Our Harbour

Bayfront Park, Pier 4 Park and Waterfront Trail

Landscape image of Pier 4 Park at Hamilton Harbour

Bayfront Park, Pier 4 Park and the waterfront trail are examples of the innovative and dedicated work of the City of Hamilton and its partners, to transform an unappealing industrial landfill site into a beautiful recreational public space. Once filled with hazardous waste, the shoreline of Hamilton Harbour was converted into a serene park offering residents a place to walk, bike and take a moment for quiet reflection.

At the time of the park opening in 1993, the highly complex development project received numerous design awards at the local, national and international level.

Other elements to the project included installation of an armour stone shoreline enhancement, preservation of an ecologically sensitive wetland, creation of a fish habitat, relocation and restoration of a heritage building and reclamation and renovation of an 80-foot tugboat to serve as a water play area.

The remediation plan and processes later served as a model for other municipalities that faced the same drastic, environmental challenges.

Bayfront Park transformed from landfill to park

Bayfront Park is 40 acres of land with approximately 25 acres of it formed by landfill in the early 1960s. The site was owned by the Lax brothers and was known as the Lax property which was a landfill comprised of industrial waste and rubble. As a result of the contamination, the City of Hamilton had to deal with all the hazardous materials on the site. A remediation plan was developed and approved by the Ministry of the Environment.

The City of Hamilton removed approximately 20,000 tonnes of industrial waste and contaminated soil.

Hamilton then protected the shoreline from erosion and created a fish habitat with the placement of armour stone along the water’s edge. Along with replacing the soil, native trees and shrubs were planted to enhance the park.

Bayfront Park has had to contend with waterfowl and E. coli contamination issues. In an effort to restore the beach’s intended use for recreation, the City of Hamilton needed to address the bird problem. To stop the birds from inhabiting and polluting the park, the City planted bushes above the beach along the path’s edge. The bushes were planted as a deterrent. The concept for this is that if a bird can’t visually see potential dangers ahead, it will not go beyond a given point. Visual deterrents are a common technique often used in waterfowl management of this type.

Pier 4 Park providing swimming and recreational activities

With a small, man-made beach on Hamilton Harbour, Pier 4 Park offers residents a recreational public space that is surrounded by grass with nearby bicycle and walking paths. Before 2005, the area was severely challenged by E. coli. This meant that the beach was closed for half of the summer swimming season. The E. coli levels were well above the provincial safe swimming guideline of 100 colony forming units of E. coli/100 ml of water.

The City of Hamilton and Environment Canada came together to find out the source of the E. coli. In 2005, Environment Canada, using a genetic investigative approach called microbial source tracking, confirmed that feces from geese, gulls and ducks was the most likely source of E. coli at Pier 4 Park. Water fowl management, in order to control the E.coli, focused on bird deterrent mechanisms. This included oiling of eggs, street sweeping of paved walkways, dog walking patrols, the installation of visual and moving features such as artificial hawks and the periodic use of lasers to disturb the environment.

In August 2005, the City of Hamilton installed a fence and vegetation barrier around the perimeter of Pier 4 Park and a row of buoys parallel to the beach offshore, thereby preventing the birds from accessing the beach from the walkway or the water. The City also maintained the beach sand by having city workers rake the sand by hand to remove debris. In recent years, other environmental challenges have arisen.

Tug boat playground at Pier 4 ParkTug boat playground at Pier 4 Park

The presence of microcystin, a hepatotoxin released by cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms (cHABs) have been responsible for beach closing. This continues to be a big environmental challenge because, at present, there are no means for the City of Hamilton to control or prevent cHABs accumulation in the nearshore area of the beach. This is a harbour-wide issue and is being addressed through the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan by the implementation of phosphorus reduction strategies.

Today, residents are able to enjoy a park at the water’s edge through the on-going efforts of the City of Hamilton and its community organizations.

Waterfront Trail among native plants and fish habitat

Hamilton’s Waterfront Trail, along the shoreline of Hamilton Harbour, was designed by biologists to encourage the growth of self-sustaining fish and wildlife along with the beauty of native plants. The trails provide residents with a multi-use path for walking, cycling and accommodating wheelchairs so the park can be enjoyed by all. The goal of the trails was to allow residents to be in touch with nature and experience it. The natural restoration of the shoreline as well as the selection of native plants allows residents a chance to be close to nature. The trail meanders along the water’s edge from Bayfront Park to the nature sanctuary at Cootes Paradise.

How does it relate to the Clean Harbour Program?

The parks and shoreline along Hamilton Harbour are very much part of the overarching mandate set out in the Clean Harbour Program to revitalize and protect the harbour from further environmental damage. While the Clean Harbour Program is a series of very specific projects aimed at reversing environmental damage to the harbour, increasing recreational opportunities and park development are both part of the overall ‘big picture’ of environmental success for this location.

How does it relate to the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan?

Hamilton Harbour is among 43 Areas of Concern within the Great Lakes Basin by the International Joint Commission for Canadian-American Boundary Waters in 1985.

Waterfront Trail along Hamilton HarbourWaterfront Trail along Hamilton Harbour

Given this concern, the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan committee researched the issue of access to the shoreline in the city. 

Previous to 1990, It was determined that less than five per cent of the City of Hamilton’s shoreline was accessible to the public. With the financial and leadership support by the City of Hamilton and other key stakeholders, Pier 4 Park, Bayfront Park and neighbouring trails changed all this by allowing residents access to Hamilton Harbour and its shoreline.

Support from various stakeholders and the City of Hamilton led to a number of successful remediation projects including Pier 4 Park which opened in 1993. One of the key elements of the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan is the reduction of phosphorus flowing into the harbour through wastewater and storm water. Phosphorus is one of the elements that lead to the presence of microcystin, a hepatotoxin released by cyanobacteria, creating harmful algal blooms (cHABs) that have been responsible for beach closings.

Historic Gartshore Thomson building at Pier 4 Park

The Gartshore-Thomson building was donated to the city by the Fracassi family and was moved to its present location at Pier 4 Park in 1992. In the early 1900s, the Gartshore-Thomson Pipe and Foundry Company was one of Hamilton’s leading industries as the largest pipe manufacturer in the country. The company was recognized across Canada for its high quality cast iron water and gas pipes.

It was established in 1870 by Alexander Gartshore, who was the son of John Gartshore of the Gartshore foundry in Dundas. The Gartshore Foundry in Dundas is where, in 1859, the engines that powered the pumps of Hamilton’s original water system were built.

These impressive engines remain on display today at the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology on Woodward Avenue in the City’s east end. Incorporating his company in 1896, Gartshore, along with Thomas Crowie manufactured cast iron pipes and general iron castings for water mains and gas distribution. It was soon supplying the country’s major water works systems with water mains and other castings.

Gartshore building at Pier 4 ParkGartshore building at Pier 4 Park

In fact, in 1933 it claimed to be the only manufacturer of band spun cast iron pipe, which was a technically superior type forged centrifugally in sand lined moulds.

The company was bought out in the 1940s by Canada Iron Foundries. It operated as a foundry until the mid-1980s. The designated historical building was restored and preserved and now provides meeting space and washrooms at Pier 4 Park.

What is the return-on-investment for the residents of Hamilton?

For the residents, an accessible waterfront and harbour is the ultimate achievement. By transforming this former landfill to public parks and trails, residents are given more recreational opportunities and a chance to enjoy their waterfront around the year.