Page 1

2009 Drive Through Paradise? The History of Cootes Drive

Randy Kay Dundas Historical Society Presentation 4/8/2009

INTRODUCTION: OF TURTLES AND TRUCKS Much of history is remembered through the stamp of human creativity - and sometimes human destructiveness (with the two often going hand in hand) - the history of Cootes Drive is no exception. My interest in Cootes Drive grew out of my personal experience of it. I have used Cootes Drive, or more often the adjacent Cootes Drive bicycle path and the Spencer Creek Trail, for years, to get to and from my home in Dundas, and my work at McMaster University. I soon noticed the disparity between the noisy road presented in contrast to the birdsong, the running waters of the creek, the trilling of the frogs, and the glowing lights of the firefly, just a few metres from the road's shoulder. And, of course, the turtles. It was the big, slow moving turtles attempting to cross those fast lanes that elevated the dissonance to the level of moral dilemma. The turtles set me to thinking: why is this road here, where it is? and how did it get to be there? 1



Why choose Cootes Drive and not an older, more "historied" road like the Governor's or York Figure 1 Painted Midland Turtle, Road, you might ask? Well, for two reasons - one: Spencer Creek Trail, June 2004 – the road represents the first historical wave of photo by R.K. modern highway design; in every sense of the word it was built in 1936 as a most modern highway; and secondly, looking at what being modern meant over 70 years ago allows us a basis to reflect and re-examine the impacts of this engineering feat with new eyes: it allows us to imagine the future.

AWKWARD AND GRACEFUL The 1875 Atlas for the County of Wentworth had this to say about The Geographical Features of the County of Wentworth: "....The county is badly laid out - two of the largest and most important townships being triangular in shape, making it very awkward as far as roads are concerned." 4

Figure 2 Binkley Hollow

Indeed, awkward for roads, but the atlas also noted that "The scenery around Dundas, for beauty and gracefulness, is unsurpassed in Ontario." 5

So what did the combination of beauty and awkwardness give Dundas in the way of roads to Hamilton? "The main entrance into Hamilton has always been via the Hamilton Hill (Osler Drive and through Binkley's Hollow onto Main Street West, Hamilton) The road was built in 1847 by Edward  Lyons  at  a  cost  of  $34,000.00.  The  road  was  popular  from  the  start.  ” 6

At the eastern end of town we also for a time had the Peer's Road, built in 1818, which avoided the marsh by:

Figure 3 Approximation of Peer's Road route based on historical description

“[following] Dundas  Street  to  Thorpe  Street,  south  across  the  creek  to  the  foot  of  the  hill,   diagonally up the hill to the east reaching the top at the rear of St. Augustine's Cemetery, south  along  the  rear  of  the  cemetery  to  Desjardins  Avenue”,  thence  across  Binkley's   Hollow  to  join  the  present  “Hamilton- Brantford road near the...subway under the T.H. & B.  Railway  tracks,”  now  recognized  as  the  Rail  Trail. 7

Besides the Binkley Hollow route, people travelling between Dundas and Hamilton had another choice of transport which did go through the marsh: the Hamilton and Dundas Railway. “The H&D  was  incorporated  in  1875  to  run  as  a  steam  railway”(and later as an electric railway ). Starting in Dundas, the H&D ran along Hatt and Dundas streets, and then along Spencer Creek and through a long cut before stopping at the Half-way House....The H&D then continued on through  Ainslie’s  woods  to  Hamilton.  To  cross  the  Chedoke  ravine   (where Hwy 403 is now), the (train) turned south, and descended the side of the ravine, then  turned  eastwards,  crossed  the  Chedoke  river,  and  climbed  up  out  of  the  ravine”...and   on Hamilton streets to the terminal on Ferguson Avenue. The first run was in 1879, although  regular  service  didn’t  start  until  May  1880” 8


As the train returned to the Valley Town, the Dummy, as it was called, would cross over a wooden bridge at Beasley's Hollow in Ainslie's bush. In passing through Bamberger's orchard (now West Hamilton), many of the fruit trees overhung the railway

so that passengers could sample the cherries in season. Then came a stop at the Halfway House before the last two-miles of the journey. Mr Bamberger built a roofed-over platform alongside the tracks to the door of his bar so that thirsty passengers could get a quick beer no matter what the weather. The engineer and conductor were given a free drink, (a small one), just one minute before the five minute stopping time had elapsed in order to stretch out the waiting period a little longer. The fare from Hamilton to Dundas was 15 cents or 25 cents return....The Ainslie's Woods became a popular picnic spot....It is now the vicinity of the Aberdeen Avenue interchange with Highway 403." Figure 4 H&D in West Hamilton


There is a real sense of moving between distinct centres, through river valleys, orchards and the marsh. Riders looking to their left after leaving Bamberger's, heading toward Spencer Creek might catch a glimpse of Binkley's Pond, now a McMaster University parking lot. "Jacob Binkley (1806-1867),...built in 1847, the handsome stone house that still stands on Sanders Boulevard. ...The home was named "Lakelet Vale" and it had a little lake at the rear lower level fed by springs. The name "Binkley's Pond" became synonymous with good times to several generations who enjoyed skating there in winter and fishing in summer." 11

Around the time Mr Binkley built his home, another resident (Mrs. Drew) recalled "what life was like along the Dundas Road in the last half of the nineteenth century. She remembered going to the little stone school near the Binkley farm, playing in Cootes Paradise and occasionally travelling to Hamilton, which in her girlhood days was a small but busy town." 12

Figure 5 Skaters on  Binkley’s   Pond Sadly, the H&D railway didn't last, and was bought by the T.H & B railway to run freight in and out of Dundas, thus narrowing transportation options for Dundas-area residents. What accounted for this loss of transportation variety?

H&D managing director, W.C. Hawkins, told a spectator reporter [that] [a]lthough competition from bus lines was a factor, [it was]..."privately-owned automobiles" [that] were the main reason for the H&D's demise. He observed that "the highway is in splendid condition and the run is a fairly short one. The number of automobiles which are owned by the residents along the line who formerly travelled on the (H&D) has increased greatly in

the past few years. The Hamilton and Dundas Street Railway ceased operations on Sept. 5, 1923." 13

The primacy of cars didn't just happen. A few forces converged in the 1930s which pushed road building and cars through places they had avoided in the past: fruit belts, bogs, swamps, Canadian Shield rock, and perhaps most significantly, indelibly onto our mental landscapes. Thus, we enter the automobile age.

