Saturday, April 27, 2019
The western end of Lake Ontario has a baymouth barrier formed of sand carried from the Scarborough Bluffs by the longshore drift of the lake. It shelters Burlington Bay and became the site of a canal proposal in 1823. James Crooks was instrumental in getting the idea going and had been the man behind the first paper mill in Upper Canada. Work on the canal began in 1826 and was completed in 1832. We decided to go and check out this early engineering project for ourselves. There is plenty of free parking just south of the Burlington Lift Bridge and from there we enjoyed walking along Hamilton beach. After crossing the lift bridge the beach becomes Burlington Beach although high water levels in the lake are causing the sand strip to disappear.
When the canal was cut through the sandbar it was recognized that piers would need to extend into the lake to calm the waters in the canal and prevent it from silting up with sand. Wooden piers were installed but these kept being damaged in the winter storms. In 1830 it was decided to replace the wood piers with stone ones. Large stones were brought up from the bottom of the lake by stone hookers. These were then taken and thrown into wooden cribs to build more permanent piers. The story is told of Jem Horner whose leg got crushed between a scow and one of the cribs. Apparently his fellow workers carried him up the beach a ways and dumped him in an old building before returning to work. Jem was later found in agony and a doctor had to amputate his leg. Jem later died but they say his one legged ghost still walks the beach strip looking for his leg and also for revenge.
The lighthouse keepers house was built of wood and constructed in 1838 beside the wooden lighthouse and the wooden ferryman’s house. A passing steamer caught the piers and wooden structures on fire in 1856 and they were all destroyed. This one and a half story cottage was built to replace it. Originally it faced the canal but was moved a short distance to the present location around 1900.
in 1838 a wooden lighthouse was built to help guide ships into the canal. When it was lost to the fire of 1856 a new lighthouse was commissioned. It was built in 1858 and stands 55 feet tall. Built of white dolomite it was in service until 1961 when it was decommissioned having become redundant. When the new lift bridge was built in 1962 the lighthouse was obscured from the lake. There is a concrete light on the east end of the south pier that was built in 1909 to guide ships into the canal.
It originally had a pair of oil lamps which the lighthouse keeper had to tend daily. They were later replaced with a third order Fresnel lense. This lense has been removed and placed in storage for the day when the lighthouse is restored.
The long-tailed duck breeds in the arctic and will migrate into Southern Ontario for the winter months. The long-tailed spends a higher percent of time under water than any other duck. When it is foraging it can spend four times as long submerged as it does on the surface. It is also one of the deepest diving ducks being able to go 60 metres to forage. A banded one was once tracked for 17 years in Alaska.
Environment Canada maintains an automated weather reporting station on the south pier. The 1909 pier light can be seen in the background.
Two bridges can be seen with the lift bridge in the foreground. The Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway bridge was built in two phases. The steel arch span was built in 1958 while a concrete span was added in 1985.
The lift bridge is the fifth movable bridge to cross the canal since it opened. It is 116 metres long and weighs almost 2,000 tons. Originally the bridge carried two lanes of traffic and a set of tracks for the Hamilton-Northwestern Railway but in 1982 the tracks were removed so that four lanes of traffic can cross the bridge. It lifts about 4,000 times per year and we were on it when it was about to rise. You have to get off ASAP as you are not allowed to go along for the ride. The bridge lifts 33.5 metres but they have to make sure it is all the way up before the ships start to enter the canal. If there is a malfunction and the bridge drops the larger ships may need a mile to come to a stop.
The house that stands at 900 Lakeshore Court in Burlington was the first house built on the beach strip north of the canal. George Frederick Jelfs had emigrated to Hamilton in 1871 had been appointed the police magistrate for Hamilton in 1893. Two years later he had this house built for a summer home. In 1907 Jelfs was instrumental in keeping Hamilton from annexing the strip of beach north of the canal. The City of Burlington is now thinking about taking over this property and now it appears to have had a recent fire. This could be a case of another heritage home bites the dust.
The opening of the canal had a direct impact on the growth of Hamilton. With a sheltered bay for a harbour heavy industry began to line the shores of the lake. Of the 6,500 vessels that pass through the canal each year about 1,000 of them are cargo ships.
From the Hamilton Beach you get a view of the city of Toronto that makes it look like it is built out on top of the water.
The beach looks like a great place to spend a hot summer day enjoying the water and the the breeze off the lake. The whole area is also accessible by the Waterfront Trail which passes along the entire length of the sandbar.
Check out a review of the twenty most popular posts from our first five years at this link. Back Tracks – Five Years of Trails
Google Maps Link: Burlington Canal
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