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In, Above, and Around Dundas, Ontario

276090 Views 1834 Replies 52 Participants Last post by  Gratteciel
Escarpment and Valley

Dundas, Ontario (pop. 25,000) is a small town near the western tip of Lake Ontario.
It's midway between Toronto and Niagara Falls, both about a 50-minute drive away.
So it’s right at the apex of the “Golden Horseshoe,” Canada’s most densely populated region.
This thread focuses on Dundas and the many interesting places in the immediate vicinity.

I recently returned to live here after many years away.
Dundas hasn't changed a great deal in the past 36 years, and the changes that have taken place are mostly for the better.
It’s a beautiful and unusual town, though its charms are not always immediately visible.
Dundas is by no means a tourist trap like nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, though its historic townscape and unusual natural features make it popular as a film location.

King Street (Highway 8) in downtown Dundas, looking west.

Dundas in the Golden Horsehoe (you’ll find it just to the NW of Hamilton).

Zooming in: the western tip of Lake Ontario is divided by bridges into three different bodies of water of increasing size and of very different character.
From left to right they are: Cootes Paradise, Hamilton Harbour/Burlington Bay, and Lake Ontario itself.

Zooming in further: Downtown Dundas.
The railroad tracks running east-west below Dundas Peak follow the northern edge of the Niagara Escarpment.

The scarp face at Spencer Gorge, just north of Dundas.

What makes Dundas special is its setting.
It lies in a U-shaped valley about 10 km long and less than half that wide, with both ends of the U pointing towards Lake Ontario.
What look like steep hills surrounding the town are not hills at all: they are the ragged edge of the Niagara Escarpment, the immense, step-like geological feature that the Niagara River flows over at the famous Falls.
The Escarpment is very long, stretching from New York State to near Chicago.
But at Dundas, the wall of the Escarpment, rising as high as 100 meters, makes a sharp U-turn, producing the Dundas Valley.

Dundas and its Valley from the top of the Escarpment

In 2001, Dundas was absorbed by the amalgamated post-industrial City of Hamilton (pop. 530,000, metro 771,000), whose downtown is only about 10 km away.
But Dundas is older than Hamilton and very different in most respects.
The residents of Dundas remain fiercely independent in spirit, even though many of them commute to Hamilton to work.

Downtown Hamilton from the top of the Escarpment over Dundas.

The opposite, southerly side of the U-shaped valley is part of the Hamilton “Mountain,” the upper part of the city that lies on the flat top of the Escarpment.
In the far distance, just to the left of the downtown skyscrapers, you can see the edge of the Escarpment as it continues towards Niagara Falls.

Some of the (now mainly dormant) steel plants on the shore of Hamilton Harbour.
The body of water in the foreground is Cootes Paradise.
This eastward-facing shot was taken from the viewpoint on Sydenham Road in Dundas.

From the Sydenham Viewpoint looking west.

It's hard to believe, but Dundas is at the same latitude (43˚N) as Florence, Italy.
While winters here are hardly Mediterranean, summers are generally long and hot for Canada.
The sheltered valley allows the growth of vegetation associated with the American south.
From the Escarpment, the Dundas Valley looks like a sea of trees, including some of the most northerly Carolinian forest in North America.
Parts of the valley floor are under the control of the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, which does its best to protect this remarkable landscape from the pressures of suburbanization.

The Escarpment looms over the small independent stores that line King Street in downtown Dundas.
The cheese shop ...

... the discount emporium ...

... and the bridal shoppe.

Dundas Peak, the highest point on the Escarpment in the vicinity.
From here there are panoramic views over the whole Valley.

There’s no guard rail on this section of the Escarpment, so even in daylight and good weather, hikers need to be careful and stay reasonably sober.
Quite a few aren’t, and rope rescues are frequently required to haul out the injured.
You’d be very lucky to survive a fall at the Peak itself.

The steepness of the Escarpment means that there are dozens of waterfalls within a short drive of Dundas.
None is as spectacular as Niagara, but several are remarkable enough, including Tews Falls, a ribbon waterfall a short walk from the Peak.
It's 41 metres high, not too far short of Niagara’s 51 metres, but there’s very little water after a dry summer like the one we’ve just experienced.
The three figures at the bottom give a sense of the scale of this falls.

Wherever you live in Dundas, you are aware of the presence of the mighty "Giant's Rib."

Even in death, Dundas residents are overshadowed, or perhaps protected, by the Escarpment, as here in peaceful old Grove Cemetery.