MODERNITY AND POLITICAL POWER "Before 1939 [Ontario] had no expressways....Before 1789 it had no roads at all....In 1894 the Ontario Good Roads Association was formed to lobby for better roads, and in 1901 the government passed the Highway Improvement Act to subsidize country roads. Finally, in 1915, the government got back into the business of road building and created the Department of Highways." 14

According to the official history of the Ontario Good Roads Association "It was because of the vision and conviction of a few dedicated individuals that road reform took place....the founders of the Ontario Good Roads Association laid the groundwork for a modern provincewide road and highway network." 15

Like many world-changing events, the road building, car-centric world we've inherited was created through the efforts of '...a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens' and interestingly, some of the first calling for improvements to roads were "Cyclists and 'wheelman's' associations. Looking at early traffic fatality statistics, the cyclists may have had second thoughts about sharing the road with automobiles . Regardless, they were Figure 6 Good Roads Machinery Company joined by Ontario farmers who "depended on the railways to transport (goods) to city markets." 16


In the United States, the League of American Wheelmen's Good Roads movement...launched a monthly magazine in January 1892 called Good  Roads.  “On  the  magazine's  cover  the   fundamental importance of roads was proclaimed with the following lofty slogan: 'The road is that physical sign or symbol by which you will understand any age or people. If they have no

roads they are savages for the road is the creation of man and a type of a civilized society."


This attitude persisted, buoyed by extensive car advertising campaigns. "American automobile marketing and ideology influenced Canadian culture so that,  by  the  1930’s,  paved  roads  were   considered a sign of modernization and prosperity." It became hard to argue with the belief that "Proof that a city was modern and progressive was found in its streets" or as H.G. Wells suggested "the extent of the motorization of any the criterion of that community's civilization, progress and prosperity." 19



In 1935  an  “Amendment  to  the Highways Improvement Act...permitted the Province to assume one hundred per cent of the cost of all Provincial Highways....Prior to this legislation, the Counties of the Province were pledged to assume twenty per cent of the both Maintenance and Construction.” 22

We can see Cootes Drive solidly in this context of modernity. Ideas are ideas, surely, but ideas applied require personalities. Road building and promoters of car-culture had their share.

FROM MOSES TO McQUESTEN By the late 1930's in the U.S., Robert Moses was well into his career as North America's most powerful road builder. "The man who was for thirty years his bitterest critic, Lewis Mumford, says  that:  ‘In the twentieth century, the influence of Robert Moses on the cities of America was greater than that of any other person.’” 23

"When Robert Moses began building...parkways during the 1920's ... Figure 7 Robert Moses Roads uninterrupted by crossings at grade and set off by landscaping were almost nonexistent....To a few young men, young engineers whose passion had been fired by a dramatic facet of their profession - the construction of highways - [Moses'] Belmont Mansion was Delphi. They came to learn, not just the engineering of great roads, for they could learn engineering elsewhere, but rather a secret available at that time nowhere else: the secret of how to get great roads built....As the young men grew older, they became the road builders of America, the heads of states and city highway departments, key officials of the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, caterers of an orgy of public works without precedent in history....Parkways were, in general, laid through thinly populated suburbs or open countryside and were designed to carry only cars." 24

Locally, Frank Campbell Biggs of Christie's Corners, was "in 1919...Minister of Public Works in Ernest Drury's provincial government. His belief in the need for a modern road system in the province drew enormous criticism on account of the projected expenses of his projects but it laid the foundation that passed to another advocate of road-building in the 1930s, Hamilton-area politician Thomas Baker McQuesten" 25

Indeed, we can see that T.B. McQuesten shared Moses' drive for parks and parkways, expressways and modernity. In designing the road that was to become the Queen Elizabeth Way, McQuesten searched the world for the latest designs. When he took over the Highway's Department as Minister in 1934, McQuesten agreed with the four lane design he inherited, “but felt  that  the ... traffic should be separated and that grassed areas should be placed in the centre of the roadway thereby eliminating head-on collisions and adding much to the comfort of night driving.' Tom asked his staff to study Hitler's new Autobahn and the latest advances in highway construction in the United States.....” 26

"McQuesten foresaw province-wide possibilities Figure 8 T.B. McQuesten for the application of this new type of controlled access, divided highway....Engineer A.A. Smith reported that future roads would need to handle traffic moving at speeds of 60 or 70 miles per hour. (The speed limit in 1936 was 35 miles per hour) Curves should be eliminated where possible, grades would be lowered from their current level of 7% to 3 or 4; pavement would be widened, and level railway crossings would be removed. "...[McQuesten] wanted to make sure that this innovation in road construction was understood and supported by motorists in all sections of the province. Accordingly a few miles of divided highway was begun at points near Windsor, Woodstock, and Belleville on Highway 2....'to let people see and know by experience what we are undertaking, because after all that is the only way in which to get progress in highway development.' The tactic of giving taxpayers a small taste of, and hence a desire for, a much grander scheme was one [McQuesten] had used successfully... 27

This modern highway, tinged, or perhaps tainted, by Fascist prototypes, is noted in the Annual Report for  1936  King's  Highway  Operations:  “The  year  saw  the  beginning  of  dual  highways,   namely a double road surface with a centre boulevard." 28

Listed under "Improvements in Ontario for 1936" is the "Dundas Diversion" (our Cootes Drive): A new road was graded, leaving highway No.2 at west limits of Hamilton, and cuts across country to join end of King Street, in Dundas.

This new road does away with the dangerous curves on Highway No. 8 through Binkley's Hollow and at Cotton Factory Hill. This was graded for a double highway with a 20 foot boulevard. 29

By 1937, the "development of the modern 'Divided Highway' [in] Ontario is making a start and Chief Highway Engineer for Ontario reports that "a divided motorway was put in service between Hamilton and Dundas." It is referred to as "an important cut-off from West Hamilton to Dundas" and was paved "with mixed macadam" and "built in two twenty-foot lanes separated by a twentyfoot boulevard." 30

Figure 9 Highway 8D, Department of Highways

And, by 1938, "A fair

portion of  the  work  was  of  the  new  type  of  Divided  Highways,”  and, "In keeping with modern highway development, emphasis was placed on roadside embellishment; sodding and planting on boulevards and slopes added much to the beautification of highways." 31

Here we can see the building of Cootes Drive in context; as a small taste of the modern world to come, one of the first divided highways in Ontario, brought to us by T.B. McQuesten, whether we wanted it or not.

