Road Trips from Toronto – Hamilton

By Guest Writer Liz Hadfield

“Oh please don’t live in Hamilton” groaned my father. I remember that conversation with him so clearly, another delightfully long chat where we’d talked about nothing for twenty minutes and then rush through everything important just before he headed into another meeting.

The lease on my Toronto apartment was ending and I wanted to move out of the city. I didn’t dare tell my Dad I had suggested that particular move to Hamilton because I was trying to catch the eye of a son-of-a-steelworker who had caught my attention.

I could practically hear his eyes rolling over the phone. “Oh please don’t live in Hamilton”. So being the good daughter I am, I took him at his word, no questions asked, and started my search a bit further east of Hamilton.

That was six years ago. But now, having been a resident of Hamilton for three years, I wish my dear Dad was still with us so I could tell him “you know what… it’s not so bad.”

Get past the flame-spewing chimneys from the blackened steel factories around the harbour. Look beyond your stereotypes of this industrial city. Step inside. Believe me, you’ll be amazed. Stroll with me through Steeltown and see why this isn’t your (my) father’s Hamilton anymore.

Hamilton has amazing food joints

As most of us eat approximately 3 meals a day, and those meal times correspond with a break from work – food is always a way to grab attention. And boy does Hamilton have it!

The first ever Tim Horton donut shop was right here in Hamilton! Remember the eclairs Timmy’s used to have with whipped cream that would burst out with the first bite? Well they don’t have them anymore.

But Grandad’s Donuts does, and they’re even tastier than the original! With a reputation that stretches both east and west, donut connoisseurs of all kinds flock to Grandad’s.

Photo courtesy: Grandad’s Donuts

Forgot your anniversary? Need to ask an all-important question? Or just want a delicious meal you talk about for days afterwards? Put your glasses on, and look for a hidden gem called La Spaghett Pasta House on Hamilton Mountain. With very few tables in a cozy romantic atmosphere, reservations are a must!

Photo courtesy: La Spaghett Pasta House
Photo courtesy: La Spaghett Pasta House

Is the winter sending you into barbecue withdrawal? Then head straight to Saltlick Smokehouse on James St North for a delicious mouth-watering selection of meats and meals!

Photo courtesy: Saltlick Smokehouse
Photo courtesy: Saltlick Smokehouse

Or take the Fruitland Road exit and head over to Memphis Fire Barbeque, featured on “You Gotta Eat Here”. You’ll drive past it once because of its unassuming exterior. Inside, you’ll step into a Coke-inspired diner of the past, but all is forgotten with your first bite of that pulled pork.

Photo courtesy: Memphis Fire BBQ

What to do – for nature lovers

The first rebuttal that someone may give your you-live-in-Hamilton grimace is “Did you know it’s the waterfall capital of the world?”

Of the world? Hamilton? Evidently, yes.

There are 131 waterfalls within the urban city of Hamilton! Now this may suggest that you are constantly sidestepping cascades, and driving over perilous bridges to see city blocks divided by thundering falls. Not so, alas. Some can be simply driven to and seen within a two-minute walk such as the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall, but the majority require some hiking boots. However, when they open up in front of you in middle of the forest, boy was it worth the walk!

If the joy of nature without needing a waterfall prize at the end is enough for you, then the rail trail that stretches clear across Hamilton, through Brantford and into Cambridge is the place for you. No motorized vehicles allowed, but dog walkers, joggers, bikers, cross-country skiers, strollers and speed walkers all love this trail. And you can access it at several points as it crosses roads and streets.

Another great walk is the Harvest Trail loop in Ancaster. Reach for your boots, bring the dog and go exploring!

What to do – not nature related 

Still not convinced? Look no further than Hamilton for entertainment! There’s hockey of course, but Hamilton is also home to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Economic Development

Prefer art over guys in helmets? Hamilton is a pulsing hub on the art scene. With over 40 galleries and studios, an ‘Artcrawl’ that happens on the second Friday of each month and a deeply engaged Arts Council, Hamilton has a very inviting art atmosphere.

Every August, Hamilton is host to a three-day music festival held at the Ancaster Fairgrounds, the Festival of Friends always attracts great artists and bands.  Or one month later at the same location, the famous Ancaster Fair is the ultimate fall fair! Livestock displays, a petting zoo, cotton candy, craft stalls, baking and photography contests, deep-fried Mars Bars and a midway with rides and games. For 166 years – this is where fall starts. And it’s not just Ancaster, but several of the smaller communities all within the Greater Hamilton Area have wonderful fall fairs!

At the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, located next to Hamilton Airport – you’ll find one of only two flying Lancaster bombers left in the world! You can see it at the Hamilton Airshow, or seen flying overhead most clear days in the summer and fall.

Hamilton may not have the prominence (and traffic) of Toronto, but it has a lot to recommend it. Big business has not taken over entirely yet. There are still many Ma and Pa stores alive and well. Those who come from here are proud of their city, and so they should be.

While house prices continue to rise steadily, you’ll get more for your money in Hamilton than in Burlington, Oakville or the T-dot. While it may be cliché to say ‘there’s something for everyone here’ it is no less true. Hamilton continues to engage its residents with the outdoors, with new artists, great music, competitive sports, distinguished universities and wonderful food.

The city may have its tough reputation smelted into the steel that it once produced in such high quantity, but in the time I’ve been here I’ve met kind, generous, hard-working people and a city ready for the future. Dad would have been proud.

PS for those keen-eyed romantics out there, I did eventually move to Hamilton due to my blue-eyed son-of-a-steelworker, soon to be husband.

About Liz

Liz Hadfield is an East Coaster who has learned to rush around in Ontario. She’s spent ten wonderful years working in television before switching industries, but has always kept a pen close to hand in case a story suddenly needs to be written.

An avid reader, moderately tattooed, and always ready to make a list, Liz is now three years into the dog scene and has met all kinds of pet parents with many different challenges. One thing remains the same though – she will always laugh at the dog in the stroller.


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