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Great, very nice photos from Dundas :cheers:
Sorry to hear that the architectural gem of Parkside High School is being torn down in order for Grove Cemetery to expand.
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I enjoyed that tour! Some of my family settled there back in the 1800's when they came to Canada. It is a pretty little town and the countryside around it is beautiful.

Dundas is a small town, old by Canadian standards, on the fringe of a large city (Hamilton) and an hour’s drive from a major metropolis (Toronto).
The Ontario lakeshore between Toronto and Hamilton is now almost completely built up.
More and more the whole area is referred to as the GTA, i.e., the Greater Toronto Area, with some reason.

King Street, downtown Dundas.

But Dundas has managed to avoid the fate of similar small towns in the vicinity, which is to have become thoroughly suburbanized, with big box stores and major malls.
Those places sit on the top of the Escarpment, with plenty of room to expand into the richest farmland in eastern Canada.
Dundas, off the main highways, snug in its Valley, has little room to sprawl.

The Dundas Valley, looking east toward Hamilton.

Dundas was an industrial town from its foundation.
Early settlers made use of the power of the many local waterfalls to drive their mill wheels.
A short canal connected Dundas to Cootes Paradise, so cargo boats had access to Lake Ontario.
And the railroad came early to town: in living memory there were tracks running down the centre of downtown Hatt Street, where there were a number of factories.

Surviving industrial buildings on Hatt Street.

Thanks its 200-year history, the present downtown exhibits a remarkable variety of architecture, both commercial and domestic.
The oldest authenticated structure still standing is a 1833 stone house on York Street.
There are undoubtedly several other buildings that are older, and many that have older foundations.

The oldest datable house in Dundas.

Here are some scenes that give a taste of Dundas’s varied townscape.
Note that there are websites that offer fuller information.
See for the rich local variety of building styles.
Or, if you like old stone buildings, go to

Downtown from the Peak. The Town Hall clock (see below) is visible left of centre.

You Are Here!

The Town Hall (1849) predates the 1867 Confederation of Canada.

King Street, looking east. The skyscraper looming over the trees is in downtown Hamilton, 9 km away.

Downtown scene, midday.

King Street on a quiet summer evening, looking east.

Several of the large old buildings downtown have been repurposed in recent years:

The (former) Central Hotel building (1890).

The Collins Hotel (1841), reputedly the oldest continuously operating inn in Ontario.
Only the rear part is still used as a pub.

The old Post Office (1913) with its Venetian clock tower, now hosting several businesses including a bakery.

There are several narrow alleys leading off King Street downtown. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

Some examples of local stone architecture:

Bungalow, Park Street ...

... two storey cottage, King Street ...

... elegant town house, Cross Street.

And some fine examples of red brick:

Terraced house, Ogilvie Street ...

... town house, Cross Street ...

... and mansion, Victoria Street.

Dundas is an appealing place to live, so some parts of downtown are modernizing and densifying ...

... other parts of the downtown fringe look like everywhere else in North America ...

... while certain bits are crying out for redevelopment.
Dundas may be special, but it is far from perfect.
Spencer Adventure Part 1

Rivers move in space and time but stay in the same place.
They tell the stories of the land through which they move and the creatures who live on their banks.
These stories are sometimes difficult to read and even more difficult to interpret.

Spencer Creek (the dark line on the map below) is hardly a great river, but it has many stories to tell.
We’ll follow it as closely as we can for the 8 km from Christie Lake eastward through Dundas to Cootes Paradise.
It offers the best clues about the shape of the land and the history of the people who have lived on its banks.

We start at Christie Lake (extreme left on the map) in Flamborough, a former township on the top of the Escarpment just above Dundas.

Christie Lake is now a popular beach resort during the summer, but it’s much quieter now that Fall is drawing in.
The dark speck on the barrier (centre) ...

... is a solitary cormorant contemplating the sunset.

The lake’s easternmost point is marked by Christie Dam, which retains Spencer Creek and so reduces the risk of flooding to Dundas in the valley below.

Emerging from the dam, Spencer Creek flows over Darnley Cascade into an area that 200 years ago was at the forefront of the industrial revolution in Upper Canada (as southern Ontario was then called).
The Creek turned the water wheel that turned the grindstones of a grist mill constructed in 1811, later converted into a paper mill.

The remains of the paper mill are the most visible ruin in an area that was once a hive of industry.

We are now in Crooks Hollow Conservation Area ...

... which, as the map above shows, was in 1860 a thriving village with half a dozen mills.

These days you have to look carefully for any traces of this former settlement:

What you do see is an incredible profusion of vegetation on the banks of Spencer Creek ...

