Toxic dump to crown jewel: Hamilton waterfront revamp decades in the making


Published February 21, 2023 at 2:56 pm

An artist-rendering of the Studio District near Hamilton's West Harbour. It's one of many projects planned for the waterfront.

Before leading Ontario’s official opposition party and being elected Hamilton mayor, Andrea Horwath served as a city councillor from 1997 until 2004 in Hamilton’s Ward 2. She recalls a bold plan for the city to revamp its waterfront.

“They were just finishing up the planning for that waterfront area,” recalled Horwath in an interview with “The project was called ‘Setting Sail,’ and it’s cool to see that the planning work done 25 years ago is actually bearing fruit because these things take a long time.”

Setting Sail was a 70-page plan for West Harbour. Unveiled in March 2005, city council recognized the urgency for Hamilton to take control of its waterfront — once a primary industrial port and privately-owned toxic waste dump.

Fast-forward to 2023, and more than $14o million dollars has been earmarked for the area.

“People would never be able to even get anywhere near the water’s edge in our harbour,” Horwath explained, “so over these last couple of decades, we’ve done amazing things.”

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The harbour has been cleaned and beautified, allowing residents to take in the shorelines and green space. Piers, a skating rink, and boardwalks have also been added. Piece by piece, Hamilton’s waterfront is building toward becoming the city’s crown jewel, and some private investors have been chomping at the bit.

A few years back, Aeon Studio Group entered into a memorandum of understanding with the City of Hamilton to construct a multi-purpose studio district in the Barton-Tiffany lands near the West Harbour. Challenges have led to delays, including soil contamination at the site, but the waterfront appears only a few years away from hosting a movie studio and event space. There are also plans to construct residential and commercial spaces on the lands.

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Artist rendering of the Studio District near Hamilton’s West Harbour

The City set out to turn Hamilton’s waterfront into a vibrant, mixed-use, transit-supportive, and pedestrian-friendly attraction — and it’s getting there.

The boardwalks were the next step toward reconstructing Piers 5, 6, and 7. The project includes a village and public piazza at the foot of James St. North “for public, commercial and cultural uses.”

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Recently installed boardwalk at Hamilton’s West Harbour. (Photo by Jason Thorne)

A trail for recreational uses right at the edge of the Macassa Bay shoreline is planned, with a private entrance for Yacht Club members. The City says it will also create a wetland area or natural aquatic habitats.

Meanwhile, Central Park redevelopment will include an accessible play structure, ball diamond, tennis courts, multi-purpose courts, a splash pad, asphalt pathways, sheltered areas, and a SoBi Hamilton Hub at the park entrance on Bay Street North.

It’s taken decades, but here we are — amid a Hamilton waterfront renaissance.

“We are bringing people back to the water’s edge, providing recreational space, and there’s housing coming as well (to the waterfront),” said Horwath. “So it’s pretty exciting.”

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