Around the Head of Lake Ontario: Part 4

Go back to Part 3

From Queenston Road to The Bear Meeting Place

Date: 21 July 2021
Start Point: Red Hill Valley Trail at Queenston Road, Hamilton
End Point: The Bear Meeting Place, Red Hill Valley Trail, Hamilton
Distance Covered: 4.8 km
Total Distance Covered: 22.5 km

This map © OpenStreetMap contributors

72. This hike takes you south from Queenston Road along the Red Hill Valley Trail (RHVT) to The Bear Meeting Place. This section seems more in touch with nature than the previous one because, for the most part, the Trail keeps the Red Hill Valley Parkway at a greater distance. As the grey areas on the map show, however, you are still very much in the midst of the east Hamilton urban area. On this leg, the RHVT crosses and recrosses Red Hill Creek half a dozen times on pedestrian bridges, letting you get familiar with this charming little watercourse away from the shadow of the Parkway. At the hike’s end point, The Bear Meeting Place is, at least according to the official maps, one of four sites dedicated to the First Nations people who once inhabited the Valley. (But see #75 and #83 below.) At The Bear you’ll pick up the Bruce Trail and stay on it until you have almost completed the HOLO loop.
Parking (see P on map above): There is a small free lot at the Queenston Road start point. About 800 metres south of the end point there is a larger free lot on a short, dead-end section of Mud Street, which is the southern terminus of the RHVT.

73. The sun-dappled RHVT starts to climb the Escarpment after leaving Queenston Road. On this hike you’ll ascend almost the full height of the Mountain.

74. Though this section of the RHVT seems quite rustic at certain points, it never lets you quite forget that it runs a few metres from a dense urban environment. Here under the King Street East exit/Red Hill Valley Parkway access, a concrete stanchion has been decorated in some style. It makes a change from the crude tags daubed over much of the local infrastructure.

75. The official signs indicate that there are four “Meeting Places” on the RHVT.

On the last hike I somehow missed The Turtle, but supposedly there are two others in this area: The Eel north of King Street, and The Nest at Greenhill Avenue. But try as I may, I cannot locate them. Well, it turns out that I missed The Turtle last time because it’s on a side trail with no signage in the vicinity nor information board at the site.

A later visit to The Turtle revealed that at ground level it looks like nothing much: you need Google’s Satellite View to give you a sense of its shape. As for The Eel and The Nest, I couldn’t find them because they haven’t been constructed yet! (More on this when we arrive at The Bear.)

76. The RHVT takes a long pedestrian tunnel under busy King Street East.

77. Another Trail section paved with grow-through blocks: too steep for all but the fittest cyclists to climb.

78. A fine display of brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia triloba) on this sunny, damp spot close to Red Hill Creek. These native perennial wildflowers grow taller and bloom later than their black-eyed relatives.

79. We cross and recross Red Hill Creek several times on this hike, and above are examples of typical, solidly built RHVT bridges. The Bridge is a leading motif in the HOLO loop: you have already crossed over or passed under a considerable variety of these structures, without which our grand circuit of the Head of the Lake would be impossible. The art of translation is also the art of building bridges from one language to another. This short poem by the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz (1914-98), with my literal translation in parallel, hints at this theme, as well as the way that bridges enable loops in time and space to be completed so that fruitful connections can be made, erotic possibilities fulfilled.

“El puente”				“The Bridge”

Entre ahora y ahora			Between now and now,
entre yo soy y tú eres,			between I am and you are,
la palabra puente.			the word bridge.

Entras en ti misma			You enter yourself
al entrar en ella:			by entering it:
como un anillo				like a ring
el mundo se cierra.			the world closes up. 

De una orilla a la otra			From one bank to the other
siempre se tiende un cuerpo, 		a body always stretches,
un arcoiris.				a rainbow.

Yo cantaré por sus repechos,		I'll sing on its slopes,
yo dormiré bajo sus arcos.		I'll sleep under its arches. 

80. A mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) rests on the surface of the RHVT. This species is long-lived for a butterfly, sometimes surviving for up to a whole year. The mourning cloak hibernates in winter and is one of the first butterflies to appear in spring. It prefers willows, poplars, and elms to host its larvae. In several northern European languages, the name for this butterfly means something like “mourning cloak,” e.g., German Trauermantel, Dutch rouwmantel, Swedish sorgmantel, and Norwegian sørgekåpe. In England, however, where it’s rare and non-native, it’s called the “Camberwell beauty,” after two were found in 1748 in the south London suburb of Camberwell by Moses Harris (1730-87), a pioneering entomologist and colour theorist. The butterfly is certainly a beauty, though a slightly sombre one that is dressed in what our ancestors might have called “half mourning.”

81. On this hot midsummer day, shallow Red Hill Creek becomes a good place to cool off.

82. A miniature orgy is taking place on the florets of this wayside Queen Anne’s lace. These common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) are European natives that have only recently been introduced into Ontario. In the UK these insects are called “hogweed bonking beetles,” because they spend most of their short lives … bonking shamelessly on hogweed and similar open-structured flowering plants.

83. Unlike the other three Meeting Places, The Bear is complete, well marked, and provided with information boards. This is what it looks like at ground level …

… and from the air, the arrangement of rocks clearly resembles a bear’s footprint.

So, what’s going on with these Meeting Places, some of which are phantom? Well, in 2002 a Joint Stewardship Board was set up between the City of Hamilton and the Six Nations Confederacy to ensure that the Red Hill Valley, soon to be despoiled by a freeway, would not entirely lose its historical connection with the First Nations who had lived in it for millennia. The Bear Meeting Place, which opened in 2014, then The Turtle Meeting Place in 2016, were two of the joint initiatives to this end. They are self-styled “architectural features” designed as places of reflection. The Bear alludes to a legendary figure of the Seneca people, the seldom-seen giant bear Nia’gwahe, who left only his footprints in the landscape. However, it would seem that the Meeting Place aspect of the joint initiative sadly ran out of steam or funds after The Turtle was constructed.

Meanwhile, The Bear is a pleasant enough place to sit for a while, but peaceful meditation will probably be hampered by the heavy traffic on the Parkway running not quite overhead.

Side Trip

84. If you are interested in the War of 1812, then you should pay a visit to the site of what was perhaps the most significant battle of that conflict as far as the survival of Canada as a separate nation was concerned, namely the victory over the invading Americans at the Battle of Stoney Creek (6 June 1813). The Battlefield, a National Historic Site, is a 2 km (5 minute) drive east on King Street East from its junction with the Red Hill Valley Parkway. There is an impressive monument (top image) as well as a museum (middle), though opening hours may be limited during the pandemic. Every June there is normally a reenactment of the battle by costumed volunteers. If after everything you are still feeling energetic, there’s a trail from the Battlefield up the Escarpment to the Devil’s Punch Bowl Conservation Area, where there’s a jaw-dropping 34 metre ribbon waterfall (bottom) and a viewpoint over Hamilton.

For more of my images and commentary from the Red Hill Valley, please click here.

Go to Part 5: The Bear Meeting Place to the Kenilworth Stairs