About the Bay

Hamilton Harbour, also known as Burlington Bay, lies at the western tip of Lake Ontario, and is separated naturally from the lake by a sandbar. It is the largest naturally protected harbour on western Lake Ontario. Industry, commerce and residential areas, along with private and public open spaces share the 45 kilometre shoreline. 
Cootes Paradise is a 250 hectare shallow water marsh at the west end of the Harbour. It is the last remaining marsh in western Lake Ontario and crucial habitat for wildlife, particularly for fish spawning.

On the southern shores, a deep-water port supports Canada's iron and steel industries, while the upper reaches of the Harbour's watershed have a mixture of rural and urban land uses. 

Watershed 101

A watershed is an area of land that drains all the surface water into the same place, such as a creek, stream, wetland, or lake. This means that rain, snow, and other precipitation travels down the drains and into nearby bodies of water. Watersheds are invaluable resources that provide our community with drinking water, water for agriculture and manufacturing, offer opportunities for recreation, and provide habitat to various plants and animals. The constant threat from hazardous runoff and erosion can interfere with the health of a watershed and cause significant challenges to surrounding areas; Climate Change in particular, is fast becoming one of the greatest causes for concern as large storm events cause erosion and threaten local wastewater infrastructure. A clean, healthy watershed depends on an informed public who makes conscious decisions when it comes to the environment. We all ultimately rely on our watershed, so let’s work to protect it!
The Harbour’s watershed covers more than 500 square kilometres and is drained by three major tributaries - the Grindstone, Spencer and Red Hill creeks. The cities of Hamilton and Burlington, with a population of 650,000 people, are located within and around the watershed area.

Harbour History

Two hundred years ago, the Harbour watershed was heavily forested. Its creeks were pure and the Harbour was abundant with a diverse range of fish and wildlife. A commercial fishery, dominated by lake trout, herring and white fish, thrived.

Like other places in North America, the effects of urbanization and growth in Hamilton nearly destroyed our natural habitat and a part of our community’s natural heritage. By 1926, canals and infill eliminated more than two-thirds of the original wetlands, protected inlets and shallow areas. By the early 1900s, the Harbour ecosystem was severely degraded as a result of direct sewage discharges, habitat loss, toxic spills, and sediment contamination.

Hamilton Harbour has undergone a remarkable change over the past thirty years. A healthy Harbour is becoming a reality as citizens, government and industry recognize its value as the centerpiece of our community. Today’s Harbour is a busy working port while supporting environmental restoration and protection, and increasing public access to recreation along the waterfront. Its continued revitalization will serve industry, the environment and individuals in a sustainable manner. 
Explore the past, present and future of our great Harbour with BARC's interactive Harbour Explorer.