“NO GREAT  DISPLAY  OF  ENTHUSIASM” "Do you zip away first when signs say 'Go'? - of course you do! Your modern car is lively, throbbing with power! At a touch of the 'gas' it leaps ahead! But what does that do to tires? (Goodyear G3 Tire advertisement)


The forces of modernity were not accepted without some reflection. The Dundas Star printed this commentary on the changes being experienced: “Loss to  countryside  in  passing  of  Ox  Team  

....the passing of the ox is one of the penalties of progress. It is one of those cases where our esthetic feelings are sacrificed to productive efficiency. Oxen at work....give the impression of irresistible power....their very slowness - the way they lean against the yoke, and the way the yoke creaks under the strain - all heighten the effect....but they are altogether too slow for this fast age....we prefer to go whizzing in an automobile, so there seems to be nothing to be done about it. But we can't help feeling that we lose something by being terribly progressive. 33

For Dundas, population 5,002, the building of Cootes Drive starts with a rumour, appearing in the June 25, 1936 edition of the Dundas Star "We have been advised that the rumour current in certain quarters this week that the contract has been let for a bridge over the canal is without foundation. This phantom bridge was supposed to be the first item of construction on the proposed new highway from Dundas to Hamilton." but a week later, JULY 2, 1936 the paper announces the "NEW HAMILTON - DUNDAS ROAD WILL BE BUILT AT ONCE" "Hon. T.B. McQuesten Announced the Tenders for Construction Will Be Called For in Near Future........"The radial right-of-way between Hamilton and Dundas as a potential provincial highway has been considered for many years," said Mr. McQuesten, "and with the Dominion paying 50 per cent of the cost, it is now deemed desirable to undertake it." "The present highway is in poor shape," he continued (referring to the Binkley Hollow route) "It is heavily travelled, has many dangerous curves, two level crossings, and two steep grades. These will all be eliminated at a most reasonable cost, due to the existing right-of-way. In its present shape it serves no purpose and is a liability." The proposed road, as stated above, will follow the old right-of-way of the radial line and will enter the city near McMaster University and join King Street at the western end. The road as surveyed will relieve the traffic on the present highway and also do away with steep grades and curves. And then we find the first suggestions that there are different opinions on priorities: ....In speaking of the report, Reeve A.C. Caldwell said that he did not think that the construction of the new road would change plans that have been made for the improvement of the present highway.... Persons who are in a position to know state that if the highway is to be built this summer a much larger sum than $60,000 will be needed. It is suggested in other quarters that a more reasonable sum would be needed to place the present highway in first class condition. In the meantime residents of Dundas are watching the various phases of the scheme with a great deal of interest but no great display of enthusiasm.

The phrase "A great deal of interest but no great display of enthusiasm" seems to capture the town's feelings for the road. As 94-year-old Dundas resident Frank Westoby recalls "Our thought at the time was: how long till the road sinks into the marsh?; but it never did." 34

Despite the rumblings in “some  quarters”  that  it  would  be  “more  reasonable”  to  fix  the  existing   road than build a new highway, "[m]achinery was unloaded along the right-of-way on Monday [July 20th 1936] and active work commenced on Tuesday [July 21st 1936] , however, we find that "as yet no official announcement has been made as to the exact route the road will take from the foot of King Street to the point where it joins the old right-of-way of the radial line to Hamilton." 35


The Hamilton  Spectator  similarly  reports  that  “While  a  steam  shovel  is  ploughing  a  gorge  out  of   a hill near McMaster as the start of the new Dundas-Hamilton Road, Dundas residents are still speculating as to the exact entrance into Dundas.... The work started by the Brennan Paving company just west of the McMaster property...indicates that the road is to be built on a substantial scale. The hill at that point is being cut many feet and the earth used to fill in the low land, while further west gangs are at work felling trees and clearing brush away. There will evidently have to be a lot of filling as the road goes along a swampy piece of ground, but according  to  talk  heard  in  the  town,  it  will  become  a  real  scenic  drive.” 37

Almost a month later, on August 13/36, the Dundas Star reports "Surveyors were noted working on the Dundas end of the new highway last week and we understand that the route of the new highway is causing considerable feeling in the east end." Trouble in Paradise, perhaps? "In this connection the Star wrote Hon. T.B. McQuesten some time ago asking for particulars of the route to be followed in Dundas. We have had no reply from the Minister of Highways who is evidently waiting until the land for the right-ofway is purchased, before making any official, definite announcement.” 38

Isn't it remarkable that as both steam shovels and surveyors approach town, provincial highway engineers are still Figure 10 Engineering map detail, Department of Highways, courtesy City of Hamilton Transportation Department approaching councillors about buying properties and moving buildings and creeks. "Councillor J.F. Crowley reported at the meeting of the town council...that he had been approached by engineers of the Provincial Highways Department re

the possibility of the town making available for use by the department of certain lots on the east end of town near the route of the new highway. Coun. Crowley informed the engineers that if they would submit a plan indicating the lots required that the matter would be considered. Coun. Crowley intimated that the department was going to move certain buildings off the proposed right-of-way and sought town lots as replacement properties." 39

While stirring "considerable feeling" in the east end of Dundas, further east the new highway engenders an  outright  “protest  lodged  by  residents  of  the  fine  residential  district  of  Westdale",   who oppose a route through King Street at the Hamilton end of the road, protests that the Dundas Star of July 30/36 reports were "unavailing" since, they report, "the new highway will enter the city as planned" as "a continuation of King Street West, Hamilton" ; However, a day later, July 31/36, the Hamilton Spectator clears the smoke of controversy with a statement from Minister McQuesten 40

"Reports that the new highway to Dundas would connect with King Street through Westdale were set at rest today in an explanation as to the route issued by Hon. T.B. McQuesten, minister of highways. In the Spectator several days ago the highway was described as connecting with King Street, wheras it will branch off from the present Dundas highway. Some years ago when the matter was first discussed, residents on King Street west objected to through traffic being routed next their homes. Their objections were perfectly reasonable, Mr. McQuesten said, and the present Dundas highway was located in the best position to handle through traffic." In Dundas, several variations for the highway's route from the Canal Basin westward are presented and abandoned all intended to link the new highway with King Street at York Road, which presents its own problems, as we shall see. 41

