Recreation on the Bay

Foot of MacNab Street North

There used to be many places for North Enders to have fun around the shores of the bay. A long-time Hamilton North End resident, Charles Bulmer, remembers growing up around the bay in the 1930s and 1940s.

Even during the Great Depression, life in the North End was not just about struggling to survive. As early as the 19th-century, hundreds of area residents spent their free time having fun, often around the bay. Working people have always used the bay’s increasingly murky waters for recreation.

The bay was abuzz with activity in the summertime. Sailors, rowers, and canoeists took to the water. There were healthy stocks of black bass, salmon, northern pike and lake sturgeon to be caught. On Sundays, the area between James Street North and John Street was “absolute bedlam.” Local residents flocked to the beach and to LaSalle Park. They lined up to board the old steamships that used to cruise through the bay. There was swimming at the bay-front beach at the foot of Bay Street and at the mudflats near the base of Wentworth Street.

The bay played host to many winter activities. Horse and sleigh races were popular in the 19th century. Ice boating was another enjoyable pursuit. Many North Enders built their own boats. Hockey and skating were always favourite pastimes on the frozen waters of the bay. The inlets at the foot of Wellington Street North and between Ferguson and Mary Streets saw a lot of use before they were filled in.

Glassblowers were legendary among the bay’s pleasure seekers. In the late 19th century, the North End was home to a large number of them. Many had jobs at the Burlington Glass Works, located in the park on top of the hill. A plaque about this factory now stands at the south end of the park facing Burlington Street. After the factory closed at the turn of the 20th century, many glassblowers found work in cities like Chicago or Wallaceburg, Ontario. There, they earned such high wages that they could return to the North End for the summer. They enjoyed a few months of sports and leisure around the shores of the bay every year.

Glassblowers started the Nautilus Rowing Club in 1878. Their clubhouse was beside the old Askew’s Boatworks, near the foot of Bay Street. For the next 20 years, North Enders like Charlie Furlong, Bill Wark and Denny and Jerry Donohue entered numerous regattas across North America, and lost only once.

Around 1900, members of the glassblowers’ fraternity also founded the Jolly Good Fellow’s Club. This club organized its own baseball and football teams. It also kept a camp on the Easterbrook property, on the north shore of the bay. At the end of every summer, 50 members and their guests would board the Jolly Good Fellow’s launch, called the “Myrtle,” and cross the bay for the club’s annual picnic. The highlight of the 1903 picnic was a baseball match between Con Murphy’s and “Lemon” Murphy’s nines. Later that day, John Murphy won the heavyweight foot race “in a walk.” In the evening, the traditional turtle soup banquet inspired a number of toasts. The event was topped off with a concert by Nelligan’s Orchestra.