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Breathtaking Nature, Dramatic Architecture, Remarkable History – Hamilton, Ontario is a Gem You Can't Miss

Posted on June 16, 2023
A gothic revival building, covered with ivy, and surrounded by trees. This is the university in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The architecture alone, in Hamilton, Ontario makes this fascinating city a place to visit.  From high victorian, neo-gothic, art deco, art moderne and more, breathtaking buildings abound.  But Hamilton’s stunning natural beauty (more than 100 waterfalls!), its history, and its dining scene, also makes this truly a magical city.

Below we chat with Brendan Oliver, a long-time resident of Hamilton, the “Ambitious City”. Here’s what he has to say-

A Q&A with Brendan Oliver

Built Story Tours: Thanks for sharing this corner of the world with us.  If you had to pick one spot in Hamilton, Ontario to spend some time, where would it be?

Purple flowers, brown pollen
Photography | Jeffrey Eisin

Brendan Oliver:  If I had to pick one spot in Hamilton to spend some time I would choose the Royal Botanical Gardens. I’m an avid gardener and the RBG is a source of inspiration for me.

The RBG occupies a large area of land in both Hamilton and the city of Burlington and is made up of several distinct areas.

If you’re into hiking and nature watching then the Arboretum is the place to go. If you’re into more formal gardens you can visit the Laking Garden or Hendrie Park. If you’re looking for a place to stroll on a warm summer evening then the Rock Garden is the perfect spot.

Grindstone Creek flows through parts of the RBG and in October you can watch the Salmon swim upstream from Lake Ontario to spawn. Watching these giant fish migrate to their spawning grounds is an incredible sight and we go every autumn to see them. I’ve been going to the RBG my entire life and we are so fortunate to have it.

BST: Why is Hamilton special to you?

A large clock tower sits high amid a city block.
Photography | Matthew Tyler

BO: Hamilton is special to me because this is where I grew up, got an education, established a career and started a family. The city has been good to us and has everything we need.

Hamilton has so many beautiful greenspaces and many distinct neighborhoods to explore. The people here are friendly and we’ve always had great neighbors. We have a world class University and we’re an hour’s drive away from both Niagara Falls, Toronto and the US border. My family history in the city goes way back and the city’s fascinating history and beautiful architecture will always continue to fascinate me. These are just some of the many reasons why Hamilton is special to me.

BST:  Dundurn castle – its pictures look stunning. Can you share any of its backstory?

An austere castle stands. Green lawn in front.
Photography | Randy Kay

BO: Dundurn Castle sits atop a strip of land called Burlington Heights and overlooks the western end of Lake Ontario. The land has been used by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years and recent archaeological digs on the site have unearthed spearheads and other important artifacts.

In the late 1700’s the city’s first house was built there by the Beasley family who were United Empire Loyalists from New York State. During the War of 1812 the site was occupied by British troops guarding the heights against a possible American invasion. A section of the War of 1812 fort can still be seen in the Cemetery across the road.

In the early 19th century a man named Sir Allan MacNab who was a successful businessman and politician purchased property and began building his mansion which was inspired by his family’s estate in Scotland.

The house is built in the Italianate-Style and contains 40 rooms and is approximately 18,000 square feet. The Beasley home still stands beneath the façade and makes up the center portion of the Castle. 

After MacNabs death in 1852 the house was used as an institution for the deaf and was sold to the city in 1899. In the late 1960’s the house was restored and opened to the public.

BST: Just a bit of a drive away from Dundurn Castle is Albion Falls. Tell us a bit about this natural site?

A stunning waterfall, water rushes down.
Photography | Joe deSousa

BO: Albion Falls is a stepped cascade waterfall located on the east side of the Hamilton Mountain. The Niagara Escarpment runs through the city and divides it into two distinct areas that locals refer to as the mountain and downtown. Water from the Red Hill Creek flows over the escarpment at Albion Falls and flows through the Red Hill Valley then out into Lake Ontario. The escarpment and the city’s many streams are the reason why Hamilton is known as the city of waterfalls.

In the late 1700’s the area around the Falls was developed into the Village of Albion Mills and a grist mill was operated there until 1907. The area was also the site of the first natural gas discovery in the Province of Ontario and apparently you can still see the gas bubbling up in the water when conditions are right. Today nothing remains of the old Mills and nature has returned the area to a place of natural beauty.

BST: Hamilton Ontario waterfalls sound spectacular. Any other green spaces people should be sure to visit?

A man looks up, at a very steep waterfall
Photography | Lianhau Qu

BO: I would recommend visiting some of the many conservation areas that Hamilton has to offer. The Hamilton Conservation Authority operates 13 conservation areas plus a waterpark and the Westfield Heritage village, a historical village where people can explore life in the old days.

The conservation areas offer so many different activities such as hiking, biking, swimming and fishing just to name a few.             

To learn more visit Hamilton Conservation Authority (

BST: Any final thoughts to leave with folks interested in visiting Hamilton?

BO: If you’re in town consider visiting a few of Hamilton’s Business improvement areas where you’ll find many boutique shops and restaurants. Locke Street, Ottawa Street, Concession Street or Westdale Village are among the most popular.  

To get better acquainted with the city of Hamilton I recommend watching the documentary “Hamilton- The Life Size City”. It’s a documentary that really highlights the challenges and the many positive aspects of the city.

Hamilton | S3 E6 | The Life-Sized City | TVO Original - YouTube

Things to do in Hamilton, Ontario

For the most convenient tour of this special city, check out Brendan Oliver’s The Best of Hamilton, Ontario.  A self-guided tour, you can enjoy this beautiful city on your own time. Explore ten wonderful stops, curated by Brendan himself. From its stunning nature, bustling downtown, and historic castles –this city, and tour, is sure to delight.

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