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History of the City of Waterfalls

By Stephen Head
Huntsville, Ontario

In 2000 Jerry Lawton and his son Mikal published a guidebook on the waterfalls of the Niagara Escarpment called Waterfalls, The Niagara Escarpment. They then came to the realization that Hamilton has more waterfalls than any other city in the world. Later that same year, during a slide presentation to the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, Jerry suggested it was time Hamilton recognized its unique position and start to call itself The City of Waterfalls.

Jerry urged The Hamilton Naturalists’ Club to promote of the City of Waterfalls on their website and suggested I help with that. My liaison began with Brian McHattie to I compile a list of waterfalls, site information and a map which would be continuously revised as I knew there were more sites to find. We started with a list of about 33 waterfalls. The City of Waterfalls promotion within the Club began to gain appeal which resulted in members helping in a continuous search to determine how many waterfalls there really were within the expanded city boundaries.

In April of 2001, in an article in the Hamilton Spectator, Jerry urged readers to consider the benefits of Hamilton, The City of Waterfalls, along with suggesting ways the surroundings and access to some of the waterfalls might be improved. The article drew no response and Jerry was disappointed.

Long before The City of Waterfalls idea, Scott Ensminger of North Tonawanda sent a letter to the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority in 1986 requesting information on waterfalls in the Hamilton area. B. W. Vanderbrug, General Manager of HRCA, replied with a list of 21 known waterfalls and a map showing their locations. Scott met with Mr. Vanderbrug at his office the following spring to clarify some locations. Some of those locations, Stevens Falls in particular, would likely never have been found without reference to Mr. Vanderbrug’s list and Scott’s subsequent work.

Since then other people have also been compiling lists and taking photographs of Hamilton area waterfalls, none in concert with each other. Ray Love, Mark Harris and Joe Hollick were well into the beginnings of an extensive compilation, as well as Jerry, Scott and myself. Jerry and I were the first to combine our efforts in 2001.

With the publication of Jerry Lawton’s book in 2000, Joe Hollick’s plan to produce a waterfalls book was scrapped, as was mine. In the spring of 2002 Joe Hollick produced his first pictorial poster of Hamilton waterfalls and more followed. Scott Ensminger published Niagara’s Sisters in 2002 and continued his amazing list of over 700 waterfalls in New York state. In 2003 Waterfalls of Ontario by Mark Harris and George Fisher was published. Both books included Hamilton waterfalls.

By 2004 Joe Hollick, working on his own, had found 44 waterfalls. Steve Head had a list of 46. In March Joe approached the Joan Bell, Manager, Grants and Special Projects, Hamilton Conservation Authority with photos and information on all 44. Subsequent to that meeting Joan Bell hired a contract person for one year, beginning in June 2004,as Waterfalls Project Planner with the sole mandate to locate all waterfalls in Hamilton. His final report was to include criteria, site locations, site descriptions, measurements, history and photographs.

Joan and Nadeem established a Waterfalls Project Group. Joan chaired the Group from 2004 until early 2008 when Joe Hollick has taken over as chair. The Group includes the Hamilton Conservation Authority, the City of Hamilton, Tourism Hamilton, Bruce Trail Conservancy (head office), Bruce Trail Iroquoia Section, the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, and several waterfalls enthusiasts. Finally there was a substantial concerted effort to define and promote the City of Waterfalls.

Nadeem assembled a Field Study Group to glean existing information and ultimately co-ordinate it so that there would be no confusion in conflicting data from various sources. The Group included Nadeem, Bob Nixon, Joe Hollick and Bill Crawford as well as myself. There were contributions from Scott Ensminger, although he was not part of the Group. About 16 or 17 new waterfall sites were quickly added to existing lists. Nadeem completed his Research and Inventory Project report in March 2005 which listed 65 waterfall sites.

While work on the City of Waterfalls continued on many levels, after 2005 the status of some members of the Waterfalls Project Group had changed. Nadeem moved to another conservation authority. I moved to Huntsville which placed me too far away from any meaningful activity. Sadly, Bill Crawford, who was ill when he worked so cheerfully with us, died. Joe Hollick retired and he has been able to devote more time to find more waterfalls sites and take over the chair of the Waterfalls Project Group; as a result of Joe’s efforts in the field and his co-ordination of input from others, as of July 2008 The City of Waterfalls had listed 100 sites.