Coordinates: 43°17′24″N 79°50′06″W / 43.2900°N 79.8350°W / 43.2900; -79.8350

The Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway bridges the waters of Hamilton Harbour.
The Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway bridges the waters of Hamilton Harbour.

Hamilton Harbour, formerly known as Burlington Bay, lies on the western tip of Lake Ontario, bounded on the northwest by the City of Burlington, on the south by the City of Hamilton, and on the east by Hamilton Beach (south of the Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway) and Burlington Beach (north of the channel). It is joined to Cootes Paradise by a narrow channel formerly excavated for the Desjardins Canal. Within Hamilton itself, it is referred to as "Hamilton Harbour", "The Harbour" and "The Bay". The bay is naturally separated from Lake Ontario by a sand bar.[1] The opening in the north end was filled in and channel cut in the middle for ships to pass. The Port of Hamilton is on the Hamilton side of the harbour.


Hamilton Harbour was known among the Mississauga Anishinaabek as Wiikwedong simply meaning "at the Bay".

Early Settlers to the area called the bay Lake Geneva.[2] The bay was formally renamed Burlington Bay in 1792 by John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, for the former name of the town of Bridlington in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England.[3] Prior to this, the bay was also known as Washquarter,[4] notably as a landmark to delineate the extent of the Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3[5] negotiated between Simcoe and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation in 1792.[6]

Access to the bay was important for the early water transportation and industrial development of the area, including Dundas, Ontario, which had an early but ultimately unrealized lead over both Burlington (Brant's Block) and Hamilton. Over the years, the bay was roughly treated by its littoral residents. Constant infilling, particularly in the North End of Hamilton, damaged fresh water streams and the wildlife they supported. Channel dredging tended to stir up natural and unnatural sediments, further disrupting the ecological land balance in the area. Chemical, industrial and thermal pollution, especially as a byproduct of the burgeoning steel industry after the 1890s, continued to degrade the environment.[7]

The waterways in Hamilton have not always been polluted. The north-end of the Harbour used to be a regular swimming spot for working-class families.[8] The pollution of Hamilton Harbour waterways is caused by industrialization and, by proxy, urbanization, which came to be a major problem by 1917.[8] Many working-class families were overcome by health hazards when dumping sewage into the inlets and the bay itself became a regular occurrence.[9] Laurel Sefton MacDowell writes in her book An Environmental History of Canada that, "As early as the 1860s, a fishery inspector at Hamilton Harbour discovered that fish found along the shore tasted of coal oil and that dead ducks and muskrats were coated with oil from two refineries.[8]" By the 1950s, city officials had deemed Hamilton Harbour unfit for any recreation use and shut down all beaches.

In 1919, a Federal Order-In-Council changed the name of Burlington Bay to Hamilton Harbour.[1]

By the 1970s, the International Joint Commission, which governs water usage in the Great Lakes Basin, and other agencies began to recognize the need for action. Greater water quality awareness, improved pollution controls, and an economic downturn all served to improve conditions in the 1980s. In the 1990s, beautification and ecological control were well underway. These measures included sealing the Lax Lands, contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants, under a cap of clay; landscaping Bayfront Park and Pier 4 Park; and keeping common carp from entering Cootes Paradise. The visible and measurable improvement in water quality in Burlington Bay was showcased in 1994 by the very public swim of Sheila Copps, a local MP and federal cabinet minister.[10] Access and recreational use of the bayfront has improved, and swimming is now allowed at two beaches in the harbour: Bayfront and Pier 4.[11]

Hamilton Harbour is listed as a Great Lakes Areas of Concern in The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada.[12] Part of the remediation plan is to reclaim the harbour's wetlands.[13]

While most of the carp in the harbour had been eradicated by early 2021, Maclean's reported that numerous goldfish had been found, presumed to have come from the dumping of pet fish by the public. One expert stated that the goldfish "is the ultimate survivor of difficult conditions ... it can feed on blue-green algae blooms that native species cannot—blooms that appear with increasing frequency in Hamilton Harbour".[14]

Randle Reef

Randle Reef, a site in the southeast corner of the harbour, is considered the most dire of identified water pollution issues awaiting remediation in Canada.[15][16] The environmental containment facility, about 7.5 hectares in size, covers in-situ about 130,000 m3 of sediments contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and contain about 500,000 m3 of dredged PAH contaminated sediments. The containment facility was constructed in 2018 using two walls of steel sheet piling. Later in 2018, contaminated sediment surrounding the containment facility was dredged and placed inside the facility. The wastewater will be treated by an on-site water treatment system using sand filtration and granular activated adsorption and discharged back into the harbour. Last, an environmental cap will be built of layers of several materials including aggregates of various sizes, geotextile and geogrid, wickdrains, and surface materials (asphalt and/or concrete), placed sequentially from bottom to top in order to contain toxic sediment in the facility.[17][18] The clean-up project had an estimated cost of $138.9 million, with the containment expected to have a 200-year lifespan.[17] Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, each committed $46.3 million, with the final third of funding coming from the City of Hamilton ($14 million), the City of Burlington ($2.3 million), Halton Region ($2 million), the Hamilton Port Authority ($14 million), and Stelco ($14 million).[19] On March 9, 2022, Environment and Climate Change Canada announced the completion of the clean-up project. Over 615,000 m3 of contaminated sediment was managed, and the final stage of the project, the installation of the environmental cap, will be completed by 2024, which will provide new port land that will be managed by the Hamilton–Oshawa Port Authority.[20]

Burlington Shipping Canal

The opening from Hamilton Harbour to Lake Ontario is referred to as the Burlington Shipping Canal. It was proposed in 1824[21] and opened in 1826.[22]

Burlington Canal Lift Bridge is a lift bridge the spans over the canal.


