Hamilton is located in Southern Ontario on the western end of the Niagara Peninsula and wraps around the westernmost part of Lake Ontario; most of the city, including the downtown section, is on the south shore. Hamilton is situated in the geographic centre of the Golden Horseshoe and is roughly the midway point between Toronto and Buffalo, New York, although slightly closer to the former. Its major physical features are Hamilton Harbour, marking the northern limit of the city, and the Niagara Escarpment running through the middle of the city across its entire breadth, bisecting the city into “upper” and “lower” parts. The maximum high point is 250m (820′) above the level of Lake Ontario.
According to all records from local historians, this district was called Attiwandaronia by the native Neutral people. The first aboriginals to settle in the Hamilton area called the bay Macassa, meaning “beautiful waters”. Hamilton is one of 11 cities showcased in the book, Green City: People, Nature & Urban Places by Quebec author Mary Soderstrom, which examines the city as an example of an industrial powerhouse co-existing with nature. Soderstrom credits Thomas McQuesten and family in the 1930s who “became champions of parks, greenspace and roads” in Hamilton.
Hamilton Harbour is a natural harbour with a large sandbar called the Beachstrip. This sandbar was deposited during a period of higher lake levels during the last ice age, and extends southeast through the central lower city to the escarpment. Hamilton’s deep sea port is accessed by ship canal through the beach strip into the harbour and is traversed by two bridges, the QEW’s Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway and the lower Canal Lift Bridge.
Between 1788 and 1793, the townships at the Head-of-the-Lake were surveyed and named. The area was first known as The Head-of-the-Lake for its location at the western end of Lake Ontario. John Ryckman, born in Barton township (where present day downtown Hamilton is), described the area in 1803 as he remembered it: “The city in 1803 was all forest. The shores of the bay were difficult to reach or see because they were hidden by a thick, almost impenetrable mass of trees and undergrowth … Bears ate pigs, so settlers warred on bears. Wolves gobbled sheep and geese, so they hunted and trapped wolves. They also held organized raids on rattlesnakes on the mountainside. There was plenty of game. Many a time have I seen (sic) a deer jump the fence into my back yard, and there were millions of pigeons which we clubbed as they flew low.”
The Hamilton Conservation Authority owns, leases or manages about 4,500 hectares (11,100 acres) of land with the city operating 1,077 hectares (2,661 acres) of parkland at 310 locations. Many of the parks are located along the Niagara Escarpment, which runs from Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in the north, to Queenston at the Niagara River in the south, and provides views of the cities and towns at the western end of Lake Ontario. The hiking path Bruce Trail runs the length of the escarpment. Hamilton is home to more than 100 waterfalls and cascades, most of which are on or near the Bruce Trail as it winds through the Niagara Escarpment.
Hamilton is home to several post-secondary institutions that have created numerous direct and indirect jobs in education and research. McMaster University moved to the city in 1930 and today has around 30,000 enrolled students, of whom almost two-thirds come from outside the immediate Hamilton region. Brock Universityof St. Catharines, Ontario has a satellite campus used primarily for teacher education located in Hamilton. Colleges in Hamilton include:
- McMaster Divinity College, a Christian seminary affiliated with the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec since 1957. McMaster Divinity College is located on the McMaster University campus, and is affiliated with the university. The Divinity College was created as part of the process of passing governance of the university as a whole from the BCOQ to a privately chartered, publicly funded arrangement.
- Mohawk College, a college of applied arts and technology since 1967 with 10,000 full time, 40,000 part time, and 3,000 apprentice students.
- Mohawk College also has an IELTS Testing Centre in Hamilton at their Fennell Campus, which tests twice monthly.
- Columbia International College is Canada’s largest private boarding high school, with 1,700 students from 73 countries.
- Redeemer University College, a private Christian liberal arts and science university opened in 1982, with about a thousand students currently.
Public education for students from kindergarten through high school is administered by three school boards. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board manages 114 public schools, while the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board operates 55 schools in the greater Hamilton area. The Conseil scolaire Viamonde operates one elementary and one secondary school (École secondaire Georges-P.-Vanier), and the Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud operates two elementary schools and one secondary school. Calvin Christian School, Providence Christian School and Timothy Christian School are independent Christian elementary schools. Hamilton District Christian High School, Rehoboth Christian High School and Guido de Bres Christian High School are independent Christian high schools in the area. Both HDCH and Guido de Brès participate in the city’s interscholastic athletics. Hillfield Strathallan College is located on the West Hamilton mountain and is a CAIS member, non-profit school for children from early Montessori ages through grade twelve.
The Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts is home to many of the area’s talented young actors, dancers, musicians, singers and visual artists. The school is equipped with a keyboard studio, spacious dance studios, art and sculpting studios, gallery space and a 300 seat recital hall. HCA offers over 90 programs for ages 3–93, creating a “united nations” of arts under one roof.
McMaster University Student Centre Plaza
The Hamilton Literacy Council is a non-profit organization that provides basic (grades 1–5 equivalent) training in reading, writing, and math to English-speaking adults. The council’s service is free, private, and one-to-one. It started to assist adults with their literacy skills in 1973.
Hamilton is home to two think tanks, the Centre for Cultural Renewal and Cardus, which deals with social architecture, culture, urbanology, economics and education and also publishes the LexView Policy Journal and Comment Magazine.
Hamilton has built on its historical and social background with attractions including the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, the HMCS Haida National Historic Site (Canada’s most famous warship and the last remaining Tribal Class in the world), Dundurn Castle (the residence of a Prime Minister of Upper Canada), the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the African Lion Safari Park, the Cathedral of Christ the King, and the Workers’ Arts and Heritage Centre.
Founded in 1914, the Art Gallery of Hamilton is Ontario’s third largest public art gallery. The gallery has over 9,000 works in its permanent collection that focus on three areas: 19th century European, Historical Canadian and Contemporary Canadian.
Historic James Street South commercial art buildings
Hamilton has quite an active theatre scene, with the professional company Theatre Aquarius, plus long-time amateur companies, the Players’ Guild of Hamilton and Hamilton Theatre Inc.. Many smaller theatre companies have also opened in the past decade, bringing a variety of theatre to the area.
Growth in the arts and culture sector has garnered high-level media attention for Hamilton. A Globe and Mail article in 2006, entitled “Go West, Young Artist,” focused on the growing art scene in Hamilton. The Factory: Hamilton Media Arts Centre, opened up a new home on James Street North in 2006. Art galleries are springing up on many streets across the city: James Street, King William Street, Locke Street and King Street, to name a few. This, coupled with growth in the downtown condo market which is drawing people back to the core, is affecting the cultural fabric of the city. The opening of the Downtown Arts Centre on Rebecca Street has spurred further creative activities in the core. The Community Centre for Media Arts (CCMA) continues to operate in downtown Hamilton. The CCMA works with marginalized populations and combines new media services such as website development, graphic design, video, and information technology, with arts education and skills development programming.
The 2009 film Defendor, starring Woody Harrelson as a vigilante superhero, is implied to take place in Hamilton, referred to by its nickname of “Hammer Town” several times throughout the film. It was filmed in Hamilton and Toronto.
In March 2015, Hamilton was host to the JUNO Awards, which featured performances by Hedley, Alanis Morissette and Magic!. The award ceremony was held at the FirstOntario Centre in downtown Hamilton. During JUNOfest, hundreds of local acts performed across the city, bringing thousands of tourists.
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