... you could be miles from civilization ...

... and Nature seems to be celebrating having obliterated every trace of the hand of man ...

... though the elegant modern bridge reveals that humans have not retreated very far.
There’s a road only a few metres from the left bank, and a suburban development behind the screen of trees on the right.

And meanwhile the first hints of Fall begin to colour the vegetation:

(To be continued.)
Nice explanations, it is always excellent to get such informative context to the photos, and how the landscape influences the urban history and character.
great photo tour but I'm always eager to explore the East Coast.
I'd seen that area from the plane and stayed in the airport for a couple of hours and that's it.
What took you back to Dundas, I wonder?
nice city and surrounded by natural greens.
Thank you all for your kind comments. To answer Jane's question as briefly as possible: retirement!
Spencer Adventure Part 2

From Crooks Hollow we continue eastward ...

We are now following Spencer Creek in a deep gully through the community of Greensville.
Little of the village is visible but Brock Road, which crosses the ravine on a high bridge.

Three very different examples of flora within a single kilometer of trail reveal the varied quality of the local terrain ...

Black-eyed Susans bloom by the side of the wooded section of trail ...

... there’s a fine display of cattails (bulrushes to the Brits) in marshy areas ...

... and after recent rain, giant puffballs lurk at the base of trees.
The one in the middle is about 30 cm in diameter.

We cross a narrow footbridge to the south bank of the Creek ...

... and shortly thereafter, cross this longer footbridge back to the north side, where we meet a narrow paved road ending in a cul-de-sac.

Here there is a handsome stone building, now a “Wellness Retreat,” that recalls the lost industrial past of the area.
Built in the mid-19th century, it was once a storehouse to a blanket factory that had itself replaced the original sawmill and grist mill.

Where the mills once stood is an open, parklike area through which a wider Spencer Creek now accelerates.

The park is dominated by this enormous willow.

A little farther downstream, stands this handsome cobblestone bridge, built in 1936.
Tall black railings discourage daytrippers from getting too close to the Creek as its speed increases ...

... and it plunges over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment.

This is Webster’s Falls, the largest waterfall in the area.

If water is life, and time is a river, then a waterfall represents a moment in life when something extraordinary and beautiful happens.
So we insert ourselves into the foreground and eternalize the moment in a photograph ...

... and hope we won’t need a rescue squad to extricate us at the end of ropes.

We are now in Spencer Gorge/Webster’s Falls Conservation Area, and find ourselves face to face with some serious political and ecological issues.
Who owns this beautiful spot? Who should have access to it? What kind of access? And at what cost?

As we have seen, the area has an industrial past, now almost vanished.
Now the top of the Falls is surrounded by private houses, some of them quite palatial.
The narrow, dead-end road we met provides access to these houses, and ends at a car park for visitors.
There is no public transit in the area.

Hamilton Conservation Authority, aware of the tourist potential of Webster’s Falls, promoted it loudly.
“Spencer Adventure” is their slogan. And visitorship soared, from 80,000 is 2013 to 140,000 in 2015.
But the area can’t cope with the hordes, especially on weekends.
To try to limit the damage, the cost of entry to the parking lot was greatly increased.
To avoid this fee, many visitors now park on the narrow roads surrounding the Falls, to the annoyance of local residents.

Visitors to Niagara Falls see how rampant commercialism impinges closely on the “natural” experience.
In fact, there is little natural about Niagara Falls today.
What the visitor sees is a compromise between what we think we want (very brief contact with the awesome power of Nature) and what we know we need (casinos and ferris wheels and wax museums to keep us entertained after we’ve taken our selfies.)

There are no amenities at Webster’s Falls, unless you count a few portable washrooms.

But for those prepared to walk a little, at least there’s the path along the edge of the Escarpment, which falls steeply off to the right ...

... offering spectacular views along the length of Spencer Gorge.
Through the late summer leafage you can glimpse the sinuous course of the now hidden Creek as it heads from the bottom of the Falls towards Dundas, with the crag of Dundas Peak visible at the top left.

Zooming in ...

... and further in.

Until recently there was a staircase from the top of the Falls down to the bottom of the Gorge, and then a trail that followed the Creek into Dundas.
But no more: hikers are debarred by the tall black fence from exploring this magnificent landscape, considered too ecologically sensitive to survive the tramp of thousands of feet.
This part of the Spencer Adventure is in abeyance.

So you set off along the Bruce Side Trail on the rim of the Escarpment toward towering Tews Falls and the Peak ...