The first week of November of 1936 finds "Workmen with a steam shovel and other equipment" reaching King and York street "striving to get as much done as possible before the bad weather sets in" and more detail on the route is supplied: Going from east to west we learn that “Several pieces  of  vacant property as well as houses will be taken over, as the highway will pass through them. The new roadway will meet King Street near York and run of in a south easterly direction below York Street, taking in the old Brady property, and also that of Ed Norton, crossing the creek it runs across a small field, thence through the property of Cyrus Nunn and Joseph Warren. It then runs onto Baldwin Street and touches several properties on the east end of that street, thence easterly alongside the railroad tracks to a point beyond the bridge commonly known as the 'Black Bridge," which spans the creek for railroad purposes about a mile east of the canal basin. Here there will be a large fill in and also a large bridge across a corner of swamp land. Piledrivers have been busy putting in large timbers in order to get a solid footing for the bridge. The highway then turns southerly and proceeds through the big hill west of McMaster University and meets the old Hamilton-Brantford Highway....The grades will be but slight and on the highway itself will be but few curves, none of them of the dangerous type. Most of the culvert work and grading  has  been  done  and  everything  points  to  an  early  completion.” 42

But while the route is confirmed, how to integrate the highway with existing roads at each end remains a problem. Modern roundabouts are favoured by the Highways Department.: "Although plans have been submitted for the location of the road it is thought by some people that Hon.

Figure 11 A typical roundabout of the period, Department of Highways Ontario

plans have been submitted for the location of the road it is thought by some people that Hon. T.B. McQuesten will arrange to have the junction of the new highway with King Street designed along modern lines. A similar suggestion recently advanced in connection with the junction at the other end has received the approval of the minister and Mr. McQuesten has asked that plans be prepared from the view of safety, appearance and traffic demands." Indeed, Hamilton's City Engineer W.L. McFaul concluded after studying the alternatives that a traffic circle "was the only satisfactory method of handling the the interests of safety and expedition in handling traffic." 43


Winter brings construction to a halt, and the paving and integration of the new highway will have to wait until spring. In April  1937,  tenders  are  called  for  paving  the  “new  Dundas-Hamilton highway. The distance is given  as  two  and  a  half  miles.”  A  little  over  a  month  later  we  are  told  that  "Soon  commuters  and   tourists will have a new shorter and straighter road to and from Dundas, for the contract was let to A. Cope & Sons limited, for concrete paving of the recently opened division....Work will start in a few weeks and should be completed by the middle of July. The new road will do away with the  two  torturous  hills  of  the  old  road  and  is  practically  one  continuous  graded  curve.” 45

A month goes by, and the July 15/37 edition of the Dundas Star reports that "HIGHWAY WORK IS IN LAST STAGES....Cope and Sons...have erected their mixing plant on the rail line near McMaster University and drainage work is now underway preparatory to the laying of the surface coating. Trucks are busy hauling material onto the right-of-way at the east end of town and are grading the roadway over the long culvert between King and Baldwin Streets. Steamrollers are packing this material and trees on the route are being removed. Through the marsh a ditching machine is cutting a trench down the centre of the new road for the laying of drainage tile which will be connected to cross drains." While the physical work proceeds, the politicians in both Hamilton and Dundas are back trying to figure out how to get the new highway to hook up with existing roads. A particularly revealing Dundas  Star  article  on  June  17,  1937  digs  right  into  the  “New  DundasHamilton  Highway  Problems”  as  considered  by  Dundas  Town  Council.  

“With the  new  highway  between  Dundas  and  Hamilton  now  in  the  final  stages  of   construction additional problems are arising in Hamilton to be added to those problems which have been and are still engaging the attention of Dundas authorities. “The  latest  problem  to  arise  is  that  of  the  junction  with  Main  Street...For  months   motorists have been wondering just how the highway traffic department planned to overcome the traffic mix-up  that  is  bound  to  occur  at  the  new  intersection”  - a junction that  has  been  “the  subject  of  heated  controversy  since  the  plans  for  the  new  highway  were   announced” “It  is  generally  agreed  that the present traffic along Main Street West during rush hours is more than the highway can stand and unless a modern intersection is constructed on Main Street  it  will  be  more  difficult  and  dangerous  than  ever.” Despite warnings of traffic hazards from the engineers, Hamilton settles "against the recommendation of the Works Committee to share the cost of a traffic circle with the highways department." and instead, decides "the intersection could be better served by a modern traffic light and the money which a circle would cost might better be spent on the city streets." 46

For those who haven't been paying attention, the Dundas Star lays it out: From the first the new highway has been the subject of argument, not only as to the route it would follow into the city but as to the route it would follow into Dundas . Just why the construction of such an important highway was commenced without the final approval of the plans by all parties concerned is causing both city and town considerable amazement and more  that  a  little  worry...” 47


The article  continues,  noting  that  “Although  the  new  highway  may  not  carry  more  motor  traffic   than the old highway, it is designed to do so.... It is apparent that the traffic from Dundas should be routed into the city over King Street or a new route entirely if the benefits of the new highway are to be apparent. Dundas politicians dig in and resolve to protect the town from incurring any costs associated with the road; this stance grows directly out of their experience with the highway department's lack of inclusion in decision making. This is best illustrated in the 11th hour, as the new highway meets King Street at York. "The narrowness of King Street “poses a dilemma for the new, much wider highway. Widening King  Street  “would  prove  quite  expensive”  and  Mayor  Manning  declares  “that  it  is  hardly  fair  to   expect the town of Dundas to go to any great expense in making these changes in view of the fact that civic authorities were given little or no opportunity to express opinion regarding the entrance of the new highway - the opinion has also been expressed that the province should bear the entire cost of these necessary changes, because from the standpoint of Dundas this new

highway was not a necessity and because its eastern and western entrances runs into 'bottle necks' that are within the limits of the City of Hamilton and the town of Dundas." 49

The frustration  has  taken  a  toll  as  “Members  of  the  Town  Council  feel  that...  the  present  situation   does not reflect credit on either the department or the Town of Dundas." 50

This final jurisdictional battles is settled, as the Hamilton Spectator reports, September 9, 1937, “All doubt  to  where  the  new  highway  would  terminate  in  Dundas  was  set  at  rest  today  by   Reeve Arthur Nash, who announced that after a conference with Hon. T.B. McQuesten, minister of highways, he was advised the department would construct the road to the intersection of King and Main Streets....The Reeve was pleased with the statement of the minister that the road is incomplete where it has been ended at present - the intersection of York Street. He was more pleased at the decision of the minister that the road would be completed  at  no  cost  to  the  town.” It probably doesn't hurt Dundas' cause to find McQuesten in the midst of the 1937 Provincial election campaign. We get the first report of vehicles using the road in the September 16/37 Dundas Star .”Over  the  weekend large numbers of cars drove over the new highway and although crews are still at work Figure 12 King, Cross and Main intersection, Dundas ON

along the  route.”