The bay today is crossed by two highways: 403 & Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). The Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway (nicknamed "The Skyway") bridge, part of the QEW, crosses the border between Hamilton Harbour and Lake Ontario. The 403, York Street and a number of railways cross Hamilton Harbour on a glacial sandbar (similar in formation to the present day beach strip to the east) and separates Cootes Paradise from Hamilton Harbour. The harbour also houses the Port of Hamilton which is the busiest Canadian Great Lakes port and handles in excess of 10 million tonnes of cargo per year.


The bay is thought by some to host a North American cryptid, described by witnesses as a large snake-like creature.[23] A diver drowned in the bay during the filming of a low-budget horror film titled Marina Monster on August 21, 2005.[24]


  1. ^ a b Houghton, Margaret (2002). Hamilton Street Names: An Illustrated Guide. James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. ISBN 1-55028-773-7.
  2. ^ "Lake Geneva is what early visitors called Hamilton Harbour". Hamilton Spectator. 23 June 2017. Archived from the original on 14 August 2022. Retrieved 10 May 2022.
  3. ^ Rayburn, Alan Place Names of Ontario (University of Toronto Press), Toronto-Buffalo-London,1997, ISBN 0-8020-7207-0), pg.48
  4. ^ Holden, Mary Rose (1898). "Burlington Bay, Beach and Heights, in History" (PDF). Queens University Library. p. 10. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  5. ^ "Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3 (1792)". 28 May 2017. Archived from the original on 10 February 2022. Retrieved 10 May 2022.
  6. ^ "Text of the Between the Lakes purchase". Treaty Texts - Upper Canada Land Surrenders. 1792. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  7. ^ Weinberg, Paul (Dec 2017). "Beautiful Cities". Canada's History. 97 (6): 30–37. ISSN 1920-9894.
  8. ^ a b c MacDowell, Laurel Sefton. 2012. An environmental history of Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press. 192.
  9. ^ Cruikshank, K., and N. B. Bouchier. 1998. "Dirty Spaces: Environment, the State, and Recreational Swimming in Hamilton Harbour, 1870-1946". SPORT HISTORY REVIEW. 29 (1): 59-64
  10. ^ McNeil, Mark (June 17, 2019). "Bayfront Park swimming not 'practicable' because of blue-green algae in Hamilton Harbour". The Hamilton Spectator. Retrieved August 13, 2022. In July 1994, then deputy prime minister and Hamilton East MP Sheila Copps put on a wetsuit and plunged in "to mark the rebirth of the waterfront."
  11. ^ "Swim Guide -". Swim Guide. Archived from the original on 14 August 2022. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Hamilton Harbour AOC Remedial Action Plan, Environment Canada". Archived from the original on 2007-12-04. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  13. ^ "Great Lakes Wetlands Conservation Action Plan, Environment Canada contains five paragraphs about the harbour project". Archived from the original on 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  14. ^ "The goldfish invasion of Hamilton Harbour". Maclean's. 3 February 2021. Archived from the original on 3 February 2021. Retrieved 3 February 2021. Fish that were dispersed over all of Cootes Paradise were suddenly in this tight ball, the kind of thing you'd imagine in the ocean.
  15. ^ "At Last, Clean Water, National Post, November 13, 2007". Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  16. ^ "Erreur HTTP 404 - Non trouvé". Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Randle Reef Sediment Remediation Project" (PDF). The Randle Reef Sediment Remediation Project Technical Task Group. October 30, 2012. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 24, 2019. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  18. ^ "Watch the dredging of toxic Randle Reef explained using Lego". June 14, 2018. Archived from the original on November 11, 2020. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  19. ^ "Great Lakes: Areas of Concern". Government of Canada. 29 October 2019. Archived from the original on 4 November 2019. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  20. ^ "A cleaner Hamilton Harbour: All contaminated sediment removed or capped at Randle Reef". March 9, 2022. Archived from the original on March 9, 2022. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  21. ^ "The Burlington Canal". Archived from the original on 4 October 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  22. ^ Communications, Government of Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada, Ontario Region, Corporate Services, Strategic Management and. "Burlington Canal Lift Bridge - Ontario Region - PSPC". Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Daily News (Kingston, ON), Aug. 17, 1877". Archived from the original on 18 April 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  24. ^ "Diver Drowns on Low-Budget Film Shoot in Hamilton Harbour, CBC News, August 22, 2005". Archived from the original on 7 January 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2018.