by Glen Prevost, Special to The News
“Dundas Booms with Construction of International Shipping Port” could easily have been a headline in local newspapers from the 1830’s.
The newly constructed Desjardins Canal connected Dundas with Lake Ontario and European markets. Ships brought in manufactured goods and loaded up with bounty from the mills along Spencer Creek.
Peter Desjardins commissioned the Desjardins Canal in 1827, along with his business partner, William Lyon Mackenzie. Desjardins died mysteriously in 1829, eight years before the canal was finished. After the canal was built, the town thrived for about 20 years, according to Stan Nowak, past-president of the Dundas Historical Society.
“It brought a lot of money, a lot of people in, and it kept the mills busy,” said Nowak.
With the advent of the railway, Hamilton overtook Dundas as the main port and the canal shut down in 1860.
The canal was then used for activities like canoeing and ice-skating for many years.
In 1967, the large turning basin at the end of the canal was filled in to create Centennial Park. Many people see this as a past blunder and a lost opportunity to create water access in the heart of Dundas.
While the industrial use of the canal defined Dundas through the 1800’s, recent activity along the shores of the canal provided a more modern symbol of Dundas.
“Green houses were built on the north shore of the Canal in 1951 by Ben Veldhuis,” said Nowak. “He grew cacti and succulents and his business grew so fast that he was producing more cactus than any place in North America.”
Successful cacti businesses in Florida and Windsor owe their origins to Veldhius.
The Hamilton Conservation Authority now owns the property along the canal and recently demolished the last of the greenhouses. The canal is in transition once again.
Novak is excited about the changes.
“It is being turned into a park by the Conservation Authority,” he said.
The canal will form the western gateway of the proposed Dundas Eco-Park. The adjoining area will include restored wetlands, walking trails and wildlife viewing platforms and serve as a jumping off point for the larger Dundas EcoPark.
At 3,325 acres, the Dundas EcoPark will be a place to explore after walking along the canal. It will include the north and south shores of Cootes Paradise, a provincially significant wetland and part of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere reserve.
It will run from Burlington Heights and Highway 6 in the east to Desjardins Canal and Dundas in the West.
The Hamilton Conservation Foundation is heading up a $5-million fundraising campaign to help acquire significant natural lands within the Dundas EcoPark, the largest in their history.
“I would like more people to know about the cultural history of the area. The EcoPark will be a way to do that,” said Nowak. “Dundas is a great spot to be because of the great connection between urban and nature”.
For more information, or to donate, contact the Hamilton Conservation Foundation or visit DundasEcoPark.ca.