Hamilton Ontario has a mixed message on its natural environment. On one hand there is the exceptional beauty of the Niagara Escarpment with its ravines and bay meeting Lake Ontario versus the surge of industrial pollution from its steel mills, factories, and entwining highway commerce. Perhaps in compensation for this battle, the city of Hamilton has endeavoured to tip the scales in favor of the environ with over 350 parks and preserves (not to mention biking and walking trails). One can find jewels like Albion Falls Park to the splendor of the Royal Botanical Gardens. This last weekend I discovered the pleasures of Dundurn Castle.
Ravine Hillside, photo by Eileen Courtright
Dundurn Castle is on the Northwest flank of Hamilton Bay following York street and the ravine which leads right into downtown Hamilton a kilometer or two ahead. The Castle is an example of the splendor achievable by the United Empire Loyalists and the Family Compact that on one hand defended Canada valiantly against American expansionist interests upon Canada leading to the War of 1812 and other skirmishes; but on the other hand ran Upper Canada for their own interests leading to the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.
Sir Allan Napier MacNab (1798 – 1862) had the castle designed and built by a prominent English architect, Robert Wetherall over a 3-year period finishing in 1835. Fortunately, the castle was built around the brick bulwarks of Colonel Richard Beasley’s colonial home. Designed as a fashionable villa with many distinctive touches that are best viewed on the mansion tour. The interior of the villa has been restored to the styles and rich decor of 1855 empire home. However, the extensive and rolling grounds is an equal if not greater match to the finery of the interior decor.
The Cockpit, photo by Eileen Courtright
The grounds are on the edge of the ravine falling in wooded magnificence to the bay waters. The castle with its distinctive Gaelic name, Dundurn which means “strong fort” and has all the military trappings. This includes large stables, a Cockpit (an outbuilding resembling an astronomical observatory but used for cock fights with a beacon-eyed view of Hamilton harbour), an earth mound fortified store shed, plus the 40 room central mansion with its genteel colonnaded entrance way on safer street side but with its narrow slit windows (see picture above) facing a line of attack from the bay.
But the biggest surprise and pleasure was the estates vegetable gardens. We had come to Dundurn for the Scottish Festival but so had one of this summers many thunderstorms as well. So while the Festival was on hold, there was an opportunity to walk the grounds and visit the Dundurn Castle’s Family Vegetable garden. This consists of 8 square plots – about an acre of land, devoted to various vegetables. Squash, beets, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, corn, and a thousand one legumes and herbs – which I was unable to identify. Such a garden!
Dundurn Vegetable Garden, photo by Eileen Courtright
Interspersed among the almost farmers market plenty of the vegetable patches were a bevy of floral beauties. And surrounding this were orchard apples, pears, plums and other fruit trees. And of course strawberries and raspberries were to be found in among the vegetables. Any true-blooded canning and food preserver would love these meticulously maintained gardens.
But the vegetable garden was but a patch on the rolling grass and tree shaded grounds that make up Dundurn Castle Park. With gentle ripples and natural amphitheaters, the park is a natural playground perfect for a Scottish Dance festival, folk concert or fall art exhibit – all of which have been able to take advantage of the natural beauty and history preserved at Dundurn Castle. Hamilton, with this and 349 other parks, has done well to preserve its natural beauty bounty.