... but your way is barred by a makeshift barrier.
A local landowner, tired of the antics of visitors, has denied the public access to the short section of the Bruce Side Trail that connects Webster’s with Tews Falls.
To visit Tews and the Peak, you now have to get back in your car and drive around what are effectively three sides of a square to another parking lot.

Will these various impediments reduce the number of visitors to the area?
My guess is that they will not. Wedding photos and selfies will be taken by the Falls.
High fees and barriers will deter only those visitors who come for a quiet hike.
There will be a vast increase in traffic in an area that cannot support the current level.

This is the grave of Joseph Webster and his wife Maria near the new barrier.
They gave their name to the Falls, and they are about the only residents resting peacefully at the moment.

[To be continued.]
Spencer Adventure Part 3 (conclusion)

As we have seen, the “Spencer Adventure” along the upper Creek has been somewhat compromised.
And there is no official access to the Creek as it wends its way through the Spencer Gorge.
But what about the lower Creek, which flows for another 5 km through Dundas until it empties itself into Cootes Paradise?

To pick up the lower Creek, we head to the western end of town, overlooked by the towering Peak.

A zoom lens trained on the Peak on a holiday weekend reveals just how popular the upper Trail is—and how potentially dangerous.

And here we are at the end of the town. Westbound King Street makes a sharp left turn and begins its steep climb up the Escarpment toward Greensville.
Pedestrians are not welcome further—there is no sidewalk on either side of the road after this point, even though views over the Valley are spectacular.
But where is Spencer Creek?
The yellow sign is the clue ...

... and so we cross the bridge, and find the Creek hidden away to the right emerging from a tunnel under the railroad tracks.

We follow it downstream into the industrial end of town.
The Creek that launched itself magnificently over Webster’s Falls seems much diminished by its surroundings.

In fact, following the Creek through Dundas is a lesson in lost opportunity.
But there are some pleasant if poorly maintained sections of trail if you are willing to seek them out.

Such culverts, though ugly, do reduce the risk of flooding ...

... and there are a few hidden magical spots, such as here where crimson Virginia creeper reveals that Fall is on its way.

A stone’s throw from the old Town Hall, there are signs that once some investment was made in opening up a creekside Trail ...

... such as this elaborate lamp, illuminating a rough trail few would risk after dark.

Then we reach Cootes Drive, the main highway into Hamilton.
We’re on the eastern edge of the town of Dundas.
And now the Trail (on a former railroad line running parallel with both Drive and Creek) shows signs of care and attention.

It’s a surface good enough for biking, though it's perhaps a little too straight to captivate hikers.

Now we are crossing marshland marking the edge of Lake Ontario, whose western tip we are nearing.
Once the Lake filled the entire Dundas Valley and Spencer Creek plunged into it like the Niagara River.
In late summer the foliage is extraordinarily lush here.
Can you spot the American goldfinch?

There are dense patches of goldenrod in late September.
These yellow blooms don’t cause problems for most allergy sufferers, as they’re pollinated by insects.
It’s lowly ragweed with its billions of wind-transported pollen grains that boosts the antihistamine industry.

We duck under the bridge where Cootes Drive goes over the Creek ...

... and find ourselves in the territory of the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG).
The notice reminds us that this area is part of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve.
More specifically, this is the site of a worthy project to funnel migrating turtles beneath Cootes Drive to save them from being squashed by traffic.
We are at the red spot on the map.

Continuing east, we look back over the marshland and see the wall of the Escarpment as it forms the north flank of Dundas Valley.

Wading through towering marsh plants that almost obscure the trail, we are eventually brought to a halt where Borer’s Creek joins Spencer Creek.
Cootes Paradise lies, frustratingly, just out of sight and reach.

Spencer Creek is the key to the geology, ecology, and history of Dundas.
A continuous hiking trail along the Creek from Christie Lake to Cootes Paradise would be an excellent addition to the local amenities.
The excuse that areas are too ecologically sensitive for public access really means that the relevant authorities are not prepared to upgrade, maintain, and administer the trail properly.
Until they are, we’ll see overcrowding on small, spectacular sections of upper Trail and neglect on the lower Trail.

But now Summer gives way to Fall on the Escarpment.
It’s time for a different story ....
lovely city, with nice heritage buildings and close to nature.
Dundas Valley in Early Fall

If the Escarpment is Dundas’s crown, the Valley conceals its most valuable gem.

We are in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, which is about 4 km southwest of the town centre by car.

