It’s March, and the world is starting to thaw and look alive again. Since December, Hamilton (and all of Canada) has been braced for the cold, for snow, and for the multitude of challenges that winter brings. It sometimes seems like spring will never come.
Knowing that winter can feel so long, Canadians are generally pretty adept at finding plenty to keep them entertained during the cold, dark part of the year. Skiing, skating, and other winter sports are obviously popular. Here in Hamilton, there are regular reports about how thick the ice is on the lake, and whether it is safe for people to go out on it. Cafes and restaurants do a brisk trade in warm drinks and comfort food.
During the holiday season there are parades, giveaways, and of course plenty of shopping. In February, Hamilton is host to Winterfest, which comprises of dozens of events like concerts, contests and arts displays. And all winter, if the wind isn’t too cold, you can enjoy a stroll around the town, taking in the sights as they lie blanketed in snow.
A few weeks ago, during an unseasonably mild and melted February day, we had the opportunity to be tourists in our own city and we chose to take a stroll down to the waterfront. The land referred to by locals as the “waterfront” consists of several different recreation areas – Pier 8, Pier 4 and Bayfront Park in central Hamilton; Cootes Paradise and the Royal Botanical Gardens in the west; and Skyway Park and Confederation Park in the east end. And many more, too, of course.
All of these different areas have their own separate appeal, depending on what you enjoy doing. Open spaces to run and play sports, fly a kite, or throw down a picnic rug. Play equipment (including a really cool boat at Pier 4) for the kids, a splash pad for the hot weather. For those inclined, there are boat rentals at the boat club – for those happier to be passengers, there are boat tours. There are also geese, swans and other waterfowl – and adorable young ones if you come at the right time of year.
Cootes Paradise and the trails and outdoor spaces of the Royal Botanical Gardens are wonderful for hiking and watching birds and other wildlife. When the weather is still too cold to go outside, the RBG has wonderful indoor gardens with plants from around the world, and often fascinating exhibits. To get from one part of the waterfront to another, there is the hop-on-hop-off Trolley, an adorable little red buggy that trundles from Pier 8 to Cootes and back again. There are a lot of hidden treasures along the way. Ever heard of the Hamilton Fishway? A fascinating project to keep invasive species out of the Cootes Paradise conservation area.
We chose to stroll around Pier 8. This area is the subject of a lot of talk at present, and there are plans for further development. Currently there are a few buildings and a large flattened rink that is used for ice skating in winter, and roller skating for the rest of the year. There’s a lovely view across the lake (in warmer months, it will be dotted with boats large and small) in all directions from this jut of land. A little further east (where we unfortunately couldn’t go due to construction on this particular day) along the waterfront trail is the HMCS Haida, a retired warship which is permanently anchored in Hamilton’s harbour, and is a National Historic Site.
On our day out we saw boats moored, people walking and jogging and skating at the rink, kids playing and lots of people enjoying some good food. The world wasn’t ready to turn to spring yet, but for one warm February day, we had a glimpse of how much fun there will be in a few short weeks. Hopefully we will have a chance to write about other amazing places to visit later in the year. But even in the depths of winter, weather permitting, Hamilton has a lot of sights to see and adventures to be had.