneva was land-locked.
By the end of the War of 1812, Lake Geneva was known as Hamilton Harbour, but was not an important shipping port due to the inaccessibility of the bay for large sailing vessels. In 1831 the Beach Canal was opened up and fifteen years later had to be widened and deepened to allow larger ships to enter. By 1850 yachting was a popular activity on the bay, with several boat builders setting up business along the shore. In 1860 Hamilton got its Yacht Club and was gaining popularity as an important port of call.
With the founding of Stelco in 1910 and Dofasco two years later, Hamilton was now a major shipping port. In 1912 the government instilled the Hamilton Harbour Commission to oversee the ships coming into Hamilton’s Harbour. Ships laden with iron ore, raw materials, merchandise, food and textiles were welcomed. As a major port of entry to Canada, immigrants looking for a better life arrived in droves from England, Scotland and Europe, bringing with them architects, masons, stone cutters and many other skilled laborers. These English and European settlers would become the backbone of this beautiful and historic city.
Did you know?
Hamilton was the first city in Canada to build a public library.
Hamilton was the first city in Canada to have electric lights in its downtown core.
At one point in time, Hamilton had more live theatre venues per capita than any other city in Canada – these even included a Grand Opera House that seated 1,169 patrons.
Paintings and prints of Hamilton can be viewed and purchased online at KathrynSmith.com