I went to Hamilton, finally: not the musical but the city in Ontario. Hamilton has a reputation for seediness and steel, which it manufactured for decades (the steel, anyway). I had often seen its smoky industrial profile in passing from the motorway, en route to Niagara and to the US border, but never stopped to investigate the place.
Some friends suggested we meet in the city's downtown for lunch at the end of June during the long Canada Day weekend (which precedes the Fourth of July by a few days and is a diffuse version of American Independence Day, much like Canadian Thanksgiving's relationship to American Thanksgiving. Earlier, milder, vaguer, still fun. There are fireworks).
So, with a mix of trepidation and anticipation husband and I set out on a drive that our map app said would take an hour. About halfway there we realized that tech had failed us; the motorway was jammed solid. We abandoned it and switched apps. Waze sent us on something called the North Service Road, which led us into the city past Dundern Castle. No one had told me Hamilton had a castle. It all started to seem more promising. Signs for something called Cootes Paradise flashed past. Also intriguing. We arrived, horribly late, to an understanding welcome. Bless our friends.
And indeed, it turned out to be a lovely lunch at a place called "The French", on a downtown street showing signs of recent renovation, graced by a fountain and whimsical art. The menu included waffles with pulled duck and fresh berries, and a Mexican-style eggs benedict with a crispy corn tortilla and guacamole. Delicious and a far cry from the hot dog street-vendor I had envisioned as Hamiltonian cuisine. Conversation and coffee flowed.
|Hamilton street art|
Afterward, the couple who lived and taught in Hamilton invited the rest of us (husband and me from Toronto; another anthropologist and her husband from Buffalo-- all three couples united by having a female North American anthropologist half, and an English academic-of-some-stripe male half) to their lovely home near McMaster University for tea. Afterward they led us on a tour of the campus, which--again contrary to my clearly misinformed expectation--was pleasant and green with a cheerful student community huddled round (cheerful though largely empty on this summer long weekend).
After saying farewells husband and I set off to explore the nearby town of Dundas (formerly called Cootes Paradise, re-named for a Scotsman who never visited Canada) and then to see a bit of the Niagara Escarpment, a long low cigar-shaped outcropping that runs toward the US border and into some border history, it seems. The War of 1812, largely forgotten in Britain and barely remembered in the US, looms large in the Canadian history books: "This trail," reads the sign, "approximates the route taken in early August 1812 by Major-General Isaac Brock to repulse the first American invasion of Upper Canada in the War of 1812."
We saw no Redcoats as we walked this part of the Bruce Trail, a section called the Iroquoia, which runs through a Carolinian forest--not, it turns out--an order of monks hidden in trees but instead a 'biogeographical zone'. The label is subject to some controversy. I looked it up, expecting a simple answer. Fie on that.
"What are we to make of this word Carolinian? Perhaps, like many words, it is evolving; a semantic moving target, blurred, difficult to define," wrote Ken Colthurst, forester, and Gerry Waldron, biologist, in 1994 ("Carolinian Canada"). "As it is we have a term that is provincial in both senses. Is it reasonable to change terminology at a political border?" So, not just a dispute, but a dispute with implications for international relations. The authors continued to muse about which species characterize this zone, whatever it be called, including Sassafras and Tuliptree as dominants. "Some flowering dogwood in the understory would be nice," they decided, with, as co-dominants, "Black Walnut, Black Oak, White Oak, Red Maple, Pignut Hickory, and Black Gum." Finally: "By using Carolinian in this way," Colthurst and Waldron concluded, "we may lose some of the romance (and redolency) but just might gain some precision from conformity. We wouldn't be surprised if you disagreed."
Not I. Give me redolency every time.
The drive home was a doddle and took just over an hour. I think we'll be coming back for more.