Celebrating the harbour’s industrial past, present and future

Hamilton’s waterfront has shaped the city’s history, positioning the area as a booming centre for industry and trade. However, the industrial expansion and urbanization of the city throughout the mid-1900’s also caused the harbour’s ecosystem to become polluted, leaving the waterfront unfit for recreational use.

Following in the footsteps of so many other industrial cities in North America, Hamilton has seen a major shift in attitude towards improving the water and ecological quality of the area over the last several decades. This included removing thousands of tonnes of industrial waste and converting landfill space into what is now known as Bayfront Park and Pier 4. With that said, there is still a ways to go before Hamilton can start comparing their waterfront to the likes of Halifax, Toronto, or Vancouver.

The West Harbour Waterfront is now taking another step in the right direction. A $143 million budget has been set aside for an ambitious redevelopment project stretching from Bayfront Park all the way to Pier 8. There are grand visions of the waterfront becoming a destination for recreation, a place to live and work, and an entertainment district with restaurants, retail shops and public spaces for all to enjoy.

Given the breadth of development planned, the city will undoubtedly be rolling out the project in multiple phases. The $6.5 million development of Pier 8 Promenade Park is the next phase that has been moving forward and capturing the attention of the public.

Rather then following a traditional procurement process, the city aimed to attract world-class expertise for the project by holding a limited design competition. In early spring of this year, the city put out a Request for Qualifications for firms to compete. From there, six qualified design firms were shortlisted and each offered a $30,000 stipend (covered through the Patrick J. McNally Charitable Foundation) to develop a design proposal.

All photos provided by City of Hamilton

According to Ward 2 Councillor, Jason Farr, the design competition format was a great success. “I was pleased to have moved the concept of a design competition for the promenade park and grateful to the McNally Foundation for funding the concept. The result has been incredible”, Farr said.

The winning proposal, ‘Hamilton: Hammer City’, was submitted by Toronto firm, Forrec Ltd. “The concept speaks to our history along the Harbour. It will be welcoming, promote active living and maintain connectivity of public recreational space along the waters edge from Bayfront Park to our Hiada”, said Farr. The design pays homage to Hamilton’s industrial roots and waterfront heritage, incorporating 3 different places for people to use within the park that collectively tell the story of the harbour.

Boatworks Promenade

This portion of the park runs along the north edge of Pier 8 and includes a concrete and wood-paneled boardwalk connecting seamlessly with the current Waterfront Trail. Partial hulls of three steel freighter ships have been incorporated into the design to create spaces for a variety of activities and programming.

Imagine you’re in the future. Allow me to give you a tour.

If you are walking along the boardwalk from the direction of Bayfront Park, you will first come across the multi-level Pumphouse Café & Games Deck. This space features outdoor tables for eating and playing board games. For those looking for a more energetic activity, make your way up to the next level, where there are a number of bocce courts and ping-pong tables. Finally, the upper level provides a quiet flexible seating area to escape from all the action.

Further down the boardwalk, just past the open plaza space is a children’s playground and multi-use ball court, accessed from the street level. Next, you’ll approach Steel Beach, a sandy oasis sure to be a popular local destination that is reminiscent of Toronto’s Sugar Beach.

The Landing

The corner where the north edge meets the east edge of Pier 8 has been labeled ‘The Landing’. This will be a place for people to gather for ceremonies and public events and ultimately connect the two main sections of the park. The Landing will act as an observation deck complete with an art installation and a unique water feature that changes water level with the lake.

Hammer Harbour

The heart of the Pier 8 Promenade is located on the east edge portion of the park called ‘Hammer Harbour’. A massive gantry crane will be repurposed to create a multi-use steel frame pavilion that will provide the infrastructure for events like farmers’ markets, art shows and outdoor concerts. Cafes, restaurants and kiosks will line the outside of a cobblestone pathway, linking the park with the new residential development planned. In the future, the site even has the potential to become an extension for the programming of Hamilton’s cornerstone festival, Supercrawl.

Next Phase

Though you should be excited for this incredibly ambitious vision for Hamilton’s Waterfront to become a reality, it is important to note that this is just a preliminary design. Forrec Ltd will now enter into a contract with the city to complete a detailed design proposal with more specific and technical documents for implementation. As such, certain elements may change such as the repurposed floating barge extending the stage out to the water, which will require further investigation for its overall feasibility.
You should begin to see progress quite soon. The estimated one-year construction period is slated to begin in the Spring of next year. Once complete, Hamiltonians will finally have a vibrant waterfront that they can be proud of, a destination that celebrates the harbour’s industrial past, present and future.