Re­fresh­ingly dif­fer­ent

Head to Hamil­ton in On­tario, Canada, to wan­der in its nat­u­ral parks, for­est re­serves, mead­ows, farms and wa­ter­falls.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Story and pho­tos by MING TEOH star2@thes­

ONCE upon a time, no­body ever wanted to go to Hamil­ton, On­tario, un­less they were work­ing in the steel man­u­fac­tur­ing plants or at­tend­ing the univer­sity fa­mous for its engineering and busi­ness fac­ul­ties. And least of all, tourists. When trav­ellers thought of Canada, they would opt for pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions such as Toronto, Van­cou­ver or Ni­a­gara Falls. Ex­cept, of course, an off-the-beaten-track trav­eller like yours truly.

Last Oc­to­ber, when I re­turned to Hamil­ton where I once stud­ied, for my cousin’s wed­ding, I had the op­por­tu­nity to see a dif­fer­ent side of the city and its sur­round­ing town­ships. This off-the-tourist-grid city is unique in its of­fer­ing of nat­u­ral parks and for­est re­serves, in­ter­est­ing sites, in­clud­ing his­tor­i­cal ones, and its spe­cial cui­sine.

The city sits on the tip of Lake On­tario and is an hour’s drive from the Toronto me­trop­o­lis. To the lo­cals, Hamil­ton is di­vided into two main ar­eas – Down­town and the Moun­tain, the lat­ter a self-con­tained sub­ur­ban town­ship built atop a gi­gan­tic moun­tain, and com­pris­ing res­i­dences, schools, col­leges, shop­ping malls, restau­rants and even hos­pi­tals. Down­town is, of course, where the cen­tral com­mer­cial dis­trict is lo­cated, and fur­ther west is the “aca­demic” com­mu­nity of McMaster Univer­sity.

Na­ture’s par­adise

Not just the quaint city, but also its sur­round­ing ar­eas boast na­ture re­serves which are won­der­ful for a pic­nic or re­lax­ing stroll. Dur­ing my stay in Hamil­ton, I had the op­por­tu­nity to visit the Royal Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, in­clud­ing the Abore­tum, which houses flow­ers dur­ing spring; Cootes Par­adise, which is a nat­u­ral for­est re­serve; and Princess Point, with its for­est trails. The park­land was gilded in the golden colours of au­tumn (or fall, to the Cana­di­ans) and in spring­time, it is re­splen­dent with flo­ral blooms.

Hamil­ton, known as the City of Wa­ter­falls, has been re­branded The Wa­ter­fall Cap­i­tal of The World, and is home to over 130 wa­ter­falls. Al­though not nearly as huge or well­known as the Ni­a­gara, Al­bion Falls, a 19m cas­cade wa­ter­fall in King’s For­est, and also Devil’s Punch­bowl, a 37m rib­bon wa­ter­fall, are still a sight to be­hold.

At the West End of the city, fronting Lake On­tario, is the Bayfront Park. The 16ha water­front park is an ex­cel­lent place for fish­ing, yacht­ing and sea­sonal pub­lic boat rides. Pedes­trian and cy­cling trails, as well as cafés, are also avail­able. In sum­mer, con­certs and fes­ti­vals are of­ten held here.

Port Dover, an hour’s drive south­west of Hamil­ton, is another pop­u­lar spot for a day trip. Nes­tled on the north shore of Lake Erie, it of­fers a beach for swim­ming and sun­bathing, as well as sev­eral quaint sou­venir shops and cafés.

Sights and sounds

Less than a half hour’s drive from Hamil­ton, in Flam­bor­ough, is the West­field Her­itage Vil­lage, which com­prises over 30 re­stored his­tor­i­cal build­ings sur­rounded by scenic for­est trails and mead­ows. This his­tor­i­cal vil­lage was cre­ated by two high-school teach­ers from Brant­ford (a half-hour drive from Hamil­ton), us­ing au­then­tic build­ings and fur­nish­ings that were moved here from their orig­i­nal lo­ca­tions. From an an­cient rail­way sta­tion and vin­tage train, to an old school­house and barn that seem to have been plucked out from the pages of a his­tory book, the 3.4sq km site is a trea­sure trove that takes one back in time to the days of the early set­tlers and pioneers.

You don’t have to an air­craft afi­cionado to be fas­ci­nated by the Cana­dian Her­itage War­plane Mu­seum. It houses over 40 air­craft in its for­mer-hangar ex­hi­bi­tion gallery, in­clud­ing re­stored ones and repli­cas, such as the Avro Lancaster, West­land Lysander and Bris­tol Bol­ing­broke. Visi­tors are al­lowed to get into cer­tain ex­hibits to ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing in the cock­pit or in­te­rior of an an­tique air- craft. Next to the mu­seum is an air­field where visi­tors can ride in se­lected planes.

One of the high­lights of my trip was a visit to My­ers Ap­ple Farm in Copetown, just a 20-minute drive from Hamil­ton. For­tu­nately, it was ap­ple-pick­ing sea­son. There is also a pet­ting zoo with farm an­i­mals, mak­ing it an ex­cel­lent place for a fam­ily out­ing. A trip to Ben­nett’s Ap­ples and Cider Mar­ket was also part of my itin­er­ary. Ben­nett’s is not your con­ven­tional mar­ket. Not only does it have fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, maple syrup, and one of the best ap­ple ciders I’ve ever tasted, it also of­fers home-baked pies and pas­tries such as ap­ple crum­ble and pump­kin pie.

