Hamilton is a biker’s paradise. Even the inevitable ribbons of death (Hwys 403 and 407) slicing through it haven’t killed it. It is disparaged as Hammertown/ Steeltown for its attack of rust-beltitis in the era of ‘free trade’ (not). It’s kind of dreary, compared to Toronto or even its twin Burlington, which Maclean’s dubbed Canada’s shiniest new urban paradise (maybe true if you are a car addict), but that is in fact its cachet.
Its heyday was a century ago (but then that’s true of all colonial Canada), and it is not a high tech hub, but it has the Niagara Escarpment and its stagnating economy means no massive high rise condomania. Its working class ethos is served by its NDP MPPs and MP, and the affordable Chedoke Civic Golf Course smack in the centre of the city.
Incredibly, to reach the first of the fine bike trails I traversed, the Chedoke trail, you ride right into the course and walk up the hill to the clubhouse, where the trail begins. I watched some very working class guys tee off, the first beautifully (each your heart out Trump), the second hooking dangerously, evoking stentorious FOREs.
The trail edges gently up along the escarpment and eventually arrives at the ominous 403 with a rickety wooden bridge over the incessant hurtling death machines. Down the steps and walking up a steep hill, I was sweating and paused as a jolly fellow climbed the hill proudly, though he was going so slowly, I was sure he would fall.
I hadn’t (yet) got lost, and casually took Jeff’s directions to a waterfall, as Hamilton is also nicknamed ‘city of waterfalls’ (100+). Mistake. Ignoring my diligently prepared left-right-lefts, I ended up on a hill longer than any in my experience, fortunately with a bike lane. Even slowing down, I would soon reach a kind of terminal velocity, requiring total awareness, as manholes flashed by and would have bumped precariously.
Finally, nearing the bottom, Tiffany falls (not the one Jeff had intended). As throughout the day, the other visitors were Indian in saris, with a dottering matriarch inching along over the rocks.
A ‘ribbon falls’, a graceful ribbon falling gently (most of the time), named in honour of Dr Oliver Tiffany, who emigrated from the upstart United States in 1796 with his brother. Oliver was born in Massachusetts and studied medicine at Dartmouth.
Ironically, it was the father who was a rebel. Both sons were not impressed with the coup or whatever, and like tens of thousands of Loyalists, they migrated to British North America, hopeful that their father’s sins would not condemn them. Canada welcomed these ‘draft dodgers’, especially doctors, so Oliver was ‘granted’ a hefty tract which included the falls. He practiced medicine 40 years and is a founding father of Dundas-Hamilton.
Much as Oliver’s moral values appeal to me, refusing to be a part of what was already shaping up to be a cruel and racist society devoted to money and genocide, I wonder if he would join Canadians today in at least honouring the people whose land the Crown stole for him? His land was right outside the border of the ‘6 mile agreement' granted Joseph Brant, the head of the 6 Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Caygua, Seneca, Tuscarora) for resisting the Yanks during their revolution, sticking by the Crown.
How generous, giving the natives some of their land back. On paper. Within a decade, the 6 miles on either side of the Grand River were being whittled away, leaving only a tiny reserve just south of Brantford (thanks for the name, Queen Victoria). Oliver was not part of that theft, just the general seizing of land where the natives were few and guns many.
Conservationhamilton.ca thoughtfully provided a map which looked perfect for guiding me back on my pursuit of the Dundas Valley trail, which is smack in the middle between Dundas and Hamilton, with dozens of squiggly red, green orange, purple and blue ribbons. I followed Wilson Street looking for a BT (bike trail) marking. No luck. Suddenly i was being directed into McMaster University and headed for downtown Hamilton. Hmmm.
I turned around and spied two cyclists going up Wilson and figured I better try to catch up. Maybe they were headed to these trails. Fortunately one was a plucky but not very fit woman, slowing down her partner, so I was able to catch up to them just as they were turning off the road into a huge, freshly asphalted parking lot,unattached to anything, built to use up some leftover asphalt? Whatever its real purpose, it served mine, and I hailed them. Mark looked at my map and refused to believe that I’d just come from Tiffany falls. ‘We’re going that way and you came from there,’ Mark pointed at the opposite end of Wilson.
Peacemaker Lynn pulled out her phone and google-mapped where we were, As they were headed for Old Ancaster Road, my direction, they offered to show me the way.
We proceeded on a pokey little road without cars, an old road with cracks, my kind of road. ‘I’ve lived here ten years and still get disoriented,’ admitted Mark. Like St Catherine’s, Hamilton-Dundas has the escarpment as a backdrop, so roads zigzag, abruptly change names, and then change back with ‘west’ or boulevard added. There were NO markings for the trails, but a very condensed map I photocopied from ontariobybike.ca was useful. In fact, if I’d just ignored friendly advice, I might have avoided the detours, but I’m on an adventure, right? And seeing things as a local.
So - surprise, surprise - Mark’s left-rights led me in the wrong direction, but less wrong than the Dundas map. After ending up back on Wilson, I retraced my steps and somehow ended up on the Dundas Valley trail through a backdoor. The maze of trails are more for mountain bikes, but I had a bumpy bit of fun and finally got to Ground Zero and the Hamilton-Brantford rail trail. Though I despise these rail trails after 5 or so minutes, this was a welcome no-brainer, and I sailed along the wooded lane back to the Chedoke Civic Golf Course. Too far, the day is young, so I backtracked and found Cootes Paradise (Thomas Coote, a British Army officer during the American Revolutionary War), which was on the Ontariobybike route, so I figured -- paradise must be scenic.