The Valley shelters the northernmost outpost of what Canadians call the Carolinian Forest:

The Valley is a place of almost spiritual peace and beauty, notwithstanding a couple of surreal human interventions.

The Trail Centre building is the hub where three major trail systems meet:
1) The 40+ km of hiking trails within this Conservation Area;
2) The 80 km Hamilton-Brantford-Cambridge Rail Trail, particularly suitable for cyclists;
3) the 900 km Bruce Trail, Canada’s oldest and most famous long-distance hiking trail, which makes a great U-turn here as it follows the course of the Escarpment.

The Surreal (1): the Trail Centre resembles a nineteenth-century railroad station, complete with tracks and a couple of rusting old carriages.
But though a rail line passed by here, there never was a station.
This is a make-believe station built in 1977, and now often seen in costume dramas.

Cyclists on the Rail Trail head east toward Hamilton.

The Surreal (2): the recently reconstructed facade of the Hermitage, a stone mansion built in 1855 and destroyed by fire in 1934.
Dundas’s Stonehenge?

As we head into the woods, above us there is a riot of leafage and colour ...

... and below inanimate and living forces meet:

There are late-blooming purple asters ...

... a giant oak invites contemplation ...

... and a grove of evergreen hemlocks tower over a steep creekside.

Cootes Paradise

Map courtesy of Royal Botanical Gardens

Cootes Paradise is a marsh resembling a shallow lake just east of Dundas.
It’s about 3 km long and and not much more than 1 km wide.
It actually forms the extreme western tip of Lake Ontario, though it’s separated from Hamilton Harbour by a narrow strip of land barely 250 m wide.
A channel runs through this isthmus (at the Fishway above right centre on the map above), connecting the bodies of water.
The entire shoreline of Cootes Paradise is administered by Canada's Royal Botanical Gardens.
You can't walk around the whole shoreline of Cootes, but there are a number of trails (marked on the map above) on both the north and south shore.

The shores of Cootes Paradise are forested, and it can seem a remote and dreamy rural spot, though it's actually very close to dense urbanity.
The south shore, in particular, is only steps away from the campus of McMaster University and suburban west Hamilton.

Some images from the north shore:

The western section of the north shore is very peaceful and rich in bird life.
Here we look toward the area where Spencer Creek enters the marsh.

A lookout reached by boardwalk enables you to observe the rich bird life of the area.
If you’re lucky, you’ll spot bald eagles and ospreys ...

... but you have a much better chance of seeing more mundane creatures.
If you come with bird feed you’ll be pestered by chickadees ...

... perhaps cause a squabble between a black squirrel and a white-breasted nuthatch ...

... watch a blue jay whisk away your peanuts ...

... a red squirrel gobble your sunflower seeds ...

... and a chipmunk vacuum up any kind of seed until its cheeks are bulging.
what an admirable town! superb photos :eek:kay: I love the pictures of nature, wildlife in particular.
Great shots. Love the squirrels.:)
Ps. Starbucks get everywhere:lol:
Many thanks, Karlvan, Skopje, Romashka, and Paul.

Fall Colour Supplement

These images don't really require any commentary:

Cootes Paradise (concluded)

On the north shore, the water is low after a dry summer, exposing a muddy beach.
On the eastern horizon there’s a bridge ...

... which on closer inspection turns out to be at least four bridges.

On the bridge above the fishway across the channel to Hamilton Harbour, a truck heads east on Highway 403, connecting Hamilton with the Greater Toronto Area.
Immediately above the truck is a bridge carrying rail lines into Hamilton.
The highest bridge (the one visible across Cootes Paradise), carries York Boulevard, the main road connecting Hamilton with Burlington.
And in the distance is the eastern end of the immense, 2.5 km span of the Burlington Bay Skyway Bridge, which carries the 8-lane Queen Elizabeth Way and more rail lines across Burlington Bay.
The east end of Cootes Paradise is not so peaceful.

The south shore of Cootes Paradise does offer some tranquil vistas of marsh, Escarpment, and waterfowl:

There are also some striking patches of vegetation ...

... such as this beautiful remnant of oak savannah ...

... this trio of lovely lakeside birches ...

... and a small peninsula covered with sassafras trees, hardly common in Canada.

As for waterfowl, there are innumerable ducks, some swans, the inevitable great blue heron ...

... and ranks of greedy cormorants patrolling the shallows.

We’ll end our visit to Cootes Paradise with this shot from the south shore.
Why does this peaceful image remind me of Shirley Jackson’s creepy tale, “The Summer People”?
Well, it was taken one month after Labor Day!
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