PILLAR OF FIRE, SHORTLY FOLLOWED BY DEATH “Steam shovels...ripping  the  old  roadbed”  on  King  Street  in  Dundas  “ripped  up  a  small  gas  main   and a spark ignited the gas. The flames shooting from the broken main caused some excitement, but the big scoop emptied a few tons of earth on it and extinguished the blaze so that the main could be repaired. ….While  not  yet  officially  opened,  and  with  the  shoulders  and  drains  to  be  fixed  along  a  portion,   the  road  is  being  used  very  generally.” 51

Since we are talking about Paradise, in Biblical terms, a pillar  of  fire  serves  “to  give  ...light,  that   they  might  travel  by  day  and  by  night;;”  (Exodus) So it should not really surprise that a) “On Sunday, with fine [November] weather prevailing, many pedestrians enjoyed a walk along the new Hamilton-Dundas highway. Motor traffic was likewise  heavy” and b) that Dundas Businesses were concerned about an Exodus of a different sort. As the August 5, 1937 Dundas Star frames it, 52

THE NEW HIGHWAY PROBLEM By C.G.A. The highways department has seen fit to construct a new four lane highway between Dundas and Hamilton. When this new thoroughfare is open to traffic another problem will face businessmen of Dundas in the opinion of certain citizens who look upon the new road as a more direct route out of Dundas. Other citizens look upon the new highway as a more modern and easily travelled route from the city to Dundas. The first group fear that the opening of the new highway will mark the mercantile end of Dundas, while the other group looks to an increase in trade because West End residents will shop here in preference to the congested centre of the city - distances being approximately equal. If our neighbours to the west can secure good service, sufficient variety, ample parking space in Dundas it is possible that they might be induced to trade here. The problem is definitely ours - how will  we  face  it?” Well, looking further back in history, similar concerns were raised when Dundas sought, in 1876, to use Hamilton city streets for the Hamilton & Dundas steam railway, The aldermen of Hamilton's east end felt that the railway would "build up Dundas at the expense of Hamilton."....The Aldermen of east Hamilton needn't have worried about business leaving the city in favor of Dundas. Quite the opposite occurred as shoppers and business people used the railway to commute to Hamilton." 53

While business owners ponder the future with this new road, tragically, soon after the road is opened the highway's first victim is recorded in the November 18/37 Dundas Star William Kolesnick was fatally injured about 9 o'clock on Friday night when struck by a car driven by R. Douglas, of Balmoral Ave. Hamilton on the new highway near Court Street. The unfortunate man apparently became confused and stepped into the path of the car. No inquest will be held. Constable Mason was called to the scene of the accident and called Dr. R. Smith who said that death was due to a broken neck. The unfortunate man, a Romanian by birth, was 54 years of age and had worked as a laborer in the Bertram plant for about 20 years. As was his custom on pay day, he took a treat to the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stollar, with whom he formerly resided, and was within a block of the house when killed....

In the  spring  of  '38  “Citizens  of  Dundas  were  deeply  grieved  on  Sunday  to  hear  of  the  death  of   Mrs. Donald Campbell, which occurred early that morning as a result of an automobile accident on the new Dundas-Hamilton highway near the intersection with Highway No. 2. Mr. and Mrs. Cambell were motoring friends to the city following a dance at the Dundas Golf and Country Club when the car wheel encountered a soft shoulder on the highway and turned over. Mrs. Campbell died almost instantly. The other occupants of the auto, Miss Phyliss Pasel of 148 Dundurn Street North, Hamilton, and Douglas Graham of 199 King Street West, Dundas, were badly shaken up, and Mr. Graham required hospital attention. 54

These tragedies might detract from the reality that among victims of the car culture in the 30s, pedestrians were the most aggrieved:

Figure 13 Data Source: Department of Highways

Immediately apparent is the new roadway design's propensity to encourage speed: Observers note that  “This  new  stretch  of  roadway  is  a  veritable  racetrack  and  motorists  are  a  trifle  slow  in   lifting  the  pedal  when  the  town  limits  are  reached.”  leaving  the  town  council  to  seek  “means  to   stop speeding on the new highway at the town entrance between the Canal Basin and Main Street ”,  noting  “that  it  is  nothing  short  of  miraculous  that  accidents  of  a  serious  nature  are   avoided. 55


Town councillors of 1938 prefer signs over enforcement , no less than four signs indicating “Congested Area;; Heavy  Traffic;;  Moderate  Speed;;  30  Miles  Per  Hour”  predicting  that  if  “erected   at the Town limits [the signs]would  do  much  to  curtail  the  speed  of  the  motorist”  yet  recognizing   that  “There  are  old  [sic  "odd"]  offenders,  however,  who  will  not  obey  such  signs  and  a  stringent   enforcement  of  the  law  should  provide  a  remedy  in  these  cases.” 57



This remains a contemporary problem, with similar, largely ineffective solutions offered . 60

So the highway is constructed, it has different names as jurisdictions change over time, from the Hamilton-Dundas or the Dundas – Hamilton highway, Dundas Diversion, Highway 8D, Highway 102 (1947-1964 ), Cootes Drive, Veterans Memorial Parkway. But remember the original cost of $60,000? 61

The actual cost of Construction over the three year period 1936-1938 was $277,520.90 over nine-times the original cost projection, more if we include annual Maintenance costs (total Construction and Maintenance is $282,270.01.) 62

SYLVAN PARADISE OR GARBAGE DUMP? What is missing from this story so far? Well, not much consideration was given to ecological concerns, so the voice of the wetland is lost.