Half an hour’s drive south­west from Hamil­ton is the Six Na­tions Re­serve. This is the reser­va­tion area for six Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes – the Mo­hawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, and Tus­carora – with its own hous­ing, schools and busi­nesses. While sim­i­lar to sur­round­ing towns and cities, the cost of liv­ing here is much lower, and items such as petrol and cig­a­rettes are tax-ex­empt.

Cos­mopoli­tan cui­sine

Due to its in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, din­ing in Hamil­ton can be a cos­mopoli­tan af­fair. The great thing about stay­ing with rel­a­tives was that I got to sam­ple home­made meals,

from hearty break­fasts of scram­ble eggs and sausages, French toast with ba­con, pan­cakes with maple syrup topped with straw­ber­ries and blue­ber­ries, to an au­then­tic Cana­dian Thanks­giv­ing din­ner with roast tur­key, stuff­ing and sides.

While in the city, I had the op­por­tu­nity to taste gen­uine Ital­ian fare, a Mediter­ranean meal, and even fast-food that ac­tu­ally tastes good and is healthy!

The Ital­ian com­mu­nity in Hamil­ton is a fairly large one, and my first din­ner was at La Cantina, an Ital­ian restau­rant lo­cated Down­town, where we feasted on an ar­ray of pas­tas, piz­zas and mus­sels cooked in white wine.

We also checked out trendy Locke Street with its classy restau­rants and unique shops. Din­ner was at NaRoma, an Ital­ian-style pizza bar which is a favourite hang­out for young work­ing pro­fes­sion­als. Even though I’ve never re­ally been a pizza fan, with yummy top­pings like pep­per­oni, sun-dried toma­toes, spinach, feta cheese, and unique ones like sweet po­tato, I was sold the minute I took my first bite.

We also vis­ited Den­ninger’s Foods Of The World and lunched at their deli. Be­sides the usual sand­wiches, sausages and meats that a deli of­fers, we tried the meat-stuffed cab­bage rolls, per­o­gees (which are Pol­ish-style stuffed dumplings with meat, onions and cot­tage cheese), and a unique soup called Ital­ian Wed­ding – it is an Amer­i­can-Ital­ianstyle soup con­tain­ing green veg­eta­bles like cab­bage, let­tuce or spinach, meat such as sausages and meat­balls, and tiny pasta bits, in a clear chicken broth, so named from a mis­trans­la­tion of the Ital­ian word mean­ing “mar­ried”, re­fer­ring to the fact that meats and green veg­eta­bles go well to­gether.

Even eat­ing fast food is not with­out its charm. One of my most “lux­u­ri­ous” meals as a stu­dent in Canada many years ago was Swiss Chalet’s roast chicken and fries. Af­ter church on Sun­days, a bunch of us would head to Swiss Chalet for lunch. So, re­turn­ing to this fa­mous Cana­dian fast-food chain for its ro­tis­serie chicken – healthy be­cause it is not fried but oven-roasted – was quite mem­o­rable for me.

At prac­ti­cally ev­ery cor­ner, there was a Tim Hor­ton’s and some­times, next to it, a Wendy’s. One day, when my un­cle, who was driv­ing us around, stopped at Tim Hor­ton’s for cof­fee, I took the op­por­tu­nity to try the Mediter­ranean-style Baja salad at Wendy’s. I was im­pressed that some­thing from a fast­food chain could taste so good and yet be so healthy with its fresh veg­eta­bles topped with avocado dress­ing and freshly grated cheese.

The most unique thing about trav­el­ling to a place like Hamil­ton is that the ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able vary ac­cord­ing to the sea­sons, and be­ing off the reg­u­lar tourist grid, it is not overly com­mer­cialised. In­stead, there is a down-toearth good­ness and authen­tic­ity about the places I vis­ited, the sights I saw, the peo­ple I met, and even the meals I par­took of. If I had the chance to visit Hamil­ton again, I most def­i­nitely would, but next time, I would try a dif­fer­ent sea­son to ex­pe­ri­ence a dif­fer­ent as­pect of its beauty.

— MING TEOH/The Star

Stun­ning: Al­bion Wa­ter­falls is a 19m cas­cade wa­ter­fall on the Ni­a­gara Es­carp­ment in King’s For­est, Hamil­ton, On­tario.

Sail away, sail away: a sail­boat as seen from the bayfront Park, which fronts Lake On­tario.

a sign­board show­ing a Six Na­tions trad­ing post.

red de­li­cious ap­ples, ready to be plucked, at the Myer’s ap­ple Farm.

a vin­tage train and rail­way track, one of the ex­hibits at the West­field Her­itage Vil­lage.

Cootes Par­adise is a nat­u­ral for­est re­serve and part of the royal botan­i­cal Gar­dens in Hamil­ton.

the Cana­dian Her­itage War­plane Mu­seum houses over 40 vin­tage air­craft.

a tasty and healthy baja salad with avocado dress­ing. the writer was sur­prised to dis­cover this at a fast-food out­let.

the writer en­joyed a break­fast of home­made but­ter­milk pan­cakes topped with but­ter, maple syrup, and fresh fruits like straw­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries and bananas.

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