Taking a Tour Around Steeltown
From the Nest, Issue 9
by Jamie Stuckless
I love getting to know a community by walking and cycling around it.
Moving at a slower speed can make it easier to take in your surroundings and see something you hadn’t noticed before. It can be more convenient to stop and check out a point of interest, or pop into a store, and I am always excited to find new connections and side routes that I wouldn’t have seen if I was travelling by car.
When I moved to Hamilton a few years ago, I got to know – and am still getting to know – this remarkable and complicated city by walking and cycling around. It was with all of this in mind that I worked alongside a Canada Summer Jobs student this summer to develop and launch #SteeltownTours.
Steeltown Tours is a series of free, self-guided cycling walking tours that aim to help connect people to impactful community projects, small businesses, local history and culture, as well as the walking and cycling infrastructure that get them there.
The routes are focused in central Hamilton and range in length from 2km to 28km. The tours are based on three themes and while my personal experience of Hamilton is central to these tours, I am also fortunate to have developed them with input from many local organizations, advocates, authors and businesses I respect and admire.
Of all the tours, I’m most excited about the Reclaiming Hamilton tour. It’s almost always the one I talk about first, and I’ll do so again here.
The tour is based on the book of the same name by local literary press Wolsak & Wynn. Reading this collection of essays introduced me to a lot of new projects, histories, and ideas about Hamilton. It also made me curious to get out and actually see the projects and locations described in the book.
For months I kept meaning to cycle out to the location of the Brightside Neighbourhood, or walk through the Beautiful Alley known as Lois Lane, but I never seemed to get around to it.
When I started planning what the tours could look like, I thought that basing one on the book could be an interesting opportunity. I was thrilled to get an enthusiastic response from both the book’s editor Paul Weinberg and from Wolsak & Wynn. Throughout the planning, many of the essay authors contributed by suggesting locations and reviewing the descriptions we developed for each destination. The tour serves as an introduction to the book, not as a replacement, which is why we included the location of local bookshops that carry Reclaiming Hamilton on the route map.
While the content for the tours came together pretty easily, the bike route planning proved a bit more challenging.
This tour has some specific locations we really wanted include, but there wasn’t always safe cycling infrastructure to get people there.
For example, there are no separated bike lanes that connect to Gore Park, and it was an obvious location choice for one of the essays, as well a central feature of downtown Hamilton. We also had to contend with one-way streets, and make sure that we weren’t simply sending people up and down the same couple of downtown streets that did have separated bike lanes on them.
Difficulty planning a safe and connected cycling route is likely a common experience for anyone trying to plan a bike route in Hamilton. The city has a growing network of cycling facilities, but they are not always connected to each other, or to the destinations we want, and need, to get to.
We identified a route, but it does require mixing with motor vehicle traffic in several locations and may not be feel comfortable for people of all ages and abilities. As Hamilton’s cycling network continues to grow, we will try and keep the tours updated with the safest routes available.
The full Reclaiming Hamilton bike tour is an 18km loop. It is also available as an 8km loop connecting destinations in the west end, and as a 5km loop connecting destinations in the east end.
The second #SteeltownTours bike tour is focused on visiting urban greenspaces and outdoor art. The idea for this tour theme came from Community Projects Coordinator Mackenzie Mailhot as a way to connect people with free, outdoor experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The primary destinations in this tour are a few of Hamilton’s 394 municipal parks. Participants also visit several murals, a pollinator garden project by Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalists Club, a couple of local businesses, and the community fridge in Crowne Point. Tour participants are encouraged to help fill the community fridge as part of the tour, and pre-paid gift cards are available at the Ottawa Market to do so throughout the fall.
Inspired by community advocacy and Downtown Sparrow’s map of public water fountains, public amenities like water fountains and public washrooms have also been included on all of our tour maps for easy access.
With so many outdoor greenspaces and art projects to choose from, this became our longest tour at 28km. It is also available as shorter 15km or 16km loops. We had a bit more flexibility on this tour to prioritize destinations close to bike lanes, multi-use paths, bike routes, and cycle tracks.
Finally, we also developed a couple of walking tours about Hamilton’s evolving food scene. We had some great input from local food expert Joyce Leung from The Joyce of Cooking and included restaurants, shops, and food-related points of interest. Just like on the greenspaces tour, participants are encouraged to learn more about food insecurity and help to fill the community fridge on John Street along their way.
The walking food tours are all approximately 2km in length, and they will be launching online later this Fall.
Overall, this has been an incredibly rewarding project to work on, and I hope that #SteeltownTours helps to highlight some of the many spaces, organizations, and stories that make this city special.
Jamie Stuckless has turned her love of cycling into a career as a transportation and policy professional; a bike trip between Kingston and Ottawa inspired her to want to make it safer and easier for more people to ride bikes, and she has worked to make that happen as a professional and volunteer in Ontario’s active transportation sector for over a decade; Based in Hamilton, she is now the Owner & Principal Consultant at Stuckless Consulting Inc.