Figure 14 Marsh, south of Cootes Drive, photo by R.K.

At the time, there were some who appreciated the Marsh in a way many of us take for granted today: In  June  1936  “Forty...members  of  the  Federation  of  Ontario  Naturalists  invaded  the  local   district Saturday afternoon....[They] met at Longwood Road, then proceeded up Dundas Marsh,

where they caught wildlife unawares....Supper on the lawn of the Hydro sub-station at Dundas was the concluding feature . 63

For others, the marsh was still a place to seek sustenance of a different sort: Graham Douglas was convicted of illegal trapping in the Dundas Marsh preserve [in April 1936]. He was fined $100 or three months in jail." 64

There was an aesthetic sense of beauty attached to nature, from the new ivory towers of McMaster University: An early news account states: “The new  university  [is].  .  .  .  right  on  the  brink  of  a  sylvan  paradise.  Its  scholars  will  at  their  back   door have cool ravines and marsh meadows in which to meditate the theological and other muses. . . . And they will have red-winged blackbirds and whistling swans and canorous Canada Geese  to  keep  them  company.  Hamilton  is  proving  itself  a  generous  host  to  higher  learning” 65

Figure 15 McMaster University original campus

But generally the marsh was viewed as an impediment, in 1811 James Durand used the marsh against Dundas's aspiration as a new district, disparaging it as "unhealthy" "owing to the ground

being principally low, and the waters overflowing both in Spring and Fall, it being the head of a long frog marsh which is navigable only at particular seasons of the year..." 66

Also in the 19th Century, an Ontario Attorney General checking the site of the proposed Desjardins canal  observes  that  “the  marsh...appears to be of no use it its present state." 67

And then  “In  1925,  a  proposal  that  the  city  build  an  incinerator  was  turned  down  on  the  grounds   that when existing dumps were full, the entire Dundas marsh was available for garbage disposal.” 68

Examples of people viewing wetlands as adversaries to be overcome abound. "[The Beverly] swamp is  described  as  “a terror to settlers and travellers, and was filled with water all the year round....Within the last forty years, however, the greater portion of the swamp has been cleared of timber and has been considerably drained, and the swamp is now sought after where it was once shunned. Part of the swamp has been completely drained and found to be the most productive soil in the township. 69

It's like two different world views battling over this place and its meaning. So while Fruit Growers resist the building of the QEW through their productive lands , the economically marginal importance of a marsh leaves it vulnerable . 70


NO PLACE FOR A ROAD "History is now strictly organized, powerfully disciplined, but it possesses only a modest educational value and even less conscious social purpose." J. H. Plumb I will attempt, humbly, to bring this history into a conscious social purpose. "For geographers, modernity has taken on a particular meaning in relation to place....Thus in the modern world, the character of a place is not tied to its natural surroundings, but is a creation of the various  interests  that  'produce'  it  or  own  it.” 72

I think we are at a point in history where modernism, in transportation, has reached a crisis point. We have fortunately rediscovered the importance of ecology and habitat, we understand the negative impacts of car culture, and I would like to suggest that it is time to start, right here and now, to get ourselves ready for the age of restoration. The call to restoration is as at least as old as this road, of course, and readers of the Dundas Star might have  read  of  “The  American  Wildlife  Institute  under  Thomas  H.  Beck...chairman  of   President Roosevelt's committee  on  Wild  Life  Restoration”  who  said  that  “Conservation  has  not   been  effective.  What  we  need  is  restoration....conservation  isn't  enough.” I believe this is more true today, and examples of this ethic are commonly found in discussion of the earth's future: As Paul Hawken puts it: "Sustainability is about stabilizing the current disruptive relationship between earth's two most complex systems - human culture and the living world....At this point in our environmental freefall, we need to preserve what remains and dedicate ourselves to restoring what we have lost." 73


Locally, small  but  significant  steps  are  being  taken  “In  the  fall  of  2002  “  when...a  culvert  was   placed under the Rail Trail, allowing Spencer Creek's spring flood waters to once again spill into the floodplain, under Cootes Drive, and into West Pond.... The addition of the culvert made a significant  change  in  the  history  of  marsh,  ending  the  pond’s  isolation  after  more  than a century. One of the major habitat benefits, beyond substantial water quality improvement, is that a formerly isolated mosquito swamp on the south side of Cootes Drive suddenly had water flowing through it, creating access for small fish, which will feed  on  the  mosquito  larva.” 75

WHAT TO DO? “We have  a  paradox  that  in  a  world  increasingly  concerned  with  deteriorating  environments  and   explosive urban growth, there is a marked propensity to ignore the very places where most people live. Second, the issues are so enormously complicated and of such magnitude that most concerned  people  feel  helpless  to  do  much  about  them.” To deal with such a situation, the writer of the above statement, Michael Hough, suggests the principle,  “borrowed  from  Jane  Jacobs”  of  “Beginning  where  it  is  easiest”  since,  it  relates  to   “where  most  people  are  and  where  one  can  be  reasonably  certain  of  a  measure  of  success  from   efforts made, no matter how small.”  “Successes  in  small  things,  he  argues,  “can  be  used  to  make   connections to other larger and more significant ones. This is, consequently, an encouraging environmental principle to follow in bringing about change. It is, in fact, the only practical basis for  doing  so.” And, for Dundas, restoring natural areas could do wonders for our sense of place and identity. As it is now, the sprawling city has turned Dundas largely into a suburb of Hamilton, a development noted even in 1929. Of course it has only gotten worse since then, a phenomenon that we have come to know as sprawl. But as we have seen, 76



“Before their  explosive  growth,  the  visual  edge  between  town  and  country...was  clear and well defined. The town drew its character from its regional setting. From within looking out,  or  from  outside  looking  in,  one  had  no  question  about  one's  whereabouts.” 79

Recall the business people who worried that the effect of the road would be to reduce Dundas' competitive edge? What if making Dundas less accessible by car helped to rejuvenate the character and livability of the town? Imagine if Dundas had once again an electric rail line? We have come to realize that big roads tend to detract from liveable communities: take the “widened Main  Street  artery”  where  it  “combines  with  the  huge  hospital  building  to  roar  like  an   angry  giant  outside  the  entrances  to  the  village”  bemoans  one  observer.  “Fast  food  restaurants and other businesses have replaced the beautiful old farm homes....Binkley's Pond has now been filled  in  and  is  part  of  McMaster's  parking  lot.” . 80