It was 4-lanes, but clearly a scenic drive, and not much traffic, even a bike lane. Biking along, I suddenly realized what was so restful -- Hamilton is devoid of bilboards! No Coke, McWhatever. Here there were only tasteful banners hugging the light poles, advertising ‘Engineering for your health’, 'Social studies searching for solutions for a Bright Future for us all'.
Deja vu, Soviet Union redux. Ads strictly public service: ‘Study, study, study! V I Lenin’. Cool. There wasn’t much of a view, but a break was long overdue, so I pulled off at Hydro One, a dull but spacious and empty lot with some trees and a disintegrating picnic table. I found an abandoned portable cooler (no lid, removed the TIDE laundry soap and DRANO) and propped it up as something to lean back on as I munched some protein bar, had a toke, and vegged out.
My chaise longue was facing something called Dundas FSB, which had since moved and the building, an anonymous red brick blob, was abandoned, but, what the heck, it was like installation art for late capitalism. (FSB is an insurance firm (fsbgroup.ca) though not even Wikipedia offers a suggestion of what FSB means (First Somali Bank?).) A cricket was inspired by the glorious sunshine to sing, a turkey vulture wheeled overhead. The collapsing picnic table gave the scene a Norman Rockwell touch. A perfect moment.
I already knew York Road up ahead, and how it becomes Old York Road, another biking treat, winding, up and down, north of Hamilton, skirting downtown and leading me to Aldershot GO station. I was relying on Google map for the next leg, which hopefully would lead me to the station. Yes, Plains Road, a jag, a pass under the dreaded 403 to Waterdown Road and home.
Just as I was approaching the crossing, a grim Grand Order of Israel cemetery. NO EXIT. What?! Are we in the West Bank? Clearly what Google suggested did not exist. A bit like Google whiting out the West Bank Wall on its maps. (It seems I took Snake Road by missnake.)
What to do? Fortunately I always leave at least 2 hours for these snags. (I used up all two and then some, this time.) Along comes a super-cyclist, whizzing down the hill and disappearing. Follow the cyclist! I plodded after him in the opposite direction of the GO station, figuring there must be a crossing the other way.
There was! And I was back in gear. Yes, Plains Road but this time West (?), over the 403 ribbon of death, and getting closer to home. But wait! What are those white things in what looks like a large pond? I suddenly realized I was going right through the RBG (Royal Botanical Gardens) on this 4-lane mini-expressway.
The sun wasn’t that low. I should stop in. Then, a Timmy’s materialized! Much as I loathe these franchises, they are central to our car culture. And I’d run out of water. So I got a scone and a medium coffee, drank a bit, and risked propping it in my carrier, hoping to enjoy it in the RBG (though the Tim Horton’s patio actually looked across the busy road at some trees. Thank you, Tim.).
The RBG was the highlight of the day. The whistful, late afternoon sun, recapping the approaching winter, though still warm, sunny, with gusts of wind. I walked my bike down into the sheltered valley, an ‘oak savannah’, a relatively open forest of oak, the natural formation before the colonists came (and cut down all the oaks). They are trying to reconstruct the original setting, which was rare in North America and now only preserved in conservation lands.
It was full of families, leisurely strolling, walking through the swamp (excuse me, ‘wetlands’), reading the very readable soundbytes about urban sewerage captured and processed by Mother Nature, providing a home for waterfowl and indigenous plants, all monitored by a newly green city.
I stopped to watch two young girls offering sunflower seeds and a stray cheerio to chickadees. We waited.(NEVER wait for a bird to do what you want!) As I lost patience, suddenly a tiny black-white vision darted in and dashed away with its prize. ‘It took the cheerio, not the sunflower!’ she enthused. ‘A junk food chickadee,’ I made the girls giggle, and carried on to see the swans.
As I climbed a hill (please, the last one!), it was nice to see 4-5 people leisurely climbing the deserted road from the gardens. What a nice reversion of things to a human scale, I thought. Suddenly, HONK! A car-bot was affronted: how dare you hog MY road. I almost laughed, it was so stupid, silly, insulting. One women instinctively responded, sorry. I thought: NO! That a-hole should be sorry for being an a-hole.
I was aiming for the 5:31pm train to Toronto, figuring it was maybe 5:15pm. I headed straight to platform 4, came out of the elevator to see a train. Toronto? Yes! It was already 5:35pm and it just happened to be late. What a fillip. The train announcer kept apologizing very loudly for being late. Ha, ha.
I sat and sighed. And overheard an old codger (not me, a really old codger!) loudly reminiscing about WWII and hearing the German planes over Norwich. ‘They came from Norway (no!) to bomb the west … no, I guess, the east coast.’ Ha! I’m not the only one who mixes up east and west, invariably goes the wrong way, has to learn from his own mistakes. A rather pathetic, ageless, obese fellow in the next seat shouted at the codger: I think China should invade the US and get rid of that moron Trump. Hmmm. Through the mouth of babes. Mr Codger asked, ‘Trump? Who’s that?’ Ahhh, the bliss of ignorance.
What a relief. No flat tire, no accident. Lots of wrong turns, misdirections, misfollowing directions, but 50 kms in 7 1/2 hrs. Not bad. And all the misdirections, Jeff, Mark/ Lynn, Google, conservationhamilton.ca merely made it more unpredictable. Leibnitz said it all: God is good. Therefore, the universe that God chose to exist is the best of all possible worlds.*
Gottfried Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays (1686).