History allows us to see that things weren't always the way we find them now; history therefore offers us a chance to learn from the past as we seek answers to current problems. But I will stop here, I want you to be creative in thinking about the future: I will end with what I would raise as an allegory for the road ahead: this from April 22, [coincidentally, Earth Day,

before Earth Day was invented] of 1937; the Dundas Star tells us that an OLD DUNDAS HOUSE IS BEING TORN DOWN: [The] Building said to be over 100 years old [served as a “landmark for  decades....Today  it  is being torn down and the land on which it has rested for decades - and perhaps a century plus a decade or two - will be used for a garden patch. Thus the cycle  is  fulfilled”  the  writer  tells  us,  “From  nature,  through  the  various  stages  of  modernization,   then disintegration and finally reversion to the original state of bearing plant life. What does this forecast?”  he  asks  us. Indeed.

FOOTNOTES 1“The Noise  Pollution  Clearinghouse  recently  reported  that  when  we  raised  the

speed limit from fifty-five to sixty-five miles per hour, it was the noise equivalent of doubling the number of cars on  the  road.”  Hundred Dollar Holiday, Bill McKibben, p51, simon and schuster, 1998

2Dundas Star March 26/36  “A  QUIETER  NEW  YORK   “Mayor  La  Guardia's  campaign  for  noise  reduction  in  New  York  City...investigations  have   definitely proved that noise is responsible for not only a lessening of a person's productive capability....The needless blowing of automobile horns and screeching brakes not only grates on the nerves but tends to reduce the efficiency of the drivers and needless and costly accidents are thus  caused  by  this  unnecessary  noise  making.” “The  Turtles  of  Royal  Botanical  Gardens,”  Brian  Pomfret  “One  of   the problems faced by turtles attempting to cross busy roadways was forcefully highlighted in 2001. Monitoring personnel observed a motorist deliberately aiming for and hitting a midland painted turtle attempting to cross Cootes Drive. The motive behind this act remains a mystery.”   4 1875 Atlas for the County of Wentworth, pub. DVSA, 1971, page viii 5ibid 6“Binkley  Toll  Road”  Picturesque  Dundas  Revisited,  Newcombe,  Olive,  Seldon,  Hamilton,   1997, page 183 7 History of the Town of Dundas - Woodhouse Part 1 1965, p.29 8West Hamilton, Jardine, pp 5-7  “In  1900  the  Hamilton  Cataract  Power,  Light  and  Traction   Company bought the line, converted it to electricity and renamed it the Hamilton and Dundas Electric  Railway” 9 10 West Hamilton, Jardine, p. 5 11 p.5 West Hamilton, Jardine 12 West Hamilton, Jardine, p10 13 Vanished Hamilton iii, Janet Bryers. ed Houghton. p102 14 Backroads of Ontario, Brown, Ron, 1996 Boston Mills Press 15

16 May 23,  1935  Dundas  Star.  “AT  EVERY  INTERSECTION  BE  CAREFUL!  There  were  over   800 bicycle riders killed or injured in Ontario last year. Bicyclists, especially children, are often careless. This simply means that drivers of motor vehicles must be twice as careful. Remember that you are in the heavier vehicle. At stop streets...Stop! Discipline yourself when you drive. Cut down on speed, especially at night... Hon. T.B. McQuesten, Minister of Highways” 17 Anita

Rush, The Bicycle Boom in the Gay Nineties: A Reassessment, p4, quoted in The Ride to Modernity, page 150? 18 Anita

Rush, The Bicycle Boom in the Gay Nineties: A Reassessment, p4, quoted in The Ride to Modernity, page 151)

19Journal of Historical Sociology V.15 Number 4, Dec. 2002 20 Anita

Rush, The Bicycle Boom in the Gay Nineties: A Reassessment, p4, quoted in The Ride to Modernity, page 151) 21 Getting Around Hamilton: A brief history of transportation in and around Hamilton, Bill Manson, 2002 - North Shore, 47 22Annual Report of the Department of Highways Ontario 1936 23 The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Caro, Robert A., Knopf, New York, 1974 p 12 24 Caro - 10-11 25 From West Flamborough's storied past: a celebration of West Flamborough's Heritage Highway #8 and Governor's Road, page 5 26 Thomas Baker McQuesten: Public Works, Politics and Imagination, Best, John C., Corinth Press, Hamilton ON, 1991, 113 27 Best, 114 28 Annual Report for 1936 King's Highway Operations p.12 29 Sessional Papers Vol. LXX, Part V, Second Session of the Twentieth Legislature of the Province of Ontario, Session 1938, Toronto, T.E. Bowman, 1939 30 Department

of Highways Annual Report for 1937 p. 20

31Department of Highways Annual Report for 1938 32 May 2, 1935, Dundas Star

33 May 2, 1935, Dundas Star 34 Frank Westoby, phone interview, February 13, 2009 35 Thursday, July 23/36 Dundas Star 36 Dundas Star, Thursday, July 23/36 37 July 28/36 Hamilton Spectator 38 Dundas Star, August 13/36 39 August 20, 1936 Dundas Star 40 July 30/36 Dundas Star page 8 41 July 28/36 Hamilton Spectator 42 November 5/36, Dundas Star 43 November 19, 1936 Dundas Star 44 Corporation City of Hamilton, Office of the City Engineer, Hamilton ON August 5, 1937 45 June 3/37 Dundas Star p5 46 August 19, 1937, Dundas Star 47The Independent, April 7, 1937: 1, Journal of Historical Sociology V.15 Number 4, Dec. 2002 Similar conditions  existed  in  Niagara  region  with  the  building  of  the  Middle  Road  (QEW)  “Even   though it was now evident that a highway would be built, uncertainty about its exact location persisted. In response to an inquiry from a protest meeting, the Department of Highways indicated that the route for the highway had not been decided. Meanwhile, the area had been staked  out  and  grading  of  the  new  road  was  scheduled  to  begin.” 48 Dundas Star, June 17, 1937 49 Dundas Star, JULY 29 1937 50 September 2, 1937 Dundas Star 51 Spectator, Friday October 1/37


52 Dundas Star,November 11/37, page 8

53 Spec. July 26, 1980 , Dundas and Back for 25 Cents. By Pat Ingraham 54 Dundas Star, May 5/38 55July 21 1936, Hamilton Spectator Mayor Blames Slow Drivers for Highway Accidents July 25/36 Hamilton Spectator (p20) [Dundas] Mayor Manning....disagreed with Mayor Morrison, of Hamilton in his remarks about slow drivers being the greater menace. "It is the fast driver who has no place to go and plenty of time to get there who causes most accidents," Mayor Manning said. "Else it is often the young fellow with long hair and one hand on the wheel who causes trouble." 56Dundas Star, March 24/38 p.1 57Dundas Star, May 5/38 58“Speed: We  can't  handle  it.  And  we're  paying  the  price.  Speed:  Part  2  of  3,”  June  06,  2005,   Fred Vallance-Jones, The Hamilton Spectator, Jun 6, 2005 59Dundas

Star, March 24/38 p.1


Star News, May 2, 2008 and Feb 29, 2008

61 62Sessional Papers, REPORT UPON Highway improvement in Ontario for 1940? 63History of the Town of Dundas - Woodhouse, Part 1 1965 p21 64Dundas Star, April 2, 1936 65The Hamilton Spectator, October 5, 1929 66History of the Town of Dundas – Woodhouse, Part 1 1965 p21 67History of the Town of Dundas – Woodhouse, Part 1 1965 p30 68 Emergence of the Modern City, Wood, Harold A, in Steel City: Hamilton and Region, Dear et al, University of Toronto Press, 1987. p131, 69 1875 Wentworth County Atlas, p.viii 70Wednesday, July 25/36 Hamilton Spectator p 18 “Plan Definitely  Adopted Plans for the new highway through the garden land west of Maple Avenue will be issued

within the course of another week....That the highway department intends to turn a deaf ear to the pleas of the Maple Avenue growers not to cut up their farms is evident by the fact that the Dominion Construction company of Toronto has been awarded the contract to grade the new roadway.... “ 71 Sacred  Feathers,  “Luckily  for  Wahbanosay's  band,  their  territory  lay  in  an  area  the  white  man   initially regarded as undesirable. The swarms of mosquitoes in the summer deterred the Loyalists, as did the hundreds of rattlesnakes and the bears and wolves. Most of the early white settlers, in fact, had bypassed Burlington Bay and continued farther inland to higher, drier, and more  easily  worked  land”.  (Smith,  2)   72 The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle In Canada, 1869-1900, Norcliffe, Glen. p19I 73 Dundas Star NOVEMBER 14, 1935 74 Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken. p172 75 76 Michael Hough, Out of Place, p194 77. Michael Hough, Out of Place, p194 78 Hamilton Herald, August 1, 1929 79

Hough p87-88

80 West Hamilton, Jardine, pg. 133-134

TABLE OF FIGURES Figure 1 Painted Midland Turtle, Spencer Creek Trail, June 2004 – photo by R.K. ............................ 2 Figure 2 Binkley Hollow ........................................................................................................................ 2 Figure 3 Approximation of Peer's Road route based on historical description .................................. 3 Figure 4 H&D in West Hamilton .......................................................................................................... 4 Figure 5  Skaters  on  Binkley’s  Pond ....................................................................................................... 4 Figure 6 Good Roads Machinery Company.......................................................................................... 5 Figure 7 Robert Moses........................................................................................................................... 6

Figure 8 T.B. McQuesten ...................................................................................................................... 7 Figure 9 Highway 8D, Department of Highways ................................................................................. 8 Figure 10 Engineering map detail, Department of Highways, courtesy City of Hamilton Transportation Department ................................................................................................................10 Figure 11 A typical roundabout of the period, Department of Highways Ontario ............................. 12 Figure 12 King, Cross and Main intersection, Dundas ON ................................................................. 14 Figure 13 Data Source: Department of Highways ...............................................................................16 Figure 14 Marsh, south of Cootes Drive, photo by R.K. ...................................................................... 17 Figure 15 McMaster University original campus .................................................................................18

BIBLIOGRAPHY 1875 Atlas for the County of Wentworth, pub. DVSA, 1971 Ainslie Wood Westdale Background Report - Cultural Heritage (City of Hamilton Web site) Backroads of Ontario, Brown, Ron, 1996 Boston Mills Press Beyond Paradise: Building Dundas 1793-1950, Norris, Darrell A., Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee of the Town of Dundas, 1996 Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, Hawken, Paul, Viking, Toronto, 2007 From West Flamborough's storied past: a celebration of West Flamborough's Heritage Getting Around Hamilton: A brief history of transportation in and around Hamilton, Bill Manson, 2002 - North Shore "Cootes Drive", Linda Helson, Hamilton Street Names, Ed. By Margaret Houghton The Head of the Lake: A History of Wentworth, Johnston, C.M., Robert Duncan & Company, Hamilton, 1958 History of the Town of Dundas - Woodhouse Part 1 1965 Hundred Dollar Holiday, Bill McKibben, Simon and Schuster, 1998 Out of Place: Restoring Identity to the Regional Landscape, Hough, Michael, Yale, New Haven, 1990 Picturesque Dundas Revisited, Newcombe, Olive, Seldon Printing, Hamilton, 1997. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Caro, Robert A., Knopf, New York, 1974 The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle In Canada, 1869-1900, Norcliffe, Glen. Sacred Feathers: The Reverend Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) and the Mississauga Indians, Donald B. Smith, University of Toronto Press, 1999 “Annual Report  of  the  Department  of  Highways  Ontario;;”  Sessional Papers, Legislature of the Province of Ontario, Toronto, T.E. Bowman “Emergence  of  the  Modern  City”,  Wood,  Harold  A,  in  Steel City: Hamilton and Region, Dear et al, University of Toronto Press, 1987. Thomas Baker McQuesten: Public Works, Politics and Imagination, Best, John C., Corinth Press, Hamilton ON, 1991 Vanished Hamilton III, ed. Margaret Houghton, "Radial Railways" by Janet Bryers, North Shore, Burlington ON, 2007 West Hamilton: A Village and a Church, Jardine, David N., West Hamilton Heritage Society, 1990?

Drive Through Paradise: The History of Cootes Drive  

T.B. McQuesten's Modern Highway design meets the Dundas Marsh in 1936/37

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you